Summit County Council wants Park City area to have its own Statehouse representative
Redistricting preference is for 2 House districts covering county, not 3
Summit County has five representatives at the Statehouse: two in the Senate and three in the House. None live within the county’s borders.
Glenn Wright, who chairs the Summit County Council, indicated that when it comes to representation, sometimes less is more.
“Three is a really bad idea,” Wright said of the number of House districts that cover parts of the county.
Instead, Wright and his council colleagues — all Democrats — are advocating for the county to be split into two House districts rather than three during the current Utah redistricting process and for the Park City area to be given its own representative in the House.
The proposed split would be largely along school district boundaries, with the area encompassing the Park City School District making up the bulk of one potential House district and the other formed by combining the area inside the North Summit and South Summit school districts.
It is expected the seat representing the western side of the county would be held by a Democrat and the East Side would elect a Republican.
Neither side of the county has the population necessary to sustain an entire district, however, meaning the potential districts would likely need to include neighboring areas.
Councilors indicated the arrangement could allow Summit County to be represented by a Summit County resident at the Statehouse, would keep intact both the east and west sides of the county and would enable the county to retain representation in both political parties.
Utah, like the rest of the nation, is in the process of changing its political maps for the next 10 years, awaiting data from the U.S. Census.
The council’s recommendations were informal, a consensus reached among the councilors after a few minutes of debate at a County Council meeting last week.
An independent redistricting commission is soliciting input from around the state ahead of the more intense negotiations expected to come this fall after census data is made available. The data has been delayed for months by the pandemic.
Wright indicated he wanted to know where the council stood before a meeting last week with Better Boundaries, a bipartisan nonprofit that advocates for independent redistricting.
Katie Wright, Better Boundaries’ new executive director, emphasized that the nonprofit is not recommending maps or advocating for particular districts. Its goal is to increase public input in a process that has seemed opaque in the past.
Still, the council’s position on redistricting represents a notable divergence from the status quo and from another possibility that some have advocated for during previous redistricting efforts — keeping the county intact as one House district.
But councilors indicated last week they would prefer the county have representatives in both political parties, and to allow the more liberal West Side and conservative East Side to each have like-minded representation.
“It’s good for the County Council as a governmental organization to have representatives in both parties in the Legislature, particularly the majority party,” Wright said. “Realistically, the Legislature tries to do stuff to us, and it’s good to have somebody on the inside of the party in power to take your side. That worked for us very well in the Hideout dispute in terms of the Legislature repealing the initial bill. We got universal support from the Republicans in the Legislature who supported us who represented us.”
It is unclear what, if any, influence the council’s position will have on the upcoming legislative map.
The lone Democrat currently representing Summit County is Rep. Brian King, whose district includes Summit Park and part of Pinebrook. King, as the minority leader, is the highest-ranking Democrat in the House.
Councilors indicated losing King’s representation might be a drawback of their preferred redistricting plan.
“That would certainly be a negative factor,” Glenn Wright said. “Brian has a substantial voice in the Legislature.”
The Park City area has about 75% of the population required for a district, he estimated. The balance could be filled by Salt Lake County residents or those who live around the Jordanelle Reservoir in Wasatch County, Glenn Wright suggested.
East Side communities could join in with rural neighbors, possibly in Daggett, Rich or Duchesne counties.
The independent redistricting commission is tasked with submitting district maps to a state legislative committee. The Legislature will ultimately decide the districts.
The commission is obliged to hold at least seven public hearings before delivering the maps to the Legislature. The closest hearing to Summit County is planned Sept. 25 in Heber. The legislative committee plans to hold a hearing in Park City Oct. 8.
The Legislature has until the end of the year to select maps.
“A lot of it is beyond our ability to control,” Wright told his fellow councilors. “I’ll be cynical about it: The Legislature will do what they — and this advisory commission — will do what they want to do. My feeling is if the advisory commission doesn’t put any leadership of the Republican Party in the same district and doesn’t put too many of their own members into the same district, they might actually be able to draw some fair boundaries that everybody can live with. But we will see. That was certainly not the situation 10 years ago.”
“My hope is that the emphasis is on protecting the environmental and wildlife qualities. What they’re trying to buy and what they have optioned is basically a wildlife refuge,” Leslie Miller said.
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