‘Gerrymander’ may loom
May 6, 2009
Parkites have limited political influence due to the gerrymandering of House and Senate districts by the state Legislature, a spokesman for the Summit County Democratic Party claims.
He says dividing Summit County into two legislative and senatorial districts dilutes its influence on state politics.
On Wednesday, Parkite Glenn Wright says he will help deliver language to the office of Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert that could allow voters to decide in 2010 whether to form an independent commission to help oversee political redistricting in Utah.
Many legislative districts in the state are "super safe for incumbents," Summit County Democratic Party spokesman Glenn Wright told the Summit County Council April 29.
"It’s created noncompetitive races virtually all over the state," Wright said. "[Summit County] boundaries are particularly egregious."
In a split decision, the County Council voted 3-2 to support a resolution that encourages more independent redistricting in Utah.
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The Summit County population is roughly 40,000. Legislative districts in Utah usually have about 30,000 residents. The 2000 census counted 29,736 in Summit County, which was almost exactly the amount needed for a Utah House seat.
Many Democrats had wanted the Republican-dominated Legislature to form a district that followed Summit County’s boundaries.
The Legislature’s decision to split Summit County between two districts in the House and Senate upset Democrats. They argued the map was redrawn to benefit GOP candidates.
The local House district was sliced into two, sending some people who live on the West Side into District 25 in the Salt Lake valley and lopping the rest into District 53, which includes rural areas of Rich, Morgan, Wasatch and Daggett counties.
The state senator who represents eastern Summit County in District 19 lives in North Ogden and Park City’s senator in District 26 resides in Vernal, which is more than 100 miles from Old Town.
"A lot of citizens don’t realize what happened in the past and what could happen in the future," Wright said. "It could take 10 more years before we get a chance to make things right."
Instead of the state Legislature, Wright wants a nonpartisan panel overseeing political redistricting in Utah when the process begins after the 2010 census.
Four out of the five county councilpersons are Democrats and in supporting the resolution deputy Summit County attorney David Thomas encouraged them not to enrage powerful Republican state lawmakers.
"Whatever you sign will eventually get back to the Legislature," Thomas told the County Council. "I’m trying to look after your future at the Legislature You’re poking the eye of the Legislature. Do you really want to do that?"
Republican County Councilman David Ure agreed.
"This one, for Summit County especially, will get us in trouble," said Ure, who has served most of Summit County in the House of Representatives.
"It’s going to get us in trouble anyway because it has our name on it," Democrat Summit County Councilwoman Sally Elliott replied.
Wright added that state lawmakers couldn’t treat Summit County much worse.
"The Legislature bites us every year and it doesn’t really matter," Wright said. "At some point the citizens of this state have got to put their foot down and say we aren’t going to take it anymore."
County officials shouldn’t be "afraid of the Legislature," he insisted.
Still, Summit County Councilman Chris Robinson acknowledged the county has a "deplorable" reputation on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
"[State lawmakers] have no compunction about doing things to this county that they would think twice about doing to others," Robinson said. "We would like the commission formed, but we don’t want to further alienate the Legislature."
Next year, voters may decide whether to form an independent redistricting panel.
"Do we base our decisions out of fear of a mean, vindictive state Legislature?" Democrat Summit County Councilman John Hanrahan said.
Hanrahan and Elliott voted against the resolution saying it doesn’t express strong enough support for fair redistricting.
"Our nay votes were not in opposition to the intent of the resolution, but to the lack of strength in the resolution," Hanrahan explained.
Ure, Robinson and Summit County Councilwoman Claudia McMullin approved the resolution.