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‘Long way to go’ on redistricting

Frustration mounts as progress proves elusive to panel

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If it's true you can confuse people by throwing a lot of paper at them, then members of the Legislative Redistricting Committee and the public watching them must wonder what day it is.

Last week, the committee juggled half a dozen new looks at redrawing the state Senate's 29 districts, briefly looked at two options on redrawing Utah's U.S. House seats — both with the current three seats and the hoped-for four seats — then quit before considering any Utah House plans, which could number more than 20.

The committee did adopt a plan for redrawing the State School Board's 15 seats — one which will be tweaked later. Residents with a computer Internet link can view dozens of plans for Congress and the Legislature on the Legislature's Web site: ( www.le.state.ut.us).

But co-chairmen Rep. Gerry Adair, R-Roy, and Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, were frustrated by the committee's progress. "We've got a long way to go," Adair said after the meeting dragged an hour late in the Capitol.

That's for sure. An Oct. 1 special session date has now been moved up to Sept. 25 to decide school board, congressional and legislative redistricting.

And a looming deadline is only one of the pressure points.

Several Democratic members of the committee peppered committee attorney John Fellows with questions about how the staff made decisions concerning racial minority makeup in the redistricting calculations, perhaps setting the legal paper trail now for anticipated lawsuits later.

"Low- and moderate-income people (of color) feel abandoned," warned Robert Gallegos, who works to register minority citizens to vote. "They feel their vote doesn't count" because their communities are often lumped into white majority areas in school board, city council or legislative districts, making it difficult or impossible for their voices to be heard, he said.

And more than a dozen local offi-

cials from southern and central Utah paraded to the microphones to endorse or lambast two different proposals on redrawing state Senate boundaries in districts south of Salt Lake County.

Sens. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, and Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, tried to fend off efforts by Iron County and Cedar City officials to lump the two men into the same Senate district and create a new district with Cedar City as its hub.

There was former Sen. Dixie Leavitt, R-Cedar City, father of Gov. Mike Leavitt, pleading with the committee to make the "right" decision for the people of the state and not try to carve up districts to save an incumbent.

And there was Sanpete County Commissioner Eddie Cos saying it would be impossible for either Dmitrich or Blackham to settle a 60-year-old water dispute between Sanpete and Carbon counties — "the only thing we agree on is that we don't want to be together" in one Senate district.

Finally, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, showed up to push his own idea of how his 2nd Congressional District should be divided up, putting a map to his request originally made last May to just move his district's Salt Lake City line a few blocks west into the Rose Park and Glendale neighborhoods.

He says the "minimal disruption" of current boundaries theory should be followed. By just moving 60,000 residents between his 2nd District and the 1st and 3rd Districts, a "simple and elegant" solution can be found, he said.

One GOP plan — drafted by some Utah County House members and made public two months ago — would shift 1 million people around. His own state Democratic Party plan (which he also opposes) would shift 600,000 people around. It's likely neither one of those will ultimately be adopted.

Committee members blocked out all of Thursday for a day of reviewing even more plans. "Maybe we can take some votes" to firm up recommendations then, Adair said.

E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com