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Matheson: 'There's no question I'm a target' in redistricting

Jim Matheson is running for re-election in Utah's 2nd District.
Jim Matheson is running for re-election in Utah's 2nd District.
Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, said Tuesday he expects state lawmakers will once again change the boundaries of his 2nd District seat to make it as tough as possible for him to win reelection.

"There's no question I'm a target," Matheson said. "My gosh, 10 years ago, the Wall Street Journal said it was the most egregious example of gerrymandering in the country. Of course that's what they're doing. We all know it."

Even so, Matheson told reporters after delivering a speech to students at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics he "absolutely" can keep his seat no matter how the lines are redrawn.

"The most Republican congressional district in America represented by a Democrat is me. So I think I know how to run a good campaign and win," he said. "I'm not going to worry too much about what they do."

Matheson criticized the state's redistricting process, which puts the Legislature in charge of adjusting the school board, legislative and congressional districts, based on the population shifts identified by the 2010 Census that gave the state a fourth seat in Congress.

"I don't think elected officials should be doing this," Matheson said, renewing his call for an independent redistricting commission. "This isn't just about me. Every citizen in Utah has to put up with the results of this flawed process."

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, a member of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee, said Matheson has "made some very erroneous suppositions."

Waddoups said lawmakers did not gerrymander the 2nd District after the 2000 Census when they stretched the boundaries from Salt Lake through many of the most conservative areas of the state down into southern Utah.

The Senate leader said then, as now, lawmakers were only trying to create equal districts based on population changes identified in the nation's census, conducted once every 10 years.

"If he's going to perceive every move he doesn’t like as gerrymandering, yes, we're going to do it again," Waddoups said. "He's positioning himself so he'll have an excuse to get public sympathy."

Matheson also said he's still hasn't made a decision about whether he'll attempt to unseat either Sen. Orrin Hatch or Gov. Gary Herbert, both Republicans, rather than seek a seventh term in Congress.

"There's plenty of time to decide what I'm going to be doing," he said. "I've been very upfront. There are different offices I'm looking at right now. I'm looking for the best opportunity to serve my constituents, and I'm going to decide sometime this fall."

The congressman said his decision won't be affected by the recent announcement by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, that he'll run for reelection rather than challenge Hatch. "I don't run against other people," Matheson said.

U. political science professor Matthew Burbank said Matheson is sending a message to lawmakers by talking publicly about being targeted — and about possibly taking on some GOP heavyweights.

"What he wants to do is put some pressure on the people drawing the lines, to think about not only how they can advantage Republican politicians" in the 2nd District, Burbank said, but also "the broader interests of the Republican Party."


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