SALT LAKE CITY -- Republican Utah lawmakers are defending their closed-door meetings last week on the task of setting new congressional district boundaries.
GOP legislators acknowledged during an open Utah Redistricting Committee meeting on Friday that those closed meetings included discussions on drawing lines so each of the four districts is at least 60 percent Republican, the Deseret News reported.
The panel met Friday to discuss new proposals for congressional district boundaries after the full GOP-controlled Legislature could not agree on maps earlier in the week. The stalemate forced a special legislative session on redistricting to resume Oct. 17.
Republican House members spent most of the two-day session last week meeting outside the public's view.
"It was closed because we have Republicans fighting with Republicans," said Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton. "If we're going to fight in my house, I'm sorry, all the visitors are going to have to leave."
But Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said Republicans should not have met behind closed doors without public input because redistricting involves all Utah residents and is not just a Republican family feud.
"It's sausage making, but it's the public sausage," he said.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said to his knowledge all the maps presented so far, whether they came from Republicans, Democrats or the public, were drawn behind closed doors. They were then brought to the committee where they were discussed openly, he said.
"No seat belongs to a Republican. No seat belongs to a Democrat. All seats belong to the public," he said. "Whoever puts up the best candidate is going to win."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she's not opposed to keeping the GOP caucus open when it meets again, but the decision is up to representatives.
A primary sticking point is the boundary for the congressional district currently held by Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. Another sticking is the need for greater rural representation in every congressional district.
Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com