Utah Legislature passes congressional districts over protest

Redistricting committee chairman Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, looks on during a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. The Republican-controlled Utah Legislature approved new a congressional map Wednesday that further carves up Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County and largely ignores the work of an independent redistricting commission approved by voters. The new map now goes to GOP Gov. Spencer Cox, who indicated he will not veto it. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Republican-controlled Utah Legislature approved a new congressional map Wednesday that further carves up Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County and largely ignores the work of an independent redistricting commission approved by voters.

The map will next go to Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, who indicated he will not veto it. The district lines will determine where voters cast their ballots for the next decade and likely make the state’s lone swing district more reliably Republican, leading critics to call the districts gerrymandered.

The maps were passed by the state Senate by a 21-7 vote, over opposition from minority Democrats who urged lawmakers to support redistricting maps created by the commission.

“We deserve to be in the conversation,” said Democratic Sen. Derek Kitchen, who represents Salt Lake City, delivering a fiery speech in opposition to the maps created by his GOP colleagues.

But Republicans say their district lines better reflect the overall makeup of the state by including both rural and urban areas.

“We are one Utah and we are in one combined community of interest, in my view,” said Republican Sen. Scott Sandall, who helped draw the newly approved map.

It carves Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County into four congressional districts rather than the three its in now, a division known as cracking. That differs from maps created by the nonpartisan Utah Redistricting Commission, a body created by a voter-approved ballot measure. Members worked for three years to draw nonpartisan maps for congressional districts as well as state Legislature and school board.

But lawmakers were under no obligation to use one of the maps they drafted and GOP lawmakers drew their own maps instead, which were released a few days ago. That short timeline combined with the splitting of the state capital drew dozens of angry comments at a hearing earlier this week.

Cox faced calls to veto the maps during a town hall Tuesday night, but said he expected them to pass with veto-proof majorities, which they did.

“I’m a very practical person,” Cox said as he explained why he had no plans to veto the map. “I’m not a bomb-thrower.”

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