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State’s redistricting heats up

Personal and partisan politics going full steam

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A special legislative committee is about halfway through its work in redrawing state House and Senate boundaries following the 2000 Census. And personal and partisan politics are going full steam.

While Republicans on the legislative redistricting committee say they are being fair, Democrats — and even a few Republicans who aren't on the committee — are watching with wary eyes.

Population "numbers are driving everything," says Rep. Gerry Adair, R-Roy, a real estate agent/broker who co-chairs the committee for the House. "I don't even know where most of the House members live — I know where maybe four (of 75) reside. I'm not even looking at that."

But while Adair may not be so concerned, plenty of others are. By law, legislators must live in their districts. Redrawing a line excluding an incumbent, or putting him or her into a district with another incumbent could end political careers.

And so the intrigue abounds in what some see as the protecting or targeting of this representative or that senator in re-election.

Cutting to the chase, Adair said, in the House it appears Salt Lake County will lose one of its 31 House seats. Perhaps even two. Or maybe a south Davis County seat will come into Salt Lake City and grab up a Capitol Hill or upper Avenues neighborhood.

While Salt Lake County's population has grown 23.8 percent since 1990, 15 other counties have grown faster.

Washington County has grown 86.1 percent; Summit County 91.6 percent.

Not coincidentally, those two counties hold the key to House redistricting. Washington County will get another House seat. "Basically, Washington gets one seat from Salt Lake County. And it's how we draw those lines that is difficult," Adair said.

And Summit County, and its ski-resort-surrounded Park City, now has just the right number of residents to become a House district by itself.

Currently, House Majority Whip Dave Ure, R-Kamas, represents the Summit County area. But Ure has lost the vote in Summit County his past three elections. It's the heavily Republican vote in Morgan and Rich counties that has kept him in office.

"I don't think they (GOP lawmakers) are willing to give Ure up," said Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, who sits on the redistricting committee. "He's the rural voice on the back row" where majority leaders sit in the House Chamber.

Will Summit County get its own House seat? "I don't know," Adair said. "I've seen a number of plans." Ure himself says Democrats would be smarter, overall, to bring one or two House seats eastwards out of Salt Lake County, snap up Park City itself and split Summit County up. That could leave him, in Kamas, in a safe, rural Republican district.

"That doesn't make any sense to us," said Biskupski. "Summit County should be its own district" — and one that most likely would elect a Democratic lawmaker.

Adair said it is possible — but perhaps not likely — that Salt Lake County could keep its 31 current seats. But just barely. Legislators have adopted a minimum population variance rule of plus-or-minus 4 percent on House seats. If each of the county's districts were 4 percent under the acceptable average population, they all fit in.

But that fouls up seats in other parts of the state. Where does Washington County get the extra House seat that its population now demands?

To solve that problem greatly expands the geographic areas in rural, southern districts. For example, the district of Rep. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch, also a conservative, rural power in the House, is now something like 5,000 square miles, "while my district is 5 square miles in Roy," Adair said. Does it make sense to enlarge rural districts even more? Adair asks.

And then there is gender politics.

On the east side of Salt Lake County it just so happens five seats, nearly in a row, are held by Democratic women: Reps. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay; Pat Jones and Karen Morgan, both D-Cottonwood Heights; Patrice Arent, D-South Cottonwood; and Trish Beck, D-Sandy.

Several Democrats said if Republicans push one or two of those women into each other's districts, or into neighboring Republican districts, it could prove embarrassing. "It would look like they were purposely trying to get rid of some female Democratic reps," said one Democrat.

"I have not heard one rumor, nothing," about concerns of gender-based redistricting, said Adair. Gender will have nothing to do with redistricting, he added.

Said Biskupski: "What we have now is a lot of worst-case scenarios for Democrats floating out there. I think it's because the Republicans can come back later with their real plans, which aren't perhaps so bad (for the minority Democrats) and say, 'see, it could have been a lot worse.' "

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com