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Republicans are rethinking boundary plan

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Feeling public pressure, Utah legislative Republicans are moving to lessen the partisan political hit on Democrats in the Legislature's redistricting process.

Getting ready for a Tuesday special session that will redraw legislative and congressional district lines following the 2000 Census, GOP House and Senate leaders have been rethinking boundaries for the state's 75 state House and 29 Senate seats.

House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, and other House GOP leaders have been criticized in the past two weeks for developing a plan that lumped seven House Democrats in with each other or with another Republican while only putting three House Republicans at risk, including one who has already said he won't seek re-election next year.

A new plan developed over the past several days would lump only five House Democrats together or with a Republican and splits apart two Taylorsville representatives — Republican Kory Holdaway and Democrat Cindy Beshear.

The new GOP plan basically eliminates three House Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Glenn Way, R-Spanish Fork, who has already said he's not running again next year.

Stephens and other Republicans were clearly trying to take care of House Democratic leaders in the new plan:

House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, gets back his Capitol Hill constituents, and his new district doesn't stretch — as the original plan did — from Memory Grove eastward, through Parleys Canyon, to The Canyons ski resort next to Park City.

House Minority Whip Patrice Arent, D-South Cottonwood, is no longer combined with Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights. Instead, in the southeast part of the county two Democratic freshmen, Reps. Pat Jones, D-Cottonwood Heights, and Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, are combined.

House Assistant Minority Whip Brad King, D-Price, is no longer combined with Rep. Max Young, D-Moab, and Price City is not split three ways as it was before. Young is now in a district with Rep. Jack Seitz, R-Vernal. King's new district "is a strong Democratic seat in central Utah," Stephens said.

Meg Holbrook, state Democratic Party chairwoman, says it is a good start.

But Becker said: "This is really sad." At a time when Americans are coming together over the terrorist attacks and a new group of leading Utahns — the Alliance for Unity — is "acknowledging respect for diversity in Utah, we see (legislative Republicans) taking a partisan political approach to just shuffling the cards again to put different Democrats together and build a large Republican majority in the Legislature to a supermajority."

The new "compromise" only deals with state House members.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, the Democrats' main worry, is still stuck in a new 2nd congressional district that cuts out much of his Salt Lake City base and pushes him out of Salt Lake County and into 14 rural eastern and southern counties.

Matheson has threatened to sue over that plan, while GOP leaders say they would win such a suit.

"The House and Senate members have been working on their own (bodies') plans these past several days," Stephens said Monday morning, "and we haven't talked much about the congressional plans. I think the congressional plan will take up much of the special session, which I think will last at least two days."

Republicans several months ago told House Democratic leaders that at least two Democrats in Salt Lake City must be combined because the city had not grown in population like the rest of the county. Democrats reluctantly put forward Reps. David Litvack and Fred Fife, both freshmen, as their sacrificial lambs. But Republicans put Litvack in with Rep. Scott Daniels, D-Salt Lake, in their original plan.

Under the new GOP compromise, Litvack and Fife are again together and part of Fife's Rose Park district is combined with a South Davis County seat held by a Republican — a trade to give Becker back his Capitol Hill area.

Stephens said in 1991 seven Democrats and five Republicans were combined in new districts. The new compromise combines five Democrats and three Republicans. Still, considering how conservative the new districts are and taking into account Way's retirement, it's unlikely any incumbent Republican will lose in those combined seats. Democrats say 12 of their 24 members are either out or at risk of losing in their new, more conservative, state House seats.

E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com