Outrage over redistricting Senate seats in Ogden

Sep 27 2011 - 10:36am

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OGDEN -- Redistricting Top of Utah's Republican-held state Senate seats divides Ogden among three senators, a move one Ogden official praises for giving Ogden more power in the Legislature.

The chairman of the state's Democratic Party, however, calls it "blatant gerrymandering" designed to protect the senators who now sit in those seats.

"I am outraged at what they have done in Ogden," said state Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis. "Reid's (Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden) explanation is the most preposterous thing I've seen in my life. That's ridiculous, and people in Ogden are smart enough to smell that for what it is. It's incumbent protection."

Redistricting Utah has been going on for six months. The process was kicked off by the 2010 U.S. Census, which showed Utah had enough residents to gain a fourth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The census also showed population shifts moving Utah's legislative power south. Washington County has grown, as has Utah County. Top of Utah didn't grow as much and lost one seat.

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, and Reid sit on the special legislative committee working on the redistricting, which covers the Legislature, the state School Board and the U.S. House of Representatives.

In addition to maps drawn up by the committee, the Legislature set up a website (www.redistrictutah.com) where the public can see the current possible maps, draw their own maps and submit them. Tentative maps for the House and Senate have been adopted, but the full Legislature can still change them. It will meet Monday.

Reid said drawing Senate district lines is mostly a matter of making sure each district has the same number of people. Each Senate district must have 95,306 people.

He said Top of Utah went for three districts in Weber County that converge in Ogden around 12th Street and Washington Boulevard to give Ogden more voices in the state Senate.

Reid said Weber's three senators -- himself, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, "all have a piece of Ogden city, and we'll also have rural, so we've tried to represent in this design both the urban and rural interests, and for Ogden city, I felt it was very important to draw the lines so Ogden had as many representatives as it could, as many senators as it could represent its interests in the Senate and the House."

Reid said he checked with Mayor Matthew Godfrey and said he agreed "it's clearly in the best interests of the city to have as many senators as you can representing your interests, especially Ogden, which in the past has been pretty much a stepchild."

Under this proposal, which was adopted by the committee but still must be approved by the Legislature, some voters are switching senators.

"My district now will go east," Reid said. "I'll take in Morgan," which had been represented by Christensen.

"That's how I get out to the country, and the only other difference for Senator Christensen is, he'll have a little more Ogden, but he goes down to Summit," in a large district that sweeps east around Morgan and south.

In Davis County, Reid said, "they have the same senators. The lines were changed a little bit because different ones had to pick up some numbers, others had to lose some."

"The difference for Senator Liljenquist (Sen. Daniel R. Liljenquist, R-Bountiful) in the Bountiful area, he goes down into Salt Lake County a little bit into the Rose Park area," west of Riverdale Road and just south of the Davis County line, Reid said.

"Ogden city is fractured," Dabakis said, "splitting a community that has been working hard to build its economic base and decide itself as an outdoor-recreation hub."

Dabakis said Reid and Christensen live within six miles of each other, so a district that gave all of Ogden to one senator could have forced them to run against each other.

Christensen's district, east around Morgan and all the way to Kimball Junction in Summit County, is "Stuart Reid slicing and dicing," Dabakis said. "It's the single-most blatant gerrymandering that there is, and Stuart Reid is responsible for it."

Dabakis said Ogden, with more than 80,000 residents, deserves to have its own senator, "somebody that is attuned to the city, somebody who is not spread out over 100 miles."

However, Ogden Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson said, "My present opinion is, it (having three senators) is wonderful for Ogden. The more representatives we have, the better. If you only have one representative covering your city, you don't have as much influence."

He said he'd welcome a similar situation with representatives. "The more representatives we have, the better."

Froerer said the process for House districts has been the same.

Each district has to have 36,852 people. Districts have to be "as compact as possible," meaning they aren't strung out in long, skinny pieces, he said.

"The other factor we took into account is what can we do geographic-wise so we don't split neighborhoods, what we call communities of interest," Froerer said.

Given the population requirement, that's not easy, he said.

Davis, Weber, Box Elder and Cache counties, by their combined populations, would have almost 19 House seats. Weber's population equals 6.65 seats, Box Elder's equals 1.35 seats, and Davis' equals 8.3.

He said the division between Weber and Box Elder, plus the loss of one seat overall, means one seat gets lost between them. The two representatives who have to run for one seat are Rep. Brad Galvez, R-West Haven, and Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry.

Galvez said last week he wasn't concerned about the situation yet, because the maps are not final and could still change: "Once it's final and I see exactly what it ends up being, then I'll deal with it."

See what the Weber County Forum says: http://wcforum.blogspot.com/2011/09/standard-examiner-outrage-over.html

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