In the next few weeks the election politics in Utah’s four U.S. House and 104 legislative districts will pretty much be decided upon, shaping elections for the next decade.
It’s crunch time for the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee, which holds the first of its “working” sessions Friday morning, 9 a.m. in the Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.
And in talking with several GOP Utah House and Senate leaders this past week I’ve been told that a number of GOP lawmakers (and maybe even a few Democrats, although they might not want to jump in yet with their support) like Senate President Michael Waddoups’ congressional map entitled “Congress: Plan D.”
Now, if indeed that is coming to the forefront, let me be one of the first to nickname it “Plan D From Outer Space” – because if something close to this ultimately passes an October special session, and sets the boundaries all U.S. House candidates run in next year, there will be critics who say it’s a mess, if not a joke, not unlike the kitsch old science fiction movie of years ago.
(The old black-and-white movie is a kick -- “Plan B From Outer Space” where one of the actors walks behind a set that is really just a shower curtain – low budget being the operative words here.)
Actually, Waddoups himself says his “Plan D” is not his favorite, but admits “a lot of folks do like that one.”
Waddoups likes more his other congressional map (he’s drawn several as a member of the Redistricting Committee) entitled “Salt Lake City/Military.”
You can view all of Waddoups’ congressional plans – and dozens of others – on the state’s official redistricting web site: www.redistrictutah.com.
Let me walk you through how to find Waddoups’ “Plan D” map, since one can’t link directly to it: On the redistricting home page, look under “archives” in the right column. Click on June. Scroll down through the various maps until you reach the date June 16 (on the left-hand column). Then look for “Congress: “Plan D” (Modified Doughnut Hole).”
You can then zoon in on the map to see in more detail exactly where the boundaries fall for the four U.S. House seats.
As one GOP leader told me: “There is a building consensus for Waddoups’ plan where the new 4th District in the south part of the (Salt Lake) valley.” That’s “Plan D.”
Waddoups told UtahPolicy on Thursday that he wants Salt Lake City to be whole in any new redistricting plan.
Several reasons for that, he says, including that it’s the state’s capitol and largest city and was split three ways in the current three-seat plan.
“Utah County has been whole” for 20 years, ever since the Utah got a third U.S. House seat in 1982.
“Utah County has had the advantage, they should be divided up, too,” he says, this time around.
While Utah County is split up under his “Salt Lake City/Military” plan, it is kept whole under his “Plan D.”
Thus, if he and other Salt Lake County GOP legislators can’t break the Utah County-bloc of all-Republican lawmakers, “Plan D” could be a compromise.
Waddoups also wants some kind of compromise between those who advocate for a “pizza slice” plan that cuts Salt Lake County into four slices – urban/rural in all four districts – and the “doughnut hole” idea that keeps at least one of the new districts mainly in urban Utah.
While Waddoups believes his “Salt Lake City/Military” plan does that best, he says his “Plan D” is close.
“I think we can find a solution that the Rs (Republicans) and Ds (Democrats) can support, that is a mix between the pizza slice and the doughnut hole – I really think we can,” said Waddoups, who may be a bit optimistic about that.
(Waddoups is retiring from politics the end of 2012 and is not planning on running for any office in the future. So some are saying he can be a neutral broker – or as neutral as any GOP leader can be – in drawing the new U.S. House boundaries.)
Because southern Salt Lake County, northern Utah County, and southern Utah has grown faster than northern Utah and already built-up areas in Salt Lake and Utah counties, there has to be shifts statewide in legislative and U.S. House districts, and shifts within Salt Lake and Utah counties.
That’s just the hard numbers of population changes since 2000, the last Census before the 2010 count.
Waddoups’ “Plan D” would create the new 4th District in southern Salt Lake County. That would be a GOP-leaning district.
Rep. Rob Bishop’s 1st District would remain in northern Utah; and Rep. Jason Chaffetz’ 3rd District would still be headquartered in Utah County. They are both Republicans.
U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, now holds the 2nd District. That currently takes in eastern Salt Lake City, eastern parts of Salt Lake County, and then swings east, south, southeast and southwest.
In general, “Plan D” flips Matheson’s 2nd District. It would take in all of Salt Lake City, then flow out into Tooele County and down the western part of the state, taking in Iron and Washington counties once again and flow to the east, giving Matheson some new constituents, but also keeping many that he already has.
While the new 2nd District would still be heavily Republican – as is Matheson’s current district – the conservative Democratic incumbent would also get more liberal parts of Salt Lake City’s downtown and west side while keeping some of his current southern Utah constituents.
Matheson hasn’t won those southern counties in his re-elections during the 2000s (or if he has carried one or two its been by narrow margins), but overall he’s done OK for a Democrat.
What’s frustrated Utah GOP leaders time and again is that Matheson has carried the eastside of Salt Lake County by 60 percent and more – many of those voters being independents or moderate Republicans who haven’t voted for Matheson’s GOP challenger.
Giving Matheson new voters in Tooele, Juab and some western and central Utah counties (many Republicans there) could harm his re-election chances.
Still, overall, Waddoups’ “Plan D” isn’t bad for Utah Democrats or Matheson.
It would ensure that if Republicans couldn’t win the seat, at least the incumbent Democrat would have to be a pretty conservative politician, and support public land development, wildlife and agricultural issues, to name just a few.
Waddoups says neither his “Salt Lake City/Military” map nor his “Plan D” will pass as drawn.
“But they could be the basis for something that is finally adopted – I think they have some support” in the Redistricting Committee and among GOP legislators in general.
From watching the last three redistricting efforts, I’d guess that “Plan D” has more going for it than “Salt Lake City/Military” does.
There is less radical thinking and changes in the former.
But who really knows?
Friday starts the hard bargaining. New plans will come forward; new coalitions made and some difficult votes taken.