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Redistricting not fair to Tooele County, residents tell lawmakers

By Lisa Riley Roche | Posted - Sep. 7, 2011 at 5:00 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee decided not to vote on an initial state Senate map Wednesday after hearing complaint after complaint about the treatment of Tooele County.

Instead, they'll take another look at the boundaries before the committee's next meeting, Sept. 12. But the committee's co-chairman, Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said it's going to be tough to address the concerns.

"I don't see how we can come up with a map that doesn’t split them at least once," Okerlund told reporters after the meeting. "We're not going to make them happy."

Currently, four of the state's 29 Senate seats include portions of Tooele. The proposed map would reduce that number to two, but critics say the way the lines are drawn, no one from the county could win either seat.


Critics say the way the lines are drawn, no one from the county could win either seat.

Shortly before the meeting adjourned without any action on the senate map, the only state lawmaker who lives in Tooele County questioned why Tooele County couldn't be contained within a single Senate district.

"I have to wonder if this is for political expediency rather than any other reason," Rep. Douglas Sagers, R- Tooele, said.

A former legislator, Merrill Nelson, was more blunt.

Nelson said the districts were drawn to preserve the District 1 seat now held by Senate Majority Assistant Whip Peter Knudsen, R-Brigham City.

Tooele, Nelson said, has more in common with Ogden or Salt Lake City than with Brigham City. He suggested redrawing the map "instead of allowing Knudsen to raid Tooele County to fill his district."

Jeff McNeill, a Grantsville contractor who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for the District 1 seat last year, said the proposed map goes "from bad to worse."

McNeill said Tooele County "is not a farm community the way Box Elder County is … you can't buy a tractor in Tooele County." He said a Tooele district should include Magna and part of West Valley City.

Tooele County Republican Party Chairman Chris Sloan told the committee that the area's elected officials were not asking for any specific changes "other than Tooele County be treated fairly."

Committee member and Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he had tried to keep Tooele County whole.

"You can do that if you make Tooele the center of the universe," Waddoups said, reminding the critics that the last time the state drew new legislative boundaries a decade ago, Tooele was represented by a senator from Stansbury Park.

Waddoups, who does not plan to run for reelection, went through a list of communities around the state being broken up by the proposed map. "Taylorsville, my city, is divided three ways," he said. "It's ugly. I don't like it. I don't know as I could win it."


Now, Democrats stand to lose only one Senate seat. The proposed map puts both Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, and Senate Minority Assistant Whip Pat Jones, D-Holladay, into District 11.

Okerlund said any adjustment to the proposed map could affect the effort to keep Salt Lake's Rose Park neighborhood from being added to a Davis County district.

The committee had been looking at boundaries that would have put Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, into the same district as Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, but compromised.

Now, Democrats stand to lose only one Senate seat. The proposed map puts both Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, and Senate Minority Assistant Whip Pat Jones, D-Holladay, into District 11.

There are two more meetings of the committee scheduled before lawmakers will meet in special session Oct. 3 to finalize new boundaries for legislative, congressional and state school board districts.

By law, those districts must be adjusted after the national census conducted every 10 years. In the 2010 Census, Utah earned a new, fourth seat in Congress and saw shifts in population from largely Democratic areas.

Email:lroche@ksl.com

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Lisa Riley Roche

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