Remember the old joke about the camel – that it was so ugly it must have been designed by a committee.
Well, unfortunately, critics say, the Republicans in the Utah Legislature – after months of public testimony, a $1 million budget and literally hundreds of U.S. House maps to choose from – were close to approving a camel-like four-seat congressional map late Tuesday night that, despite what up until then had been the most open and transparent redistricting Utah has ever seen, would have been made public just before the House and Senate took votes.
Instead – and after cooler heads prevailed, UtahPolicy was told -- Republicans decided to recess the special session until Oct. 17 – when legislators will return to debate and adopt the new U.S. House map.
Sometime before then, perhaps as early as Friday, the Legislature's Redistricting Committee will hold a public hearing on more maps, some of which were being discussed behind closed doors Tuesday night.
The committee could hold more public hearings before lawmakers come back to Capitol Hill to take up the congressional redistricting, said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
As explained to UtahPolicy, one of the maps had a "neck" whose existence seemed aimed at helping or hurting some U.S. House incumbent, but the maps were not made public Tuesday night.
Still, while the U.S. House map is yet to be decided, the two-day session was productive.
Legislators agreed on a new 15-seat map for the State School Board, a 75-seat map for the Utah House and a 29-seat map for the Senate. Online links are on the bottom of this story.
Several other bills and resolutions were also passed.
House and Senate GOP leaders were set to push on through to the early morning hours of Wednesday, if necessary, to reach agreement on a new four-seat U.S. House plan.
As it turned out, technology, and concern over some really bad public relations, won the day. The compromise U.S. House maps took longer to draw and get into the proper CD form that expected.
And GOP legislators began to worry about how it may look if the Legislature – after six months of open meetings seeking citizen input, more than 160 congressional maps drawn by citizens – were to rush through a U.S. House map that no one had seen, had never had a public hearing.
"We decided not to rush," said Lockhart. "We will take some time to reach the good, the right decision. We will let the (Redistricting) committee do some more work."
"All the players" – Gov. Gary Herbert, the House and Senate Republicans – "need more time – and that is a good sign," she said.
Democratic lawmakers took advantage of what they saw as the Republicans' slip up.
Tuesday night, before the Republicans announced they wouldn't act immediately, and would take more time on the congressional map, Sen. Karen Morgan, R-Cottonwood Heights, said: "As we speak, Republicans are behind closed doors drawing secret maps that will get no public hearing." But not a moment later, Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, told reporters that maps being drawn Tuesday would get a public hearing at a later date.
GOP leaders, sources said, were working on a new four-seat map that would have been a hodgepodge of last-minute boundary changes that tried to serve several masters: First, to put Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson's 2nd District into a more Republican area; second, to keep military bases in GOP Rep. Rob Bishop's 1st Congressional District; third, to make a new 4th District that is mainly western Salt Lake and Utah counties, but stretched further in south/central Utah; fourth, to make GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz safe in his expanding, and more Republican, 3rd District; fifth, to make each of the four districts contain urban and rural elements, with significant federal lands in all four.
And, of course, the final map had to satisfy a few GOP partisan desires, also.
When one tries to put too many ingredients into what could be a simple recipe – dividing up Utah into four new congressional seats – you can end up with something that tastes bad to about everyone.
GOP leaders could have rushed the matter through Tuesday night. But that would have meant not holding a public hearing on the map that Utahns would have to live with for the next 10 years.
"Our own (House GOP) caucus couldn't agree" on what was the best of the maps being bandied about, said Lockhart.
Now, legislators didn't legally need to hold a public hearing on the final map, because technically they would substitute that map over a bill/map that HAD been before a public hearing.
But that is splitting hairs.
Can anyone say "HB477?"
That was the much-hated GRAMA (open record's act) bill that passed in the final hours of the 2011 general session only to be recalled and repealed within a month.
"This is starting to be similar to HB477," said Morgan, who is thinking about running for governor next year.
Herbert was caught in a political whip-lash over HB477 – first accused of agreeing to it, then lambasted in public for not immediately stopping it, then agreeing to a compromise that allowed the bill to be passed, then calling a special session so it could be repealed.
HB477 was a political nightmare for GOP legislators – and some of them were thinking about that Tuesday night.
And who was not heard from Tuesday?
As one GOP leader said about Herbert late Tuesday night – "He has been silent, gone dark. Who knows what he thinks" about the compromise congressional maps.
In other words, Herbert was not going to get HB477ed again.
(Waddoups said it is understandable that the governor has not been engaged; his mother died over the weekend.)
Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, the House's Redistricting Committee co-chairman who has put in hundreds of hours of work on map-making this year, said the compromise maps that were being talked about in Tuesday working session with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, were actually relatively small changes to maps that had been heard previously by the committee.
So he doesn't consider them "new" maps at all.
"They've been discussed before," said Sumsion.
Said Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, a committee member who helped draw the House's redistricting within Salt Lake County: "Are there really any new maps that we all haven't seen before?"
But as the night wore on, and there were internal haggling between House and Senate Republicans, it became more clear that the good will the majority party had built up with various members of the public and citizen groups could be endanger if a U.S. House map was pushed through.
And Democrats were ready to pounce.
"The map that came out last week" and was passed by the Senate on Monday, "was put together by partisan operatives, more based on who is going to run for Congress next year, and what is best for them," said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, a member of the Redistricting Committee.
Utah Democratic Party chairman Jim Dabakis let lose to reporters waiting around for the Republicans to decide what they were going to do Tuesday night:
"This is outrageous. It is sickening. They are behind closed doors drawing maps no one has ever seen before. Who is going to stop this?"
Calm down, said Waddoups: "The Democratic maps were drawn behind closed doors, too. No one held an open-door drawing session. The (U.S. House) maps will go to the redistricting committee and be heard – a number of those maps were just tweaks to maps that have already been heard – one the map that we (in the Senate) passed already."
"The fix is not in," said Lockhart. "No one is pulling maps out of their back-pockets. We are going to do our work" over the next few weeks until lawmakers meet again to take up the U.S. House redistricting.
For the record – as we like to say in journalism – here are the bills/maps that passed the special session Monday and Tuesday: