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Utah's legislature rejects every map proposed by independent redistricting committee

Posted at 9:42 PM, Nov 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-08 23:52:36-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature's Redistricting Committee voted to accept a series of maps for political boundaries for congress, legislature and state school board.

Not a single one was created by the voter-approved Independent Redistricting Commission.

"We have severely partisan gerrymandered maps that are put in place as job protection programs for elected officials and that’s what we’re moving forward to and it's disappointing. Incredibly disappointing," Katie Wright, the executive director of Better Boundaries told FOX 13 after the vote of the legislature's maps.

Better Boundaries sponsored Proposition 4, which voters passed in 2018 creating the independent redistricting commission.

During a five-hour hearing on Utah's Capitol Hill, public comment was overwhelmingly against the committee's proposed maps. One man called the maps "an abomination." Others complained about the lack of notice to review the maps (they were made public late Friday night) while others said the congressional map disenfranchised Salt Lake County voters, which make up nearly a third of the population.

"Let’s call it what it is! This is a white power grab by white men because you don’t want to give women and people of color a say in this state," said one woman.

READ: Some Utahns upset with state legislature's proposed redistricting maps

Not everyone opposed the legislature's maps.

"There’s always going to be someone who disagrees," said Carson Jorgensen, the chair of the Utah Republican Party. "And there’s always going to to be one group who feels like they’re under-represented."

Chris Null, the chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party, thanked the committee for "not making this partisan" to jeers from the crowd.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the public comment was united — against the legislature's maps.

"I have heard more unified Utah here than I’ve heard in any public hearing for a very long time," she told the committee.

But one after another, the committee approved its own maps. Some of the votes were along party lines, with Democrats opposing them. As the evening went on, public comment shifted from anger and outrage to resignation and frustration.

"I urge you to accept the independent commission map, but I already know what you'll do," said one man.

But Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, said the independent commission's input is "not binding on the legislature," who has the final say in maps under the law.

Lawmakers may still make tweaks to what they advanced. On Monday night, they moved San Juan County into the 3rd Congressional District. West Valley City lost a seat in the House, while Eagle Mountain gained one. The Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, managed to win some support from the committee to make changes to the state school board map. Following the meeting, committee co-chairs Rep. Paul Ray and Sen. Scott Sandall said they planned some other changes as a result of the hearing.

"This gives us some pretty straight lines, we’re doing a good balance of urban rural mix which we talked about and our deviations are down to zero," Rep. Ray, R-Clearfield, said of the congressional map.

A group of powerful business and community leaders, including members of the Salt Lake City Council; Scott Anderson, the president of Zions Bank; developer Kem Gardner and others signed an open letter calling on the full Utah State Legislature to approve the Independent Redistricting Commissions maps. If not, they called for Governor Spencer Cox to veto them.

One lawmaker is planning to try to get his colleagues to approve the maps, even though it is a long shot.

"I'm using the power I have as an elected official to stand with the people of Utah," said Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City. "I have a bill right now that includes the independent map. I plan to move that forward on the floor tomorrow and really push the legislature to vote for the map created by the independent commission."