MOAB, Utah (AP) – Politically, Moab is a blue dot in a sea of red. The city is divided into two different State House neighborhoods.
In a public hearing in early October hosted by the Legislative Redistribution Committee in Moab, local residents told lawmakers that the district’s split dilutes their voice in the state legislature. They asked the committee to consolidate the city into one neighborhood while it redraws the lines, KUER-FM reported.
Sam Van Wetter, who lives in Moab and is an organizer of the Rural Utah Project, sat in a black plastic chair in the middle of the room where the meeting was being held.
“I just moved between districts last week,” he said. “My new home is – they’re less than a mile apart, but they’re in different neighborhoods. It doesn’t change much in my daily life. But knowing that a simple change of address could change who represents me, it makes our city feel like it’s separated in a way that I think is inappropriate.
The Grand County Commission agrees. They sent a letter to the Legislative Committee asking them to place Moab in a House district – as is the case with the State Senate – to give it a stronger voice on Capitol Hill.
“Sometimes our lawmakers do things for us out of the goodness of their hearts, but they have no electoral reason to do us a favor,” County Commissioner Kevin Walker said. “They can easily win no matter how the people of Grand County vote.”
Walker said Moab is not a blue island big enough to topple one of the Republican districts in southeast Utah, even though the city is made whole.
“No matter how they draw the districts, it will be a state legislature dominated by Republicans just because that’s what the state’s population is,” he said. “So I hope that, because the stakes are relatively low in that sense, they can just draw districts that make sense for geographic reasons. “
Drawing districts can be difficult as they all have to have about the same number of people.
Moab was divided in 2011, the last time the state mapped out its political maps. University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said there were a few possible theories as to why.
“Was it broken just because you had to do it to be about the same size, which is a perfectly plausible part of the line drawing process?” ” he said. “On the other hand, if people would look at this and say, ‘Aha, this is mostly a democratic area. Let’s separate it so that there are fewer Democrats in two districts instead of more in one ”- this then has real partisan implications. “
One of Moab’s districts stretches west to Sevier County, a two-and-a-half-hour drive dotted with towering red rock cliffs and wide waves.
Grand County doesn’t want to be lumped together with Sevier, and the feelings between the two counties are mutual.
Sevier County Commission Chairman Tooter Ogden grew up there on his family’s dairy farm. He was at the Redistribution Committee meeting in the Richfield High School auditorium a few hours before the Moab meeting. He says Sevier is much more aligned with other neighboring counties on issues like housing.
“We work a lot with the other commissioners from these other counties,” he said. “For example, we need to pool our money to help with housing in these different areas. “
Richfield and Sevier County are also much more Republicans than Moab and Grand County.
The Grand County Commission told lawmakers that Moab should be placed in a district with northern San Juan County. Van Wetter agreed.
“As everyone who lives here knows, we are ostensibly the same city,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like you’re leaving town when you get to San Juan County, and we should be portrayed as such.”
When you move from Grand to San Juan, you first meet the community of Spanish Valley – and it doesn’t even seem like you’ve left Moab.
But to create a neighborhood with the right amount of people, lawmakers would have to expand it further into San Juan.
The next two closest communities – La Sal and Monticello – are approximately 25 and 50 miles from Spanish Valley, respectively. Monticello City Councilor Kim Henderson said besides being geographically remote, they are also very different from Moab and the Spanish Valley.
“I feel like Moab very much enjoys the growth that national monuments bring and they promote it,” she said. “But like other rural communities, we’ve seen how this can negatively impact our community and we don’t want to follow suit.”
Monticello and the rest of northern San Juan County are also very red, both in terms of sandstone and appearance on a political map.
Legislative Redistribution Committee co-chair Senator Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, has said he would like to put Moab in a House district, but it is too early to say what will happen.
“I think it’s a very plausible idea,” he said. “But whether or not that matches the distribution of the population in this part of the state – it’s probably too early to try to determine that.”
The Legislature plans to hold a special session to choose the final cards in November.
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