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, Stephens said, 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.

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.

House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, said that 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, said Garn. "So we are back to the plan approved by the redistricting committee."

That plan 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 Gov. Mike 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," Stephens said.

Meanwhile, Utah's senators toiled late into the evening Tuesday to rework the plan for re-forming 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 Senate 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 possesses.

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.

E-MAIL: zman@desnews.com; bbjr@desnews.com