Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Residents Weigh In On How Washington County's Legislative Representation Should Look

A photo of Pat Jones addressing a group of people at a meeting.
Lexi Peery
Washington County resident Pat Jones addresses the Utah’s Independent Redistricting Commission Friday night. The commission is traveling around the state to gather input on how district maps should look.

Washington County is one of the fastest growing counties in Utah, according to the latest census data, so it will be getting more representation in the state Legislature as part of the state's once-a-decade redistricting process. It grew by over 40,000 people since the 2010 Census, which means the county is getting more legislative representation.

Utah’s Independent Redistricting Commission visited the southwest corner of the state Friday night to hear from community members about what kind of district maps, and representation, they’d like to see.

“You’ll get more [representation], but where those lines will be drawn — that’s what we need you to help us with,” Commissioner Lyle Hillyard said to the dozen or so residents at the meeting in Washington City

The commission is a bipartisan and independent advisory group, which was created with the passage of a ballot initiative in 2018. Their input, along with regular citizens, will be considered by the Legislature and governor in how the state’s Congressional, school board and legislative districts are mapped out.

Part of the commission’s job is to find “communities of interest,” according to state statute. Commissioner Christine Durham said they’re trying to figure out what that really means. She said they’re learning these “communities of interest” may consist of people of similar economic, cultural or religious backgrounds.

“We’re doing this for the first time,” Durham said. “The whole notion of ‘communities of interest,’ has a lot of scholarship … but it doesn’t have a long history of being implemented and we’re trying to figure out what it means. ... We don’t assume there are any hard and fast rules.”

Durham said there are unique challenges in southwest Utah. There are some parts experiencing “fairly explosive growth” like St. George, Cedar City and Washington City. In the same counties, there are also much more rural places.

“The communities that are dealing with that growth have a whole set of interests that don't necessarily line up with what ranchers and farmers are experiencing in their district,” she said. “Our hope is that we can align as many people who share the same values and the same interests within districts, and not create districts that are lopsided in terms of urban and rural.”

Seventeen-year-old Ben Fica from Washington City came to the meeting with one goal in mind. Even though he can’t vote yet, he wants to see his city be one House district, instead of two.

“This is going to be the district that I'm voting in,” he said. “So I really want to make sure that I can keep the district the way that I want it to be.”

Fica said one of the commission’s maps has part of Washington City in a district with Hurricane, and he hopes to keep the whole city in one district.

Elaine Porter came to the meeting because she’s concerned about gerrymandering. The 78-year-old Washington City resident said those fears were assuaged by the commissioners.

“I was really impressed because they don’t consider politics at all,” she said. “What I’m afraid of is that will change when it goes to the Legislature and they’ll impose more politics on [redistricting].”

The Legislature’s redistricting group will be holding public meetings in southwest Utah next week.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.