Summit County’s state legislators talk gerrymandering, ballot initiatives
Three of Summit County’s five state legislators provided some clarity on their positions on hot issues at a Thursday night panel at the Park City Library. The event was hosted by Action Utah, a nonpartisan voter engagement organization led by Andrea Himoff, a Parkite.
State Reps. Tim Quinn, R–Heber; Brian King, D–Salt Lake; and Sen. Ron Winterton, R–Roosevelt, attended the panel, which had a more relaxed atmosphere than many Legislature-centric events. Sen. Allen Christensen, R–North Ogden, and Rep. Logan Wilde, R–Croydon, were scheduled to appear but were absent.
Questions of legislators’ respect for the will of Utah voters hung over the panel, which had been in the works since June. Summit County and voters statewide voted in favor both of a medical marijuana ballot initiative and a Medicaid expansion plan last year, but both were later superseded by state lawmakers. The Legislature’s Medicaid plan was sponsored by Christensen, who represents the northern portion of Summit County.
Some elements of the Legislature’s medical marijuana compromise is due to be hammered out in an upcoming special session, while the Trump administration has signaled it would deny a waiver needed to implement Christensen’s bill, which heavily modified the voter-approved Medicaid expansion to resemble a less expansive plan the Republican majority had already passed in 2018.
Christensen was scheduled to appear at Thursday’s event but, due to what he called a “prior engagement, another meeting” that night, he didn’t attend.
Wilde, meanwhile, said an unanticipated family event kept him from participating. King, the House minority leader, relayed questions from attending constituents of Wilde’s to him via text message.
With no Utah state legislators hailing from Summit County, concerns regarding lawmakers heeding the will of the voters are magnified as some worry that, with propositions 2 and 3 as precedent, the Legislature could also overturn Proposition 4, which calls for an independent commission to take the reins of drawing the state’s electoral map.
In response to a question from Himoff about redistricting, King said that, in the last round of redistricting after the 2010 Census, Summit County was divided up to weaken the already-small Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill.
“I know for a fact, because I was involved in the redistricting process in 2011, I was on that committee, that there was some gerrymandering that took place regarding Summit County at least in the House,” King said.
After the panel, King elaborated that, while he believes Summit County’s current districts are gerrymandered to dilute the influence of its Democrats, future redistricting should take care to draw lines not just based on the county’s borders but the economic and cultural differences between its eastern and western halves.
“People on the west side of Summit County might say, ‘We’d love to have our own representative’ and people on the east side might say, ‘We want our own,’” King said after the panel. “We don’t have that now. What we have is the west side of Summit County split between three House members.”
Quinn, a fiscal conservative who has regularly engaged with liberal-leaning Park City voters and officials since his election in 2016, said that he hears from his Summit County constituents more than from those in Wasatch County, and that he believes Summit County deserves its own legislator on Capitol Hill.
“I’ve already told leadership in my party that I think Summit County ought to have its own representative,” Quinn said.
In response to a question from Himoff on voters’ will, Winterton said that he has a tough job balancing the interests of the western side of Senate District 26, which includes Summit and Wasatch counties, and the agricultural and energy interests of the eastern side that comprises the Uintah Basin.
He said that while redistricting “scares” him, he believes the election of a Summit County legislator is inevitable.
Issues of Summit County’s representation are far more pronounced when it comes to the state House districts. For the larger state Senate and the congressional districts, though, the math gets trickier.
The legislators have kept themselves relatively busy through the body’s “offseason.”
Quinn, a tax hawk who was tasked with carrying Gov. Gary Herbert’s failed tax reform effort through the Legislature last session, has traveled the state to get input from voters on the issue.
It hasn’t been pretty, he said. According to him, at one point his wife seriously floated the idea that he should wear a bulletproof vest.
Winterton, meanwhile, said he’s put 23,000 miles on a truck he bought at the beginning of the year. As a former trucker who said he was “thrown into” the issue of Medicaid expansion as the chair of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, he’s been attending workshops in addition to seeing more of his vast district and interacting with its voters, including those in Park City.
As for the leader of Utah’s House Democrats, King said he’s continued to build relationships not only as the chamber’s minority leader, but its “superminority leader.”
The special session on medical marijuana is set for Monday. Leg.utah.gov provides livestreams of votes and floor debates.
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