Keep Park City area intact, redistricting committee told
Legislators hear dissatisfaction that the Basin has been carved into three chunks
Suzanne Rosenberg wasn’t planning to speak Friday night at a public hearing in the Snyderville Basin regarding the state’s redistricting process, but after the chair of the Legislative Redistricting Committee noted the location of the event as being in Park City, she got up to say her piece.
“I would hope, with all due respect Mr. Chairman, that you learn geography a bit better before you try to do any redistricting,” Rosenberg said, drawing attention to the fact that the meeting was instead being held in unincorporated Summit County.
State Sen. Scott Sandall, a Republican from Tremonton, is a co-chair of the committee and was leading Friday’s meeting at Ecker Hill Middle School. He clarified that he should have referred to the “Park City area” rather than the city itself, and said the particular location of the hearing was chosen late in the process.
Though Sandall characterized the Park City mention as an inadvertent oversight — the committee was conducting its fifth hearing in three days — for some who spoke, his comments appeared to be emblematic of the attitude state officials have had toward the Park City area when drawing political maps.
Several commenters referenced the Legislature’s 2010 redistricting process when it carved the Snyderville Basin into three state House districts and two Senate districts. Summit County has no current representative at the Statehouse who lives in the county.
The hearing gave a rare opportunity for local residents to speak their mind about the once-a-decade redistricting process that is currently underway. Officials who choose the final maps point to the challenge of splitting the state into contiguous sections that can only vary in population by a handful of residents, and the amount of legislative turnover since 2010, indicating voters have been adequately able to choose their own representatives.
Detractors say the previous rounds of redistricting resulted in gerrymandered boundaries that gave Republicans an edge in Statehouse races. To Rosenberg, the inclusion of rural areas in many districts effectively diluted urban votes.
The reliably Democratic Snyderville Basin now contributes votes to House District 28, held by Salt Lake City Democrat Brian King, but also to House Districts 53 and 54, and Senate Districts 19 and 26, all of which include large swaths of rural areas and are held by Republicans.
“You just have to look at the map of how Salt Lake City got divided up. All of the more liberal, progressive areas in Salt Lake got merged in with these rural areas that are totally conservative,” Rosenberg said in a subsequent interview. “… To me, that’s the obvious, blatant reason why the redistricting was done in that way — to dilute out any urban issues. You put more voters in a district from a rural area, they’re going to be the ones electing a representative. The representative is going to go for what the majority of voters in their district wants.”
Many at the hearing advocated that “communities of interest” remain intact. For Parkites, that might mean keeping Park City and the Snyderville Basin in one House district.
Sandall said in an interview the committee’s challenge is to prioritize sometimes divergent communities of interest, when someone’s community identity crosses county lines, for example. He added that the committee had not taken a stance yet on whether to try to combine rural and urban areas. He said it might make sense to have congressional districts include both rural and urban populations so both sets of interests are represented in Washington.
Sen. Kirk Cullimore, a Republican from Sandy, said the committee had heard from residents at other hearings across the state who advocated combining urban and rural areas.
For some, Friday’s hearing was an opportunity to air ideas that lie under the surface in conversations about Park City and Summit County’s place in state politics but are not often said publicly.
Heidi Matthews, a former Park City educator and the president of the state’s largest teachers union, alluded to the reputation the area has at the Statehouse.
“Until I was working at the state level as the president of the Utah Education Association, I didn’t realize the extent of the inaccurate, unflattering stereotypes of who lives here in Park City, and how these inaccurate assumptions impact policy decisions on so many levels. Because, you know, we all have theaters in our basements, right? We’re trust-funder expert skiers and our kids are in class sizes of 15 and they’re all gifted,” she said. “As you address redistricting, we must be sure to have our community represented for who we are in all our complexities, and resist efforts to divide our community, particularly with the state’s rural districts.”
The Legislative Redistricting Committee is holding public hearings around the state as part of an effort to redraw political maps using data from this year’s U.S. Census. The state Legislature is tasked with approving new maps for U.S. Congressional districts as well as for the Utah House, Senate and State Board of Education.
Glenn Wright, the chair of the Summit County Council, repeated his advocacy that the county be divided into two House districts, one for the Park City area and the other for eastern Summit County. He said Summit County and Wasatch County would serve as an ideal core for a future Senate district.
The Legislative Redistricting Committee includes 20 of the legislators who will ultimately decide which political maps become law. There is a separate process underway with an independent commission, which is also holding hearings across the state, including one last month in Heber.
The commission is tasked with creating maps and submitting them to the legislative committee, which is under no obligation to use them. Several commenters requested the legislative committee heed the advice of the independent commission.
While the legislative committee is spearheading the Legislature’s efforts, the issue will ultimately be decided by the entire Legislature.
Rosenberg acknowledged the state is politically conservative but said that everyone deserves to be represented.
“I’m really concerned about people having voting rights and being represented by their representatives,” she said. “I just don’t feel that our representatives represent us, certainly not in Summit County, where we are so divided up.”
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