Utah might have a real shot at a fourth U.S. House seat in the next year or two if Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, wasn't opposing a bill giving Utah "that extra clout," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, charged Thursday.
Bishop made the comments in speaking to the Deseret Morning News editorial board.
Matheson denies he's attempted to stop the so-called "Davis bill," a measure that would, until the 2010 Census and redistricting, increase the number of U.S. House members from 435 to 437, giving Utah one more seat and giving Washington, D.C., a voting member of the House for the first time.
"I've always supported a fourth seat for Utah," Matheson said. "It is disingenuous to say anything else. I'm not trying to stop this. Rep. Bishop's own Republican leadership (in the House) has said — and I quote — 'no way' on this bill."
Nearly everyone agrees that the D.C. representative would be a Democrat — the district is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Likewise, no matter how the new Utah representative was redistricted or chosen, he or she would be a Republican. So, the current majority/minority makeup of the House would not be changed. (Utah was selected as the state to get the temporary extra seat because it barely lost out for a fourth seat in the 2000 Census, likely will get a fourth seat in the 2010 Census and would provide a sure-Republican seat.)
Bishop said he and Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, are strongly in favor of the bill.
"But the Democratic leadership in the House is stalling it," Bishop said. And they are doing that at the request of Matheson, Bishop added.
"We don't have his (Matheson's) support. And it is frustrating," said Bishop, who hemmed and hawed at the editorial board before finally laying blame at Matheson's feet.
"I don't know how much of this to tell you," Bishop said at one point.
"I'm so excited that Rob Bishop thinks I have the ability to stop a Republican bill in the U.S. House," Matheson said. "I didn't think he thought I had that kind of stature here." (The bill is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va.)
Bishop said he knows that Matheson and some other Utah Democrats fear that should the bill pass, the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature would redraw Utah's current three U.S. House districts, before the 2010 Census, to make Matheson's current 2nd District even more Republican.
"He thinks the Legislature is out to get him."
But Bishop said it's not possible to draw a district in Utah more Republican than Matheson has now. "I know. I tried" just to see if it could be done, Bishop said.
But, Matheson said, given what Utah GOP legislators did to him in 2001 — his all-Salt Lake County district was pushed out to the east and south so that Matheson's district now runs from 700 East in Salt Lake City to the Colorado border and down to St. George and Cedar City — "Does anyone actually believe they couldn't" draw a more GOP district if they wanted to?
In any case, said Bishop, even if the Legislature has another shot at Matheson before the 2010 Census, he wouldn't be any worse off politically with new boundaries.
But that's not the only alternative. For example, Utah could pick to have one at-large U.S. House seat until legislators could redraw the state for, say, 2008 or 2010, depending on when the bill passed, Bishop said.
But personal politics shouldn't rule, Bishop said. "It is so critical" for Utah to have another voice in the U.S. House that any one person's political concerns shouldn't stand in the way of helping out the state, Bishop said.
Bishop's claims are silly, Matheson said.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Congress, in April that he would not bring the Davis bill up for a vote this year. "And that's the end of that," said Matheson, who added he was not influencing DeLay.
There are many political problems with the issue, said Matheson, not the least of which is a voting rights act for Washington, D.C. — "an issue here long before I came to the House."
While it is almost certain that a D.C. seat would remain Democratic for a long, long time, after 2010, and Utah got its fourth seat via the new census, the numbers in the House would drop from 437 back to 435. And where that "extra" seat would be lost is up for debate.
Some say it could be a loss to the Democrats, which would — all other things being equal — keep the balance. Others believe it could be a lost Republican seat. And then Democrats would automatically be up two seats in a House already closely divided. There are now 229 Republicans, 205 Democrats and one independent.
And GOP and Democratic leaders, analysts say, don't want to be blamed for losing any of their party's U.S. House seats because of a controversial bill aimed at getting Washington, D.C., a vote in the House, no matter how noble that goal may be.