Facebook Twitter

House seats still contentious

SHARE House seats still contentious

While Utah senators agreed on how to divide up their 29 districts, House members still struggled at Wednesday's special legislative session over Democrats' complaints in cutting up the 75 House seats.

Growth in GOP-dominated areas means House Republicans should get "two to four" more seats in the House, said House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West. Any accommodations to the Democrats won't give them anything more than that, said Stephens, who made a rare visit to a House Democratic caucus meeting to explain the hard politics of the situation.

Later, House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake City, told his caucus, where some members shed tears over the loss of fellow Democrats: "This is the ugliest, most partisan, most personal thing I've seen. It is up to us to speak for people who don't have a voice up here, whether we are in office or not — and some of us won't be in office" because of the GOP plan.

"Republicans are in the majority, and they can take some of our flesh — but they are taking more than they deserve," Becker said.

Said House Minority Whip Patrice Arent, D-South Cottonwood: The GOP leadership wanted a bipartisan vote on the House plan — at least 10 or 12 votes. If Democrats delivered those, then a "compromise" plan that likely would cost House Democrats five seats would be adopted. Otherwise, a plan that could cost them six seats would go forward.

Stephens didn't see it that way. "It was a simple vote for them (Democrats) to make. Do they accept our offer that gives them two more seats or not? We'd tried to buy peace with the Democrats" by giving them as much as the House GOP caucus would accept.

Stephens said that while it may be true that a district was carved out of Summit County to help House Majority Whip Dave Ure, R-Kamas, Republicans agreed to form a Carbon County seat that helped Rep. Brad King, D-Price, keep his seat. "It was Ure for King," and Republicans thought that was fair, Stephens said.

Just after noon, the House did approve by a 49-23 vote the proposal that carves up Utah's three U.S. House seats.

Two Democrats voted with the majority on what has been a hot topic — how Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson and his 2nd Congressional District are treated. The Senate approved the plan on Wednesday.

If GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt agrees and plan becomes law, Matheson has threatened to sue over what he calls an unfair and perhaps unconstitutional redistricting.

House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, said a closed House GOP caucus Tuesday afternoon considered a new plan that would have given Matheson all of Salt Lake City and fewer rural counties than a plan adopted by the Legislative Redistricting Committee.

But the Matheson-friendly alternative "didn't have many votes" in the caucus, Garn said. "So we are back to the plan approved by the redistricting committee." That plan — the one adopted by the special session — gives GOP Rep. Jim Hansen most of the city's population and Matheson gets the east half of the city and 14 rural counties.

Stephens said GOP leaders planned to be done with redistricting by 3 p.m. Wednesday. The 13 new items placed before lawmakers Tuesday by Leavitt may be pushed aside in a rush to adjourn, he said.

"If we don't get to those, maybe we just come back" in another special session later "if the governor feels they are that important," the speaker said.

Meanwhile, Utah's senators toiled late into the evening Tuesday to rework the plan for reforming Utah's 29 Senate districts.

The compromise version appeared to resolve some contentious issues. Others, however, were not helped much by the last-minute attempts to make everyone, particularly Democrats, happy.

The revised plan, which could be approved by the House on Wednesday, does the following:

Keeps Salt Lake City's Avenues area in one Senate district — one that does not stretch all the way across the hill into Davis County. The district, represented by Sen. Paula Julander, D-Salt Lake City, now covers an area between the Davis County line and 3500 South, bordered on the west by I-15 and stretching as far east as 700 East.

Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who drew up the original Senate redistricting maps, said he had not realized how strongly Avenues residents felt about keeping their community in the same Senate voting district. But Julander said she knew, and was glad her constituents made their feelings known.

Splits Tooele County into three Senate districts, despite requests from the Tooele County Commission and the county's Democratic and Republican parties to keep it in one district.

That places Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, into the same district as his Democratic colleague, Sen. Millie Peterson, D-West Valley City. They will have to compete against each other in the Democratic primary in 2002 if both seek re-election as expected.

"This is almost a unanimous comment from Tooele County that they don't like what happened there," Waddoups acknowledged.

Allen spearheaded the Democrats' efforts to change certain elements of the Republican base plan, but Allen conceded Tuesday that keeping Tooele whole, in one Senate district, was difficult and ultimately not possible.

It just made too much sense, Allen and other senators said, to split Tooele County considering its 7,000 square miles, 153 percent population growth over the past 10 years and proximity to other districts where population numbers needed to be shifted.

Changes Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich's district so that it loses Kane County and a portion of Washington County and picks up southern Utah County.

Puts Cache County communities south of Logan into the same district as the rest of Cache County.

Also Tuesday, the Senate approved a redistricting plan for four U.S. congressional seats — if needed — and introduced a redistricting plan for the three congressional seats the state now has.

The four-member plan, which the House approved Wednesday morning, creates a new fourth district entirely inside Salt Lake County, stretching from north of Murray to the Utah County border and encompassing the valley's conservative southern suburbs.

But that plan won't be activated unless the state wins its lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau and is awarded a seat already given to North Carolina as a result of the 2000 Census.

The three-member plan puts both rural and urban parts of the state in each district, a method opposed by Democrats who wanted to preserve one of the seats as an all-urban, all-Wasatch Front voting district — the seat now held by Matheson.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, called it a "travesty" that Salt Lake City is split into separate districts under the plan.

The Republicans did agree to one change in the three-member congressional plan. They added all of Lehi to the 3rd Congressional District rather than splitting it in half and moved Cedar Grove out of the 3rd and into the 2nd district.

Legislative staffers worked into early Wednesday morning redrawing the 75 House districts in an attempt to "alleviate some" of the Democrats' complaints, said Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley.

Bigelow, the subcommittee chairman of Salt Lake County redistricting, said Democrats didn't get all they wanted — Arent and Karen Morgan, two southeast county Democrats, are still lumped into the same districts, as are Salt Lake City Democratic Reps. David Litvack and Fred Fife.

Rep. Max Young, D-Moab, is combined in a GOP-dominated district with Rep. Brad King, D-Price.

"But we think we've given the Democrats back two seats" that they can win in 2002, Stephens told a skeptical House Democratic caucus in the morning. Republicans now control the House, 51-24.

Arent said the original GOP plan would likely mean that after the 2002 elections, six Democrats would be gone from their current 24-member House caucus. "It would take the Republicans from a two-thirds majority to a three-fourths majority; it isn't fair and it isn't needed. It looks like we aren't going to get anything better than this," said King. "The question is, do we vote for it" or just see it passed by the majority Republicans and maybe lose even more seats via redistricting?