Utah redistricting plan stalls behind closed doors

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers stumbled this week in their initial attempt to finalize redistricting plans after hours of closed-door meetings by Republicans failed to produce a congressional map that the House and Senate could support.Legislators decided instead to take a two-week recess during their special session, which began Monday and can run as long as 30 days. During the break, Republican leaders and members of the state’s redistricting committee will attempt to nail down a compromise map that will pass muster with the divided Republican caucuses.They will also face a growing public dissatisfaction with the process, which is being fueled by cries of gerrymandering and threats of lawsuits from Democratic party leaders. Already, there have been two rallies at the state Capitol by people angry that Republicans seem to be making the final decisions in private.”It’s very clear that this is becoming something that the House and Senate Republicans are going to do without our input,” said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City.One of the primary hang-ups is the congressional district that has been held since 2000 by a Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson.Republicans unsuccessfully targeted Matheson in redistricting 10 years ago by diluting many of his urban voters in a district that spanned the eastern half of the state. In a map passed by the Senate but shouted down by House Republicans, Matheson’s district includes much of the western half of the state as well as Democratic strongholds like Salt Lake City.An alternative plan backed by House Republicans, however, pushes Matheson’s district into eastern and southern Utah and divides his Democratic northern Utah base between all four districts.”The discussion about Matheson’s current district is part of the focus,” said the co-chair of the redistricting committee, Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.The motivating factors for changing Matheson’s district are unclear, however, in part because Matheson has made it clear that he may run for either governor or the U.S. Senate. Some Republicans – such as Morgan Philpot, who ran against Matheson in 2010 – claim the district is being made friendlier to Matheson to keep him out of a statewide race, while Democrats claim the district is being manipulated to take out Matheson.House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said the complaints are not about any particular person, be it a Democratic incumbent or potential Republican candidate.”We’re still talking philosophy … there are a lot of different complaints about the map” passed by the Senate, including a lack of rural representation in one of the districts,” Lockhart said. “We’re basically back to square one.”—

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