Redistricting: Debate over Utah urban-rural mixes

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A key debate for state lawmakers crafting a final redistricting proposal will be whether to divide the populated Wasatch Front among four congressional districts or attempt to consolidate as many rural voters as possible into one district.Having a congressman from eastern or southern Utah could be beneficial because they would have a deep understanding of the conflicts over federal lands and energy development, said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.The challenge, however, is keeping those rural voters together because approximately two-thirds of the state’s 2.7 million people are located in northern Utah. Waddoups said a rural district, which would also mean a mostly urban district, might be the best approach.Waddoups is a member of the Redistricting Committee, which finished statewide public hearings Tuesday. The committee was expected to give a proposed final map to the full Legislature for a September vote.The make-up of a mostly urban district is another significant question, since Waddoups said most people pushing for it want its center in the Democratic stronghold of Salt Lake City. But population growth was far more significant in the southern suburbs, making it more difficult to keep the traditionally Democratic areas in one district.After the last Census, Utah picked up a fourth congressional district, and an alternative option would be dividing Salt Lake City into four congressional districts. That approach was used in 2000 by Republicans who split the city among three congressional districts.That doesn’t make sense, however, because it divides common communities of interest, said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City.”The maps we’re seeing are taking the traditional Democratic voting areas and dividing them up,” McAdams said.Among the current congressional delegation, the rural-urban mix is a benefit. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who lives in semi-rural Brigham City north of the urban core, said it gives the delegation – which includes two Republicans and one Democrat – common interests.Bishop also said it’s a flawed assumption to think that a congressman who lives in a city can’t represent rural interests, or vice versa, because U.S. senators and state governors do that just fine.”It’s had a very positive impact,” he said. “All three of us work together and have a unified voice.”The lone Democrat in the Utah delegation, Rep. Jim Matheson, was first elected in 2000 to a district that only represented Salt Lake County. Two years later, his district was moved to include a good portion of eastern and southern Utah.The change in boundaries, however, didn’t change Matheson’s goals to work for the entire state, he said.”It greatly oversimplifies the issue. There’s a lot of common threads on most issues … it’s disingenuous to say rural people think one way and urban people think another way.”

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