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Ronald Reagan used to help make case for Better Boundaries ballot proposition

FILE - In this May 24, 1985, file photo, then U.S. President Ronald Reagan works at his desk in the oval office of the White House as he prepares a speech on tax revision.
FILE - In this May 24, 1985, file photo, then U.S. President Ronald Reagan works at his desk in the oval office of the White House as he prepares a speech on tax revision.
Scott Stewart, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Backers of Proposition 4, which would create an independent redistricting commission to help draw new political boundaries, are using the late President Ronald Reagan to make their case in a new TV commercial.

Reagan is quoted as labeling the manipulating of districts known as gerrymandering "anti-democratic," "un-American" and a "national disaster," and calling for the appointment of a bipartisan commission to handle the once-a-decade duty.

"I think that's a great message. I think it's a relevant message today," said Jeff Wright, co-chairman of Utahns for Responsive Government, the group behind the Better Boundaries initiative on the November ballot.

Proposition 4 campaign manager Catherine Kantor said although there has been limited advertising on cable channels over the past two weeks, the new commercials that began airing Tuesday kick off a $650,000 buy through Election Day on Nov. 6.

Kantor said Reagan was a "redistricting reformer, quite dedicated to this cause. So we elected to use him in our ad as a reflection of somebody who was in favor of an independent redistricting commission."

Reagan's remarks, made in response to what he saw as Democratic gerrymandering, were also used because for his popularity in Utah, a state dominated by Republicans. Wright, a Republican, noted Reagan is his favorite president.

Better Boundaries has billed itself as a bipartisan effort, with former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, a Democrat, also serving as co-chairman. Kantor, who ran for the Salt Lake County Council as a Democrat in 2016, said she is now unaffiliated.

The commercial is the first of three planned. The next will use children at a birthday party slicing a cake to show why politicians shouldn't carve up districts, and another will feature "everyday" supporters, Kantor said.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years, following the national census, and is intended to ensure equal representation by rebalancing current legislative, congressional and state school board boundaries to reflect population shifts.

It's a job that falls to the Utah Legislature, but Proposition 4 would create an independent commission appointed by the governor and legislative leaders to come up with proposed boundaries.

Lawmakers would have the option of rejecting the commission's plan, but would have to explain why — a requirement seen as putting political pressure on elected officials to seriously consider the results.

Opponents of Proposition 4 say it takes away from the redistricting authority granted to lawmakers in the Utah Constitution in an effort to help create a safe congressional district for Democrats in Salt Lake City.

It's "a cleverly disguised partisan power grab," backed by Becker and other "liberal Salt Lake City Democrats," Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said in his opposition arguments in the state's voter guide.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated Catherine Kantor ran for Salt Lake City Council in 2016. She ran for a spot on the Salt Lake County Council.