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Lawsuit threatened, lawmakers targeted over redistricting

Redistricting protest
Posted at 4:40 PM, Dec 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-27 19:43:44-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The group that sponsored a citizen ballot initiative creating an independent redistricting commission is exploring litigation and forcing some lawmakers into a primary over the maps the legislature ultimately approved.

"There are two primary strategies Better Boundaries is following after the adopting of really egregious gerrymandered maps," Katie Wright, the executive director of Better Boundaries, said in an interview Monday with FOX 13.

Better Boundaries said it has retained legal counsel to explore a petition to the Utah Supreme Court, challenging the maps the legislature adopted. But Wright cautioned it does not mean they ultimately will pursue a legal challenge.

"If those parties come back and say there’s a path, an achievable path, we will pursue it," Wright said, later adding: "Anything we do must have a serious shot. We are not Pollyanna-ish and think there’s just an easy win here. That’s not the reality."

Voters narrowly approved Proposition 4 in 2018, creating an independent redistricting commission to draw maps for Congress, the Utah State Legislature and Utah State School Board. The advisory panel spent the summer traveling the state, soliciting input for a series of maps that were presented to the Utah State Legislature's redistricting committee.

Lawmakers ultimately chose to ignore the independent commission's maps, arguing that the legislature has the constitutional authority to decide political boundaries. Despite protests and calls for lawmakers to adopt the independent commission's maps, the legislature approved its own and Governor Spencer Cox signed them. The biggests outcry came over the congressional district map, which splits Salt Lake County among the four districts.

Republican legislative leaders have anticipated a lawsuit and have said they are confident the maps will withstand a legal challenge. At his most recent news conference on PBS, Gov. Cox defended the process even after a recent poll found Utahns were not supportive of the maps.

"That was always the danger that the legislature ran when this process was set up in the first place," the governor told reporters earlier this month. "I suspect that we’ll see pushes to change that again for the next 10 years."

In the month since that happened, Better Boundaries formed a political action committee and has raised $80,000 so far. The group said it would target some lawmakers in the next election cycle who ignored the independent commission's maps. That would include Republicans and Democrats, Wright said. Better Boundaries is exploring forcing some of those legislators into primaries with candidates who are more supportive of the independent commission in the future.

"The congressional maps got a lot of attention because it is an extreme, egregious gerrymander. But we know the state House and state Senate maps were also gerrymandered. The impact of that were cities and towns were sliced and diced," she said. "It’s really important that lawmakers are accountable to the public and that’s what the PAC is all about."