Facebook Twitter

Redistricting to cost Demos some seats

SHARE Redistricting to cost Demos some seats

New district lines for Utah's 29 state senators are close to being finalized, GOP Senate leaders say.

The Utah House also is moving toward a now-scheduled Oct. 1 special legislative session where new lines for Utah's three U.S. House seats, 75 state House, 29 Senate and 15 state school board districts will be adopted. But decisions on Utah House seats are farther away.

Republicans control the Senate 20-9. They control the House 51-24. GOP legislative leaders have said for some time that Democrats will lose seats in the House and Senate through redistricting because of population shifts away from traditionally Democratic areas into areas won by GOP lawmakers in the 1990s.

Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, is the Senate co-chairman of the Legislative Redistricting Committee. After a closed GOP caucus a week ago where maps of the different scenarios were passed out and discussed, Waddoups said senators — at least Republican senators — are "feeling pretty good" about what is happening.

Some issues must still be worked out, but Waddoups said current plans call for two new, empty seats. One runs down the center of the valley, with Murray basically the home base.

The other includes Iron, Garfield, Kane and San Juan counties and a few surrounding areas.

Rep. Chad Bennion, R-Murray, said he would "seriously consider" running for the new Murray Senate seat in 2002. But it's likely a number of other candidates would file for that one, too.

Rep. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch, may run for the new southern Utah Senate seat. But others mentioned former Southern Utah University president Gerald Sheratt as a possible candidate. Before the 1991 redistricting, Cedar City was the home base for a Senate seat — held then by Dixie Leavitt, Gov. Mike Leavitt's father. Dixie Leavitt retired from the Senate in 1992 (when his son was first elected) because he knew he couldn't win the new southwestern Senate district headquartered in larger St. George. Under the 2001 plan, Washington County would have its own Senate district.

The new district "has a population that is about half in Cedar City and about half outside the city," said Waddoups. So Hatch, a noted conservative voice in the House, may have a shot at winning the new seat even though he doesn't live in Cedar City, Waddoups said.

Democrats could lose up to three seats under the proposed GOP plan.

One of those is Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, who could end up paired with either of two GOP senators — Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, or Bev Evans, R-Altamont. Either way, it's unlikely Dmitrich, a 33-year veteran of the Legislature and the Democratic Senate leader, could win re-election next year. Dmitrich recently said pairing him with Blackham, who heralds from Sanpete County, which is in a bitter water rights battle with Carbon County — would be the most unfair thing Republicans could do.

Waddoups said it is up to Sen. Paula Julander, D-Salt Lake, whether she wants to be placed with Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, or lumped in with a fellow Democratic senator, either Sen. Gene Davis or Karen Hale, both D-Salt Lake.

Julander lives in the Federal Heights area near the Avenues and, said Waddoups, Eastman's Davis County district will have to come over the mountains and pick up some north-side Salt Lake residents to meet population requirements.

Democrats do have a shot at winning the open Murray district, but the area has elected Republican House members in the 1990s.

Sen. Ron Allen, D-Tooele, will likely have his district pushed out of Salt Lake County — where he had solid Democratic majorities — and into northern Utah County — a heavily Republican area.

Allen, the Senate minority whip, said last week he believes he has a shot at keeping his Tooele County-based seat at re-election. But, he said, it would be tough for another Democrat to win it in the future.

The Republicans' actions mean the top two Democratic leaders in the Senate could be eliminated in 2002 — something the Democrats decry.

Waddoups said in an Aug. 9 redistricting committee that final maps for the 29 Senate districts will be made public and votes on the proposals taken.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are a bit farther behind in drawing final maps. Committee votes on House districts won't take place until later in August, Waddoups said.

House Republicans held a closed caucus last week, and then House GOP leaders met for three hours to discuss possible redistricting alternatives.

Basically, said House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, Democrats will lose one seat they now hold in Salt Lake City. GOP leaders have asked Democrats to suggest which two city Democratic representatives should be lumped in together.

On Salt Lake County's east side, five Democratic women hold seats that roughly run along the foot of the Wasatch Mountains. Stephens said it's likely two of them will be lumped together.

"I've seen a proposal where three Democrats are actually put into one district out there. We could do that, but we won't," Stephens said.

Rep. Trisha Beck, D-Sandy, says she has been told that she will be placed in a redrawn district with Rep. Karen Morgan, D-South Cottonwood. Beck is running for Sandy mayor this year, and if she wins she would leave her House post.

One GOP incumbent will likely be placed in a new district with an incumbent Democrat, said Stephens, who declined to name the two incumbents. The Republican "doesn't like that, but he understands that because of the way the districts' populations have changed, it has to be that way," said Stephens.

Stephens said GOP map-drawers are taking into account legislators who are seeking other offices, who have quietly said they are retiring next year and other "personal" situations. "We want to hurt as few (incumbents) as possible," he said. "But the numbers require that at least two Democrat seats must be lost. It's just the way the population has grown and shifted."

He said he saw one plan that would cost the minority Democrats five House seats next year. "We're not doing that," he said.

However, depending on how the last House maps come together, it is possible House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, and Minority Whip Patrice Arent, D-South Cottonwood, could end up lumped into districts with other incumbents and — like Democratic Sens. Dmitrich and Allen — face elimination in the 2002 elections.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com