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Utah lawmakers to take another crack at setting new congressional districts

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers will take another crack Monday at drawing new congressional district boundaries, a task that has proven elusive due to Republican infighting.

Provo resident Dave Garber will be watching the action closely as he has since he started making maps for legislators to consider in June. Though severely ill off and on the past few months, he submitted 10 proposals to redistrictutah.com, including a congressional map that made the Redistricting Committee's six finalists.

"Earlier this summer I was messed up and I needed something to do," said Garber, who studied physics at BYU and has a passion for politics. "I didn't expect to get involved as much as I did."

Legislators are scheduled to resume a special session focused on redistricting Monday morning. Earlier this month, House and Senate Republicans, who hold wide majorities in both bodies, abruptly ended the session because they couldn't agree on a congressional map.

Garber, who describes himself as LDS, Republican and libertarian, said he tried to draw his maps to "make as much geographical sense as possible." And per the committee's instructions, he said, he did not think about how the lines might affect incumbents. He said he's disappointed lawmakers haven't done the same.

"It seems legislators are more interested in serving the special interests of politicians and/or parties rather than the general interest of Utahns," he said. "It seems partisan concerns and people's ambitions are dominating the process."

Garber said although he's not fond of Democrats, people should have the opportunity to elect them.

Democratic Rep. Brian King happens to be one of Garber's biggest fans, at least when it comes to congressional mapmaking. He intends pitch a proposal Monday that relies heavily on Garber's work.

"I like several things about this map," said King, of Salt Lake. "It splits no county more than two ways. Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties are each split twice. Every other county remains whole."

That proposal drew praise from several residents who spoke at the last Redistricting Committee meeting where lawmakers looked at a dozen new maps, but didn't endorse any of them.

King, a member of the committee, said adopting Garber's map would restore the credibility and good will that initially grew out of the public redistricting process.

"Our work this Monday on the congressional maps should reflect openness and transparency and an end goal of truly representing the citizens of Utah," he said.

King said he vetted the map with House Republican leaders and emailed a copy to all GOP legislators.

Republican leaders don't appear to have an appetite for starting over.

"I'm in no mood to start drawing new maps," said House Majority Leader Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace.

In the earlier session, the Senate approved a map that the Redistricting Committee endorsed after six months of public meetings. Republican House members balked at that proposal, leading to the standstill.

GOP House and Senate leaders have since talked about how they want to configure districts for the three current and one new seat in Congress.

"We've had some frank discussions, good discussions," Dee said. "I feel a much more comfortable approaching Monday now than I did two weeks ago."

He said lawmakers likely will work from the Senate-approved map to craft the final product, which means they wouldn't have to hold more public hearings. Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, who co-chairs the Redistricting Committee, authored that proposal and last week posted two iterations of it that could emerge as front runners.

Meantime, Utah Democratic Party executive director Matt Lyon complained that the Sumsion maps are at least 62 percent Republican.

"This is not a compromise," he said. "They're still working to meet partisan goals. … The Republicans say it's about population, but the public process shows there's a million ways to draw maps around population."

Dee said if Democrats are worried about partisanship, "I would think they would be more concerned that we have some (districts) over 70 percent" Republican.

"It's not a matter of Democrat or Republican. It's a matter of dispersion. It's where people live," he said.

Party affiliation apparently doesn't matter to a least two legislators.

Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, and Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, plan to offer a proposal they have put together based on one of the Redistricting Committee's six final maps.

"It's the only map out there that has bipartisan support," McAdams said.

The so-called "hat and three stripes" has one district across the stop of the state and three others running north and south. It splits Salt Lake County four ways, but McAdams said the bulk of the county would be in two districts. He said he and Cox tried to keep communities intact in Salt Lake County in a way that makes sense.

"I don't know how many votes we'll get," McAdams said. "But we're working on it."

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