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Weber County’s GOP lawmakers laud U.S. House redistricting plan

By Tim Vandenack - | Nov 13, 2021

Photos supplied, Utah House

Clockwise from top left: Utah Reps. Rosemary Lesser, a Democrat, and Cal Musselman, Steve Waldrip and Kelly Miles, Republicans. The three GOPers voted for the U.S. House redistricting plan for Utah on Nov. 9, 2021, but Lesser didn't.

OGDEN — The new congressional boundaries approved by Utah lawmakers this week may be drawing fire from some.

But for some of the GOP members of Weber County’s delegation to the Utah Legislature who voted for the change, the new lines are a step forward in better representing Utah in Washington, D.C. Notably, each of the four districts now contains part of Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous county, as well as rural areas in the more far-flung parts of the state beyond the Wasatch Front.

Utah Rep. Steve Waldrip says having each district represent such a mix is beneficial because it makes each of the U.S. House members focus on issues of concern both to those in rural and urban areas. Waldrip, a Republican from the Eden area, voted for the redistricting plan, which was signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox on Friday.

Having both a rural and urban constituency keeps lawmakers from focusing on one “at the expense of the other,” Waldrip said.

Utah Rep. Cal Musselman, a Republican from West Haven, echoed that. He also voted for the proposal — crafted by the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee, which is made up of Utah lawmakers — and sees the configuration as a way to maximize representation. “Each representative has a mix of county and rural and city and bedroom communities and downtown communities,” Musselman said.

Images supplied, Utah Lieutenant Governor's Officeegislative Redistricting Committee and

The map on the left shows the U.S. House districts in Utah per the redistricting plan approved by the Utah House on Nov. 9, 2021, and the Utah Senate the day after. Gov. Spencer Cox still must sign off on the plan. The map on the right shows the four districts as they are currently configured.

Some critics say divvying Salt Lake County four ways is a political maneuver to dilute the sway of the Democratic-leaning area by grouping each quadrant with more GOP-leaning areas outside its borders.

Utah Rep. Rosemary Lesser, an Ogden Democrat, voted against the congressional redistricting plan, House Bill 2004. Rural and urban areas are very different, she said, necessitating representatives who are attentive to the respective needs.

“Salt Lake County’s needs are very different than Blanding’s needs, though I recognize that both are important,” she said, referring to the small San Juan County locale. She thinks lawmakers should have picked one of the proposals put forward by the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission, an independent body that had drawn up various redistricting plans for consideration by Utah lawmakers.

With the change outlined in HB 2004, the 1st District, which covers Ogden and Weber County, expands into portions of northern and eastern Salt Lake City. Lost is the swath east of Salt Lake County containing Park City and the Uintah Basin area, which is folded into the 3rd District.

The home of U.S. Rep. Blake Moore, who lives in Salt Lake City, remains outside the 1st District even though its boundaries seep into the state capital, according to Utah Rep. Kelly Miles, a Republican from the South Ogden area. But that’s not an issue for him or Waldrip and, in fact, residency in the district a U.S. House member represents isn’t required by law.

Image supplied, Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee

The Utah House districts in Weber County, per the proposed Utah House redistricting plan approved by lawmakers on Nov. 10, 2021.

Waldrip praised Moore’s service, saying he has been “very engaged” in the varied areas of the 1st District.

‘DIDN’T CHANGE DRAMATICALLY’

The map of Utah House districts inside Weber County, like the rest of the state, also changes per redistricting, outlined in House Bill 2005. Like the shifts in the U.S. House districts, the change — which must be signed into law by Cox — stems from population shifts across Utah coming out of the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau headcount.

“They didn’t change dramatically,” Waldrip said. But they did shift, reflecting more rapid population growth to the south in Utah and Washington counties.

District 8, which Waldrip represents, now extends into northern North Ogden and a small section of Morgan County, but no longer stretches into Harrisville. District 11, which Miles represents, pushed deeper into Davis County into the Layton and Sunset areas, with a smaller section in Weber County.

District 10, represented by Lesser, shifted south and now covers portions of Washington Terrace and Riverdale.

When members of the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee met for a public meeting in Ogden in September, some locals questioned the wisdom of divvying Ogden among six Utah House districts. That, some of the speakers said, can have the effect of diluting the city’s representation in the Utah legislature.

Per the redistricting outlined in HB 2005, the city is divided among only five House districts, one fewer than the current arrangement. But Lesser, who voted against HB 2005, doesn’t think that goes far enough.

She’ll move on from the redistricting issue but thinks the city would be better served by fewer representatives, perhaps two or three who serve larger portions of the city. Thus, the city would have representatives much more closely aligned with Ogden’s distinct needs.

Musselman, who voted for HB 2005, disagrees. Having to represent different cities, he said, is beneficial because it forces lawmakers “to think holistically,” that is, to look at the needs of the broader community. Plus, Ogden isn’t alone. Roy, he said, is spread over three Utah House districts while West Haven is split among two districts.

Beyond that, it’s in the interest of leaders around the area to be mindful of Ogden given the sway it has on other adjacent cities and its dominance to the area economy. “The cities around Ogden all rise and fall on Ogden’s health,” Musselman said.

Waldrip said having multiple lawmakers representing portions of a city gives it a larger voice in Salt Lake City.

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