Will Democrats make major comebacks in the 1990s? Will the Republicans push them back to even more of a minority status?
The battle lines between the parties will literally be drawn this year as Utah legislators redraw the Utah House and Senate boundaries and carve up the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts.It's known as reapportionment. And it's required by the U.S. Constitution after every 10-year census.
Reapportionment doesn't affect the statewide races for governor, attorney general, treasurer and auditor. It also doesn't affect the U.S. Senate races, since those are statewide as well.
But redrawing the district boundaries has a big effect on state legislative and U.S. House races. Change who votes in a district, and you change the district.
Utah has three congressional districts (see map), 75 state House districts and 29 state Senate districts.
House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, says the majority Republicans will be fair. "We're naming a bipartisan (reapportionment) committee now, which will be announced in early April. We'll hold public hearings throughout the state. We want each current legislator, Republican and Democrat, to come before the committee and testify concerning what we're doing." The committee will have 13 Republican and eight Democratic legislators.
GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter will call a special legislative session sometime this fall, maybe October or November, so the redistricting can be placed into law. Because Republicans control the Legislature and governorship, they will decide the boundaries. The Democrats' only recourse is to complain loudly or sue if they believe the boundaries break the law.
"The courts have ruled that each district (Utah House and Senate and congressional) must be equal to within 1 or 2 percent in population," said Moody. "We want districts balanced not only by population, but politically balanced as well."
The top question is what the Republicans will do to Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens' 2nd Congressional District. Moody, 1st Congressional District Rep. Jim Hansen and other Republicans say there is talk about splitting Salt Lake County three ways, so that each of the congressional districts would get part of the county, with most of the rest of each district being rural Utah.
"The courts have ruled that you can have one, maybe two, counties split up," said Hansen in a recent Deseret News interview. "You split up more counties than that in a congressional district and you may face a court fight." Hansen sits on the Republican National Congressional Committee's redistricting subcommittee.
Owens' 2nd District is now urban. It includes all of Salt Lake County except for the southwestern portion, which is in Democratic Rep. Bill Orton's 3rd Congressional District.
Owens and state Democrats don't want the congressman to run in rural Utah, where he is not well-liked because of his environmental stands. "We're concerned that Wayne will be gerrymandered into a rural district," said State Democratic Party Executive Director James Roberts. "To have the three districts each have urban and rural areas is a great disservice to constituents, urban and rural alike. The issues are very different."
Moody and Hansen reply, both with smiles, that if Owens continues to push legislation that affects rural Utah - like his 5.2 million-acre wilderness bill - then he should be responsible to some of those voters as well.
The census shows that Hansen's 1st District has 62,000 more people than Owens' 2nd District, and Orton's 3rd District has 90,000 more people than Owens'.
"That means there must be dramatic boundary changes to equal the populations," said Hansen.
Said Roberts, "The state (Democratic Party) will definitely contract with the National Committee For An Effective Congress (a Democratic group) to help our congressional people in the redistricting effort." The Democrats will have an alternative plan to the Republicans', although there's little chance it will pass the Legislature.
Republicans will take advice from a number of quarters, but the Legislature's own research staff will do much of the redistricting legwork, using computers to quickly shift voting districts about searching for logical population, geological and political groupings.