Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will have the final say on how Utah's congressional map looks at the end of the Legislature's special redistricting session this week.
Herbert publicly has remained fairly neutral on the topic of how the lines should be drawn for Utah's four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but behind the scenes the governor apparently does have an opinion as to what he is willing to affix his signature.
"The governor has said he doesn't particularly like the map that was adopted by the Redistricting Committee," Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said at a Provo town hall meeting on redistricting on Thursday night. "You're not done until the governor gives his approval and signs the bill into law."
Waddoups revealed that Herbert is looking for the state's legislators to open up the proposed fourth congressional district, a district that covers Utah County west of Interstate 15 and runs as far north as West Valley City in Salt Lake County, by including more rural areas in the district. Lawmakers have argued that many parts of Utah County included in the district are already in step with the values of rural Utah.
The governor's office says Herbert has not drawn or endorsed any specific maps; rather, he is pushing specific principles to which he would like the Legislature to adhere as it draws the boundary lines for the congressional districts.
"The governor has not taken an official position on any specific congressional map, but he has clearly communicated the principles by which he will assess the final maps: fairness, balance and a blend of urban and rural," said Ally Isom, Herbert's spokeswoman. "He wants to ensure all four congressional representatives care about Utah's public lands."
Some are wondering if Herbert's involvement and push for change in the proposed districts is a self-serving act to keep Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, from challenging Herbert for the governor's office in 2012. Matheson has stated that depending on how the lines are drawn for his district he might consider running for another political office, including the governor's office. Matheson could be a big enough threat to Herbert's re-election bid that he may be looking for ways to keep the popular Democrat out of the governor's race.
"It isn't a secret to anybody involved in this process that the governor is worried about a challenge from Matheson," Morgan Philpot, who challenged Matheson in 2012, said. "He doesn't want to run against him, but I don't think that is a good reason to use the power of the veto."
Philpot is planning to run for one of Utah's congressional seats in the 2012 elections. He didn't say he had heard firsthand that Herbert was threatening a veto unless a district was drawn that would be friendly to Matheson, but Philpot noted those involved in the process know the governor is looking to keep Matheson out of the race for governor.
The governor denies he's trying to keep Matheson out of the gubernatorial race.
"The answer is an absolute no on all counts. The governor has been explicit about guiding principles -- balance, fairness, a blend of urban and rural -- and not drawing lines for or against any individuals. This process is about getting the right outcome for the people of the state. Clearly, others have their own agendas and try to use the governor as a human shield, rather than admit their own politicized angle. Despite the current distraction of rumor and innuendo, the governor is focused on principles alone, knowing this process is iterative and the maps may change. The governor will let the Legislature do their job and he will do his when the final maps hit his desk," said Ally Isom, spokeswoman for Herbert.
The Legislature will look to finalize the maps starting Monday morning when it convenes in a special session. Lawmakers will adopt new maps that equalize population in the state for the state school board districts, state House and Senate districts and the four U.S. congressional seats.