Conflicts arise as panel maps new Utah districts

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — State lawmakers tasked with drafting new election maps are finding that their principles for redistricting are conflicting with each other and causing practical problems. During a meeting Wednesday, the Redistricting Committee tentatively approved a map for the state school board that protected multiple incumbents and, in the process, trampled one of the committee’s primary goals. Committee members also considered a state Senate seat map that the sponsor said was drawn, in part, to prevent two current senators from being placed in the same district. Lawmakers adjourned for the day without voting on the proposal. In both cases, the lines were shifted from initial proposals to protect incumbents because of other, larger concerns, according to the sponsors. For the state school board map, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, said incumbents who were initially allocated to the same district needed to be separated to prevent massive turnover on the board. Otherwise, every seat on the board – members serve staggered four-year terms – would potentially be up for election in 2012. The state Senate map proposed by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, specifically prevented Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, and Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, from running against each other. But Okerlund said the motivation was because the senators represent significantly different communities, something reinforced by public comments. Robles’ district is centered on Salt Lake City’s west side, which has a relatively large Hispanic population. Liljenquist primarily represents northern suburbs in Davis County that have a higher median income and less diversity. Democrats were expected to lose at least one incumbent in whatever map the committee approves because the population has grown substantially more in Republican strongholds, such as Utah County. The Senate proposal frustrated people who testified before the committee, which they said simply reinforced the fear that politics would drive redistricting. “If this map passed, the skeptics win because it’s clear you’re protecting incumbents. You’ve perpetuated the problem,” said Merrill Nelson, a former legislator from Tooele County. John Fellows, the Legislature’s general counsel, said the U.S. Supreme Court has established seven principles for redistricting, including preserving “communities of interest” and making districts compact. Each district is also required to have approximately the same population. Often, those principles and population requirements cause a “tension” and can force committee members to decide their priorities, Fellows said.

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