2021 redistricting is complete at the state level

While redistricting of San Juan County Commission and the San Juan School Board is yet to be finalized, redistricting in Utah is all but finished.

Redistricting occurs every ten years following the US Census. Redistricting is when voting district boundaries are redrawn to make sure populations are equally represented in legislative bodies.

Four maps approved during a special session of the Utah State Legislature will reconfigure how San Juan County is represented in the US House of Representatives, the Utah State Legislature, and the Utah state school board.

The maps await the signature of Governor Spencer Cox, who has indicated he will sign all four.

Redistricting was done after three public hearings were held in southeast Utah. The state legislative redistricting committee, composed of elected state legislators, held a meeting in Moab in October. 

An Independent Redistricting Commission, made up of seven appointees of the two major parties in the state, held a public meeting in Monticello in September and in Moab in October.

At those meetings, suggestions regarding how the area should be represented in the Utah house of representatives were offered.

Grand County has spent the past 10 years split into two state house districts, efforts to place the county in a district with San Juan County had mixed reactions.

Monticello City Council member, and San Juan County Republican Party Chair, Kim Henderson shared at two meetings that she would not like to see San Juan and Grand counties in the same house district.

“San Juan County, in a lot of ways if not the majority of ways, is very different from Grand County,” said Henderson at the Legislative Redistricting Public Hearing on October 6.

Henderson added, “I don’t think you have to drive very far to see that. I think that it’s in the best interest and respectfully I ask that San Juan County be redistricted with the smaller counties to the west rather than going to the north. I feel like we’re very like-minded. We have the same issues; we have the same concerns especially when it comes to public lands accessing public lands and ranching and farming.”

Grand County Commissioner and Chair of the Grand Democratic Party Kevin Walker shared the opposite sentiment at two different hearings.

“There’s lots of differences, and yet it is simultaneously true that if you look for another county in Utah that is most similar to Grand County or has the most shared interest. I think San Juan is the obvious answer,” said Walker at the October 6 meeting. “Far northern San Juan County is really just suburban Moab. We share national parks, the La Sal Mountains are evenly split between the two counties, Highway 191 the main transportation corridor connects our cities. A lot of people who live in Moab grew up in Monticello. There are connections there which we don’t have if we go off to the west.”

The final approved map did see San Juan and Grand County placed in the same district, which is represented by Phil Lyman (R) of Blanding.

The district includes all of San Juan County, along with the entirety of Kane, Garfield and Wayne counties.

The newly approved boundaries remove parts of Beaver and Sevier counties from the district and adds Grand County and a large geographic but largely unpopulated area of Emery county, including Green River.

The state senate and state school board redistricting efforts were done with less vocal feedback, at least in public meetings in the area.

In the Utah State Senate, San Juan County is represented by David Hinkins (R) of Ferron. The district includes all of San Juan County, along with the entirety of Grand, Emery, and Carbon counties, and parts of Utah and Wasatch counties.

The newly approved boundaries remove parts of Utah and Wasatch counties and adds parts of Kane, Garfield, and Wayne counties. 

In the Utah State School Board, San Juan County was in a district that included almost entirely rural counties in the southeast portion and center of the state.

The newly approved boundaries place San Juan County with Kane, Garfield, Wayne, Piute and Washington County, as well as parts of Iron county.

The US House of Representatives were also redistricted.

San Juan County has been part of District 3, represented by John Curtis (R) of Provo. The district includes all of San Juan County, as well as the entirety of Grand, Emery, Carbon, and Wasatch counties, with parts of Utah and Salt Lake County as well.

The new District three adds Uintah, Dagget and Duchesne counties, as well as part of Summit County.

Drawing up and passing these new maps have not been without backlash, as Democratic officials have asked why the state legislature did not use one of the proposed maps from the Independent Redistricting Commission. The legislature instead adopted a map that divides Salt Lake County into four separate districts.

In 2018, Utah voters narrowly passed Proposition 4 by just over one half of a percent. The proposition called for the creation of an independent commission made up of seven people to draft and recommend maps to the Utah State Legislature for congressional and state legislative districts, according to certain criteria.

Similar independent redistricting commissions exist to aid state legislative bodies in a handful of other states. Leadership of both political parties in the state appoints individuals to the committee. 

To serve on the independent committee, individuals must not be a lobbyist or have been a candidate for political office and must not have received compensation from a political party.

After the bill passed, the Utah State Legislature altered the proposition in its implementation. While the proposition intended the Utah Commission to replace the committee made up of state legislators, that didn’t happen.

The state legislature did allow for the creation of the independent redistricting commission, but it did not dissolve its own committee made up of elected representatives.

Both bodies held public hearings in the fall, and the Independent Redistricting Commission drew maps broadcast live online during the fall. Before the maps were finalized, one of the appointees, former Republican House Representative Rob Bishop, abruptly quit the commission. 

Bishop expressed support for congressional map proposals that split urban areas, like the ones eventually adopted, and expressed dislike for maps the commission drew that would keep urban areas intact. 

In November, the Independent Redistricting Commission presented 12 maps – three versions for each of the statewide bodies – to the State Legislative Redistricting committee.

The legislative committee did not use the provided maps and released their own final single map proposals on Friday, November 5, with a public hearing held on Monday November 8.

The legislative committee maps were accepted by the state legislature during a special session. Both Representative Phil Lyman (R) Blanding, and Senator David Hinkins (R) Ferron voted in favor of each of the final approved maps.

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