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Ogden’s representation in Utah House gets focus at redistricting meeting

By Tim Vandenack - | Sep 10, 2021

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Jim Hutchins addresses the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee at a gathering of the body at Union Station in Ogden on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

OGDEN — Should Ogden be divvied up among six Utah House districts, as is currently the case?

Or would fewer — each covering a larger swath of the city — be better, improving representation of the city’s residents?

That was one of the issues that came up Thursday at a gathering here of the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee, the body tasked with coming up with a plan to redraw the political boundaries in the state based on new 2020 U.S. Census Bureau population figures. No definitive answers emerged. Thursday’s meeting at Union Station is only one of numerous to be held around the state through October as lawmakers gather input on the matter.

But those present offered a range of views on the matter.

Dave Lesser, husband of Utah Rep. Rosemary Lesser, an Ogden Democrat, brought up the issue of cutting down on districts. Ogden has a population of around 87,000, he noted, while new population figures show that the ideal House district across the state should have 43,622 residents.

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Members of the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee at a gathering of the body at Union Station in Ogden on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

“To divide Ogden’s voice six ways when obviously it should be divided two or three ways really is the kind of thing that makes citizens feel like they’re not getting fair representation,” he said. Divvying the city to a maximum of three districts, he went on, would be a “much more equitable way” to do it.

Divided into two or three districts, more Ogden residents would be in each, theoretically making the city’s voice in each stronger. Divvied into six districts, smaller portions of Ogden are in each and the voice of Ogden residents is theoretically weaker, competing with district residents from outside the city.

Betty Sawyer also spoke to the issue, noting that Utah House District 9, containing a big part of Ogden, had traditionally swayed Democratic — before political boundaries were last redrawn in 2010. She’s head of the Ogden branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Once that took place, it changed that whole outlook,” she said. “So when you talk about communities of interest and things of that nature, our representation has definitely been diluted in this area. As you see, we have one African-American person in the state legislature.”

Rep. Lesser noted the six districts that cut into Ogden in a newsletter to constituents earlier this week on the redistricting process. She didn’t address the issue at Thursday’s hearing, though.

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Betty Sawyer of the Ogden branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People addresses the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee at a gathering of the body at Union Station in Ogden on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Rep. Paul Ray, a Clearfield Republican who serves as co-chair of the Legislative Redistricting Committee, offered a different take. “You could put a couple districts in Ogden to cover Ogden, but then what do you do with the surrounding districts? That’s where we run into problems,” he said.

That is, if Ogden were divvied into fewer districts, surrounding areas of Weber County would potentially be placed in new districts containing parts of Box Elder and Cache counties, diluting the legislative representation coming from Weber County overall. “We’re trying not to cross county boundaries when we don’t have to,” Ray said.

Sen. Kirk Cullimore, a Republican from Sandy, also pushed back, noting that some neighborhoods of Sandy identify more with areas of abutting cities. He also sits on the redistricting committee.

Individual cities can represent a “community of interest,” meriting placement in a unified House District, he said. But, he went on, “sometimes those communities bleed over into other parts of town so that a community of interest isn’t necessarily bound to just the city boundaries. … The city boundary in and of itself certainly isn’t the only criteria.”

Ogden voters tend to skew more Democratic in U.S. presidential voting than the rest of Weber County, which is more Republican. But partisan differences around the county didn’t explicitly come up in Thursday’s meeting.

Lawmakers won’t just be drawing new political boundaries for Utah’s 75 House seats as the redistricting process proceeds. They’ll also redraw them for the state’s four U.S. House districts, the 29 Utah Senate posts and the 15 Utah State School Board seats.

An independent body, the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission, or UIRC, is also holding hearings on redistricting. That body will also be drawing up proposed new political boundary maps and submitting them to the Legislative Redistricting Committee on Nov. 1 for consideration.

Jim Hutchins addressed the committee, asking why the independent body couldn’t be tasked with handling the process instead of lawmakers. The UIRC was formed after passage of a referendum in 2018 that called for its creation, in part in response to criticism from some about gerrymandering in Utah, unfair drawing of political boundaries to benefit certain groups.

Utah Sen. Scott Sandall, the other co-chair of the legislative committee, noted “constitutional issues” that bode against such change. The UIRC’s proposals, though, will get consideration.

Officials hope to come up with new boundary maps for the state by year’s end.


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