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Rob Bishop resigns from Utah redistricting commission over public lands issues, urban-rural split

Former Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, speaks during an election night party in Salt Lake City on Nov. 6, 2018. Bishop resigned from the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission on Monday.

Former Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, speaks during an election night party in Salt Lake City on Nov. 6, 2018. Bishop resigned from the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission on Monday. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Republican Congressman Rob Bishop abruptly resigned from Utah's independent redistricting commission on Monday, just a week away from the group's deadline to submit its maps to the Utah Legislature.

Bishop said since the commission has more members from urban areas along the Wasatch Front and that would lead to the group recommending districts that don't have a mix of urban and rural areas — a mix that Bishop would like to see.

"What I'm telling you is I am frustrated with this process and I'm frustrated with what I am hearing, frustrated with where we are going, because this commission is designed not to work," Bishop said during the commission's meeting. "I respect each of you as an individual, but I'm sorry, as a group we suck."

The redistricting commission considered four different maps that would realign Utah's four congressional districts based on data from the 2020 census. The commission must recommend one of the maps to the Legislature, which has the final say on redistricting, by Nov. 1.

Later in the meeting, the remaining six commissioners unanimously approved three congressional district maps, which will be submitted to the Legislature. The commission will send a total of 12 maps to the Legislature, including maps for state legislative districts and school boards.

Bishop represented Utah's 1st Congressional District in the northern part of the state from 2003 to 2021.

Bishop said he liked the commission's proposed "green" map, which would see the Salt Lake Valley divided up into three of the four districts, along with large rural areas of southwest, central and southeast Utah. The commission's "orange" and "purple" maps see most of Salt Lake County and Utah County in their own separate districts, along with most of rural northern and southern Utah in separate districts.

Bishop noted that many rural counties have much more of their land owned by federal government agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, than urban counties. For that reason, Bishop said he believes it's important to have those urban areas represented in each of Utah's four districts.

"They have, basically, the BLM as an absentee landlord that does impact and control their lives in more ways than we know," he said.

Bishop also accused the redistricting commission of trying to gerrymander congressional elections by creating maps that include districts that are mostly urban, which might be more likely to vote for Democrats.

"It's not the way we do things," he said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at these maps and see what would happen."

Rob Bishop, second from left, speaks at a Utah Independent Redistricting Commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. Bishop resigned from his position on the commission, expressing frustration with the way the group was conducting its business.
Rob Bishop, second from left, speaks at a Utah Independent Redistricting Commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. Bishop resigned from his position on the commission, expressing frustration with the way the group was conducting its business. (Photo: Utah Independent Redistricting Commission, via Zoom)

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, who appointed Bishop to the commission, expressed solidarity with Bishop and said he would not appoint a replacement.

"I appreciate Congressman Bishop's willingness to serve on the Independent Redistricting Commission over these past several months. I share his frustrations with how the commission has conducted its business. His decision to step down at this point in the process is further evidence that the duly elected representatives of the people are best suited to redraw district boundaries, as the courts have repeatedly affirmed," Wilson said in a statement Monday.

Katie Matheson, deputy director for progressive advocacy group Alliance for a Better Utah, criticized Bishop's comments.

"Bishop misunderstood the assignment. He thought the purpose of the UIRC was to send warriors to congress to fight battles over public lands," Matheson said in a tweet. "Public lands are very important in Utah, but the needs of 80% of the state must not be ignored while public lands battles wage."

Better Boundaries, the group that advocated for the creation of the redistricting commission in 2018, expressed disappointment with Bishop's resignation.

"We are disappointed to hear of Commissioner Rob Bishop's resignation from Utah's Independent Redistricting Commission. The Commission, which was passed by voters in 2018, renegotiated by lawmakers and signed into law by Governor Herbert in 2020 is required to uphold a certain set of standards and criteria," Better Boundaries Executive Director Katie Wright said in a news release. "Moving forward, we are encouraged by the work of the remaining six commissioners to suggest objective and qualified maps to the state legislative redistricting committee through this fair and transparent process."

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