The most difficult of the four redistricting plans Utah legislators must draw this summer is the state House of Representatives’ 75 seats.
It’s a daunting task.
Since the 75 House seats have the smallest populations in the redistricting effort, relatively small changes in boundaries have a large ripple effect as drafters move outwards from any starting point.
And those that have taken it on – especially if they are trying to keep current incumbent representatives physically in their new districts – find they must draw some fairly strange lines.
The latest, and most complete, 75-district House map coming out of the Redistricting Committee has some interesting twists.
And if it isn’t changed in a number of areas as many as eight House Democrats could be combined into four new House districts.
After the 2012 elections that would automatically reduce by nearly half the House’s minority representation.
(You can view the new 75-district House plan at: www.redistrictutah.com. Scroll down and click on “Complete House Plan Draft.” You can zoom in and out to find more detailed areas.)
It’s unlikely the Utah House Republicans would be so tough on the minority Democrats by combining eight of their members into four districts. After all, Democrats hold only 17 out of 75 seats in the Houe as it is.
Still, the plan suggested over last weekend shows the power of the majority party in redistricting.
A UtahPolicy review of the new House plan and interviews with House Republicans and Democrats finds:
-- Uintah Basin is split up. Rep. Mel Brown, R-Kamas, who now has the relatively liberal Park City loses that Democratic area. His district would move far to the east, all the way to Flaming Gorge and taking in Roosevelt City.
Brown, who is the chair of the House Budget Committee, a powerful appointed position, would get a much more Republican district under this plan.
-- Park City, which Utah Democrats have been trying to get into either it’s own district or connected to eastern Salt Lake County up I-80, goes into a new district that runs southeastwards all the way to Duchesne.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, would now represent Park City. Powell has been a rather independent representative – not always towing the GOP line – he could be vulnerable to a challenge by either a Democrat from Park City or a conservative Republican from the Uintah Basin.
-- Salt Lake City’s Capitol Hill area, represented by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, would be combined with Davis County’s North Salt Lake City, a Republican area now held by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-Bountiful.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, sits on the GOP-heavy Redistricting Committee. As he reviewed the new map he saw that several of the House Democrats seem to be placed in new districts with other House Democratic incumbents. (The maps themselves don’t point out where individual legislators live, so it takes someone with some knowledge of representatives’ street addresses to see the whole picture.)
King believes that Chavez-Houck and House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, are in one rather odd-looking district.
Reps. Tim Cosgrove, D-Midvale, is put in with Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray.
King is also lumped into Rep. Joel Briscoe’s district on Salt Lake City’s eastside.
And Reps. Neal Hendrickson and Larry Wiley, both D-West Valley, appear to be in the same district.
This is the first “comprehensive” 75-seat House plan, put on line on Monday.
King said he has already spoken with Republicans who say the plan will be changed in several ways.
All along, House Republicans have been saying that one, two or even three Salt Lake County Democratic House seats would have to be combined with other incumbents, most likely fellow Democrats.
Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, recently resigned her seat because she is moving out of her district. King notes that her old District 30 in the center part of the valley no longer exists. “It was consolidated into surrounding districts,” said King.
Biskupski’s replacement will be selected at the state Democratic Convention this weekend. King said it looks to him like any of those candidates would live in a new district with a current Democratic incumbent.
The new plan shows Tooele County is still split three ways, as is Summit County, noted King.
“I know from talks with Summit County folks that they think it’s time they get their own Utah House seat. And the county’s population is almost perfect for one seat,” said King.
“But it’s unlikely it will be one seat, because Mel (Brown) would be a Republican sitting in a Democratic-leaning district,” King added.
Moab is also split again – as it is now – under the new map.
“Really, it’s hard to find a way to draw a southeastern district that doesn’t split Moab,” said King. And splitting that liberal, touristy town allows Rep. Chris Watkins, D-Price, to keep most of her current constituents, King noted.
Utah County, which needs to get at least one new House seat to meet population growth, is well taken care of in the new plan.
One House Republican, who asked not to be quoted by name, said it’s clear that House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, and Redistricting Committee House chairman, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, have looked after their own.
(Neither Sumsion nor Lockhart could be reached for comment on Monday.)
While Sumsion has said he can’t draw a Utah County map that doesn’t put at least one GOPA incumbent in with another Republican in the Provo/Orem area, there could still be an open seat in northern Utah County where former Rep. Craig Frank lives. Frank had to resign his seat earlier this year after learning that he’s actually been living outside of his district for several years after building a new house.
“It looks like” the Utah County GOP delegation “won’t allow any of us in Salt Lake County to drop down into northern Utah County,” said one GOP House member.
“They want one and perhaps two new House seats in Utah County.”
While the county’s population growth justifies that, without one or two Salt Lake County Republicans being put into northern Utah County areas, it’s likely one GOP House member in Salt Lake County’s southeastern area will have to be put into a fellow incumbent’s district.
Hendrickson, who is also on the Redistricting Committee, told UtahPolicy that two sets of GOP legislators from southern Salt Lake County are also put together in the new plan.
“Everyone has to realize that it takes 38 votes to pass a plan in the House,” said Hendrickson who was in the House during the 2001 redistricting.
“You can’t be too hard” on either the Republicans or the Democrats, he noted. Otherwise, if too many House Republicans are put together or are otherwise unhappy – and they vote against that plan – then it will take Democratic votes to pass it. And, of course, that means Democrats must get something in return.
“Ten years ago this whole process was made easier when some House members voluntarily retired rather than face an election with another member of their own party. But I don’t see that happening” in 2012, this GOP legislator said.
“And so some (House) incumbents will be running against another House member.”
The Redistricting Committee holds another public hearing Tuesday night, this one at 6 p.m. in the Jordan School District Auxiliary Service Bldg, 7905 S. Redwood Road. The committee’s meeting schedule is on the redistricting web site.