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Don’t slice Summit County, residents plead

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PARK CITY — Residents, most of them Democrats, pleaded in a public meeting on state political redistricting to leave Summit County the perfect whole of uniquely common interests they say it is.

The hard behind-the-scenes political realities, however, are that the county not only stands to be sliced and diced by Republican leaders, but one chunk could be taffy-pulled over the mountains from the Wasatch Back to the east benches of the Wasatch Front.

"Your staff said numbers drive the process and we are the perfect number, approximately 29,000. We respectfully request that you help us maintain the unity we've built over many years and let us form one of the new districts," Summit County Commissioner Shauna Kerr told the Utah Legislature's Redistricting Committee Monday night in the last of its public hearings on redrawing U.S. House and legislative representation boundaries.

The committee is charged with reshaping districts to conform to one-person, one-vote requirements of the Utah Constitution. Taking 2000 Census numbers as its cue, the committee plans to reorganize the state's 2.2 million people into equal districts of 29,775 residents.

Summit County has 29,736 residents, prompting a roomful of proponents at the Park City library to give the committee an earful about making the county one district.

"The issue should be one of commonality of interests, and we have those geographically and economically, even though we haven't had a single voice representing just Summit County in the state Legislature for the last 50 years," Bob Richer, Summit County Democratic chairman said.

Park City Councilman Fred Jones noted Summit County has led the state with 91.6 percent growth the last 10 years.

"That alone makes us unique since no place else in the state faces the growth issues we do," Jones said. With its resort economy and large number of second homes driving county revenues, many residents also cited these as unique circumstances.

But it is exactly that growth bringing pressures to bear on District 53, now belonging to Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas. The district has risen to 38,014 residents, a 71.3 percent increase.

"Go with me back to the balloon man at the carnival. When you squeeze the balloon, it creates a bulge somewhere else. The district numbers are too large and they've got to go somewhere," said Rep. Gerry Adair, R-Roy, House chair of the redistricting committee.

Democrats in the House say the decision has already been made: Ure will be protected from defeat, regardless of population numbers. Ure, a rancher whose conservative views on gun control, abortion and open space conflict with many in the upscale Park City resort region, has not captured a majority of Summit County voters in the past three elections.

The House redistricting "is all about Ure, totally about Ure," says Todd Taylor, state Democratic Party executive director, noting Ure's case is typical of Republicans' central redistricting motivation — that of protecting their majority in all 75 House seats.

One distinct possibility in Summit County is breaking off a hunk of voters and taking them over into one of several districts in the east benches now represented largely by women Democrats.

The linkage with Salt Lake agitated many at Monday's hearing.

"If you take 10,000 voters from here it dilutes our voice," said Becky Richards, a 23-year Snyderville Basin resident, who ran against Ure in last election.

"It's just plain stupid to take Jeremy Ranch interests, for instance, over this huge mountain and pretend that somehow those interests are going to be the same," said Bruce Fry, a 6-year Snyderville resident. "On schools alone our needs are vastly different from those on the east side of Salt Lake City." They're a Class 1 city; we're Class 3. That's as big a difference as you could imagine right there," Kerr said. "But much of this is about protecting David since he hasn't won Summit County the last three elections. If they can break off some Summit County voters, he solidifies his historically strong base in Morgan and Rich Counties."

But Mike Todd, Summit County Republican chairman, shared a different view. "Having gone up on the Hill to fight for our issues, personally, I'm ready to have more than one voice," he said. "Breaking up Summit County will give us at least one share of another voice for our interests."

Ure said, "I feel like I do everything I can for the residents of Summit County — I mean, a whole lot of the things I do in life revolve around Park City and Summit County. But to some people I'll never be one of them. I'm just a hick on the farm." "But I feel like I've fought for Park City and Summit County for nine years and I'll keep fighting as long as I hold the office."

Adair said the committee had fed redistricting possibilities into a computer.

"Basically, the computer said the variations were too high for it to compute. You can see how we have our work cut out for us," he said.

E-mail: gtwyman@desnews.com; bbjr@desnews.com