Over the past two weekends, residents of southern Utah were able to share their thoughts on the decade-long redistribution process.
They did so in public hearings held by the two state-funded Utah redistribution groups. One is the traditional Legislative Redistribution Committee, a group of 20 state lawmakers – 15 Republicans and five Democrats – this is the group that has made final redistribution recommendations to the state legislature in the past and will make final recommendations to the legislature for this redistribution to deal with.
The other group, the Independent Redistribution Commission, is a seven-member group of commissioners, three of whom were chosen by the Democrats and one by three by the Republicans, with President Rex Facer chosen by the governor. This group is in its first year after being created in 2018 thanks to a proposed vote supported by voters.
These two groups are working on “parallel tracks” and will each produce a set of maps according to State Senator Scott Sandall, Republican and co-chair of the legislative committee. The Independent Commission works as an advisory group to the Legislative Committee and the two groups are not in competition, according to former congressman Rob Bishop who is commissioner of the Independent Commission.
The Independent Commission stopped in Washington on September 17 and the Legislative Committee was in St. George on Saturday. Both meetings allowed the groups to explain the parameters of the process and hear how to divide urban and rural Utah.
At the start of the Legislative Committee hearing, Senator Don Ipson read a letter from the Mayor of St. George Michele Randall, in which the mayor advocated keeping St. George in the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Representative Chris Stewart.
Randall cited Stewart’s knowledge of the area and the needs of the district.
Several other political leaders in southern Utah also made public comments, including state officials (right) Travis Seegmiller, (right) Walt Brooks and newly elected Washington County commissioner (right) Adam Snow. The mayor of Enterprise also spoke and their comments focused on how southwest Utah has different issues than the rest of the state and needs unique representation.
All spoke about the growth of the state and how rural areas can be lost in the reshuffle, advocating for rural communities to be demarcated so that their voices are heard in Congress and the State House. .
âWe want to make sure that the rural component is heard and that the representation is there often, we are swept under the carpet,â said Enterprise Mayor Brandon Humphries. “If we don’t have enough political votes, we kind of get lost in the paperwork.”
Seegmiller, who represents the 62nd district which covers Washington City and other areas, said creating districts along current municipal / county lines is a good way to draw these maps.
âIt helps people in this community come together and feel like they have someone representing them,â Seegmiller said.
The Legislative Committee and Independent Commission groups will create samples of the four new district maps needed, one for the 75 State House of Representatives districts, 29 State Senate districts, 15 council districts state school and four districts for congressional districts. .
The redistribution process is guided by the âone person, one voiceâ ideology, where each district should have a relatively similar population size. In Utah, there are higher standards for congressional districts because they should be as close to the same size as possible, allowing only a 0.1% gap between population sizes. For Utah, each of the four congressional districts should have about 817,000 to 818,000 people, and the ideal size is 817,904.
For other district maps, the difference is larger at 5%. This means that a senate district can have 107,000 to 118,000 inhabitants, a house district can have 41,000 to 45,000, and a school board district can have 207,000 to 229,000 inhabitants.
State Senator (right) Scott Sandall, co-chair of the legislative committee, said the public was most interested in talking about congressional districts. And that there have been two philosophies of how to divide Utah into four congressional districts.
âA set of philosophy that says ‘75% of the people live on the Wasatch front, so they should have three congressional districts,’â Sandall said. “That other mindset that says’ just a minute of listening, we’re better off if we have a built-in system. [with both rural and urban Utah] seat of Congress because then we have four votes.
Others involved in state politics, such as Democratic State Senator Derek Kitchen, have advocated that urban and rural Utah should have different representation because these areas have different interests. He says that when communities of interest are not kept together, their voices are diluted in the legislative process.
âOur focus shouldn’t be on one party over another, our focus should be on the people who live in those communities, it’s not about dividing rural Utah,â Kitchen said. âIf you have better boundaries, you have betterâ¦ representation. “
The current set of Congressional Districts of Utah divides Utah’s most populous county, Salt Lake County, with a population of over one million, into three districts. With the 2nd Congressional District comprising parts of northern Salt Lake County and all of Washington County.
Sandall says the legislative committee is always looking to marry these two philosophies, and the committee is focused on creating maps with more districts such as the District 75 House of Representatives map because it takes longer. The committee will focus on congressional maps at the end of the redistribution period towards the end of October, Sandall said.
Snow addressed this in his public comment on behalf of the County Commission, said they would prefer congressional districts to share urban and rural populations, and advocated for Stewart, Snow’s former boss.
âIf we can put a stop to Washington Countyâ¦ we strongly want Congressman Stewart because they already understand the issues,â Snow said.
Local resident Jeffrey Allen said the redistribution should be non-partisan and didn’t like local political leaders like Snow and Randall supporting sitting Congressman Stewart, saying it was “wrong” to do so. to do. Allen also pleaded for the Independent Commission cards to be taken seriously.
Both groups told residents that the districts created by redrawing the voting district maps should have a predetermined ideal population size, compact, contiguous, and hold the community of interest together. The groups wanted residents’ input on how to keep the communities of interest together.
This was discussed at length during the less-attended Independent Commission hearing in Washington City on Friday. In Sahearing, the commissioners shared that they have a mandate to keep communities of interest together, but that there is no standard definition of what a community of interest is.
The Chairman of the Independent Commission, Rex Facer, said that community of interest is a “term of art”, but that a number of factors such as economic, social, religious, linguistic, local, ethnic, industrial and environmental can bind a community. .
âIt all seems very arbitrary, which is why you have to tell us what you want,â said Llye Hillard, commissioner of the Independent Commission.
Both groups always seek feedback from the public and encourage people to try and create maps on each group’s website. But time is limited for public input, as the Independent Commission is due to make final recommendations by November 1, and the state legislature will begin discussions on new district maps by November 9.
Sean Hemmersmeier covers local government, growth and development in Southwest Utah. Follow on twitter @ seanhemmers34. Our work depends on the subscribers, so if you want more coverage on these issues, you can subscribe here at thespectrum.com/subscribe.