Legislative Democrats were feeling picked upon this week as the majority Republicans unveiled redistricting plans that will effectively eliminate some Democratic incumbents in the House and Senate.
The latest congressional redistricting proposal increases the number of Republicans in Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson's 2nd Congressional District.
|Deseret News graphicProposed GOP redistricting planRequires Adobe Acrobat.|
Voting as a bloc Thursday against some of the plans, Democrats on the Legislative Redistricting Committee complained about the process and seemed to be asking: "When can you make the Legislature too Republican?"
The answer for now is: Never.
Worse than partisan politics, Democratic Party leaders accused the GOP majority of targeting the Utah House's two Jewish members. They pointed out that House Minority Whip Patrice Arent, D-South Cottonwood, and David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, would be in districts with other House Democrats, meaning they could be out of office after 2002.
"Targeting" the only two Jewish members of the Legislature brings up serious "religious discrimination" issues, said Todd Taylor, Democratic Party executive director.
But House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, says that's not accurate.
Knowing that population shifts in Salt Lake County meant at least two Salt Lake City representatives would have to be combined, Republicans asked House Democrats last spring who they wanted lumped together. And all but one of the city's legislative representatives are Democrats.
Stephens said the Democrats offered up Litvack and Rep. Fred Fife, also D-Salt Lake.
"It is disingenuous for the Democrats to say we targeted Jewish members when Patrice Arent (who is on the redistricting committee) gave us the name of Litvack in the first place," Stephens said. "It has come to the point where the Democrats are just throwing as much garbage on the wall as they can to see what sticks."
Taylor acknowledged the party gave Republicans Litvack's name as someone who could be combined. "But only because we were forced to do our own evil," he said.
A plan supported by Democrats and put together by Reps. Ty McCarthy, D-Salt Lake, and Lamont Tyler, R-East Millcreek, put a Democrat and Republican together in the same district, not two Democrats, said Taylor. "And we certainly never would have suggested that Patrice be put in another Democrat's district," he said.
Democrats called a Friday press conference to speak more about their complaints. "The (GOP) co-chairs of the Legislative Redistricting Committee say they can't defend their own maps because they didn't draw them. This travesty lies clearly at the feet of Stephens and (Senate President) Al Mansell (R-Sandy)," said Taylor.
As an example of the Republicans' blatant partisanship, the Democrats point to the redrawing of Utah's three U.S. House seats. Earlier this week, House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, came forward with a plan that pushed Matheson's district out of Salt Lake County and into eastern Utah counties that run from Idaho to Arizona.
That plan increased the voting Republicans in Matheson's district from 57 percent to 59 percent.
But by Thursday Garn and other Republicans had modified the C1 plan to a C4 plan, which increases the number of voting Republicans from 57 percent to nearly 61 percent.
Asked if the first plan was not Republican enough, Garn smiled and said, "Some people wanted changes." No doubt he and other GOP leaders were "trying to make some people happy," as committee co-chairman Sen. Michael Waddoups put it after his committee heard numerous amendments to a Senate redistricting plan in Salt Lake County that was drawn up following a meeting with Mansell; Senate Majority Leader Steve Poulton, R-Holladay; and other Salt Lake County GOP senators.
Arent complained about that group's redistricting work and asked who liked it. Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said: "Well, those senators did."
And so it goes for Democrats whose numbers are so low in the 104-member Legislature that they can do little but complain over how new boundaries are being drawn in the 29 state Senate and 75 state House districts.
Some other examples of what the Democrats don't like:
Matheson's 2nd District goes from being all in Salt Lake County, where the 2nd District has resided for 20 years, to taking in areas of northern, eastern and southern Utah. Garn's new plan has the district starting in Cache County, winding around the eastern edge of the state, down to San Juan County and along the bottom of the state to include Washington and Iron counties.
The 2nd District would lose most of Salt Lake County, its old home. Instead, Rep. Chris Cannon's 3rd District, headquartered in Utah County, would dominate the state's largest county, taking in the cities of West Jordan, South Jordan, Sandy, Riverton, Bluffdale and the unincorporated southwest side.
Rep. Jim Hansen's 1st District would represent all of West Valley City, Magna and Kearns and most of South Salt Lake. His district would also take in the small communities of southern Utah County.
Matheson's 2nd District would be left with all of Salt Lake City, Taylorsville, Murray, Holladay and some slim eastern unincorporated areas.
Even though there are only two Democratic House members from southeastern Utah — Rep. Brad King, D-Price, and Max Young, D-Moab — one GOP plan pits those two representatives against each other.
Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, may end up in an oddly configured district with Sen. Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni. Allen says for 75 years Tooele County has had its own state senator and even Republicans in his home county may vote for him rather than someone from Sanpete County. Arent — who awoke Thursday morning to find out a map placed on the Legislature's Web site overnight puts her in with fellow Democratic House Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights — said she finds it "strange" that one GOP Senate map's boundary goes down a side street so that Rep. Carol Spackman Moss — a popular incumbent — is not in the same Senate district as Poulton, and so wouldn't run against him.
And a new district for House Majority Assistant Whip Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, has an odd bulge in it, which just coincidentally cuts out of his district a conservative Republican who challenged him a year ago in the Salt Lake County Republican Convention.
"There are many dynamics" in redrawing all the lines, said Stephens. The Democrats complained that too many Democratic women were put in together, but more men in the House were combined than were women. Two sets of Salt Lake County Democratic women, four total, were combined in a first draft, in a second, only two Democratic women are combined. "But still they complain," said Stephens.
A vote on a base plan for reorganizing Utah's congressional districts is expected Monday. A special session of the Legislature will begin Sept. 25 to approve committee's redistricting proposals.
Thursday, the committee considered redistricting plans that allow for four members of the U.S. House of Representatives and plans that call for three. The state now has three House members but has gone to court in pursuit of a fourth seat based on disputed U.S. Census results. Much of the debate centered on proposed three-member plans and whether or not Salt Lake City or West Valley City would be divided into separate Congressional districts.
"You either cut one or the other, seems to me. You have a dilemma there," said former U.S. representative and state senator Howard Nielson, who then presented a plan that puts both cities in the 2nd district, Magna in the 1st district and much of southeast Salt Lake County in the 3rd district.
Separate votes were taken to eliminate all plans that divide Salt Lake City, all plans that divide West Valley City and all plans that do not include an urban-rural mix. All three votes failed.