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WILL JUSTICE OR GREAT EVIL FOLLOW UTAH'S REDISTRICTING?

How do you draw lines on a congressional redistricting map with politics pushing the pencil?

At the same time, how do you insist politics play no role in drawing those boundaries?Welcome to Utah's 1991 redistricting, where justice will be done - say the Republicans - or great evil will cloud the state - say the Democrats.

The GOP-dominated Legislature will meet in September or October to formally adopt new boundaries for Utah's three U.S. House districts, the 75 state House districts, 29 state Senate districts and State School Board districts. The redistricting is required of state legislatures every 10 years following the census.

Demo proposal

Thursday, State Democratic Party Chairman Peter Billings Jr. asked the Legislature's Redistricting Committee - which is heavily Republican - to change the 2nd Congressional District only slightly. He suggests moving the district's southern boundary south from its current location to West Valley City's southern border and to 4700 South. (See map on Page B9). Four southern Utah counties, Piute, Wayne, Garfield and Kane, would move from the 1st to 3rd District to give the three districts about equal population.

Billings' suggestion would change 2nd District boundaries by only a few square miles in Salt Lake County. Such a small change in the boundaries, of course, would favor Rep. Wayne Owens, the Democratic 2nd District incumbent whose environmental stands are not appreciated in rural Utah.

GOP counter

Republican State Party Chairman Richard Snelgrove, on the other hand, told committee members that Salt Lake County should be carved up three ways, with each congressman getting part of the county and large, rural areas of the state as well. That, of course, would harm Owens' 1992 re-election effort.

Snelgrove didn't provide the committee with a map, like Billings did. However, Snelgrove did provide the Deseret News with two of the several maps state Republican Party are discussing.

"Our preference is that each congressional district have strong elements of urban and rural areas," said Snelgrove. Such districts could be equal in population, politically and have an overall balance in community interests.

But Billings says splitting Salt Lake County more than once is unnecessary and unwarranted. "Only one county - Salt Lake - need be split, and that doesn't need to be split more than once." If the county is split three ways, Billings said, the implication to citizens will be Republicans did it for political reasons - to get Owens.

One cut or two?

Should lawmakers decide to make only one cut in the county - splitting it between two districts not three - Snelgrove suggests that Salt Lake City be placed in the 3rd Congressional District - with some shifts in southern Utah counties - and making the rest of the county the 2nd Congressional District. (See map on B9). Currently, the 2nd District includes Salt Lake City and the rest of the county except the southwestern corner. That corner is in the 3rd District.

Republican Party leaders haven't flushed out their three-way-split plan yet. However, in rough terms they'd split the county about down the middle, with the Jordan River as the boundary up to Salt Lake City's southern limits. The western half of Salt Lake City and Magna would go into the 1st District, which would also include northern counties and Tooele County. Salt Lake County south of Salt Lake City and west of the Jordan River would go into a new 2nd District, which would also include Utah, Carbon and Emery counties. Eastern Salt Lake City and the eastern part of Salt Lake County would go into the 3rd District, which would include the rest of the counties in the state, including western, southwestern, southern and central Utah.

Past redistricting

Democrats see red when Republicans talk about splitting Salt Lake County three ways. They argue the county is urban, and that Utah deserves one congressional district that represents urban issues.

Republicans counter that Utah's delegation would speak with a more unified voice in Washington if all three representatives had to satisfy urban and rural constituents.

Howard Rigtrup, top aide to Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, told committee members that no matter what they do they can't satisfy most people, and may satisfy none. Quoting from newspaper accounts of the 1981 reapportionment debate, Rigtrup said that 10 years ago Democrats charged the Republican Legislature drew congressional lines "guaranteeing three safe Republican seats."

However, after the 1990 elections only one Republican - Hansen - held a House seat, the other two going to Democrats Owens and Rep. Bill Orton. "Fellas, two out of three ain't bad. Republicans did a good job for you (Democrats) in 1981. Trust us again," Rigtrup told a laughing committee.

Rigtrup did make one suggestion: Draw the congressional boundaries first, "maybe in a couple of hours." Rigtrup said GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter could call a special legislative session next month to have the congressional boundaries adopted. That way Hansen, who is deciding whether to run for governor or seek re-election to his House seat next year, could see earlier than September or October what his new House district will look like.