The special session to set the state and congressional legislative boundaries in Utah for the next ten years kicks off this morning up at the state capitol building. The outcome of the legislative session is likely a foregone conclusion, although there remains a small chance that the currently proposed map — Sumsion_06_Modified_A — will be moderated based on pressure from Governor Herbert. I doubt it. Governor Herbert has shown little, if any, will to stand up to our state legislative representatives in the past absent extraordinary public outcry (even then it is an apologetic effort), and there’s no reason to believe he’ll do so now.
I’ve said before that I don’t like the option that’s currently on the table. Rather than go into detail about my specific reasons, this editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune covers things pretty well.
But I do want to say a couple things on my own.
Redistricting is a political activity in which both sides pursue political goals. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are doing what they are doing in the current redistricting debate primarily (if not exclusively) in an attempt to strengthen their chances of success in coming elections. Despite what I’m about to say, there isn’t an obvious villan or an angel in this redistricting drama, just normal, self-interested, political actors. Both sides are doing what they feel they need to do to ensure their survival.
But, for all the reasons I, and many others have outlined before, redistricting is important, and the citizens of Utah deserve better than we’re getting this time. And, given the political realities here in Utah, we won’t get it without some forbearance and perspective — call it statesmanship if you like — from our Republican representatives. The onus is on them because they are the ones with all the power in this political drama. It wouldn’t take too much — just a handful of Republican representatives who stand up to Republican leadership today and acknowledge that the proposed congressional map for Utah is drawn for the specific purpose of unfairly consolidating the political power of an already dominant party and demand that things be done more fairly.
Actions always have consequences, some that are intended and others that aren’t anticipated when the decision to act is made. Funny things often happen on the way to the forum. And I believe that, if the Republican Party is determined to continue on its current course in Utah — a course where nearly every message it sends to the citizens who comprise its members (and those who do not) is that “we don’t care what you think because we know we don’t have to” — its statewide political dominance will significantly recede. There is a big problem in our state when every reference to public opinion is followed with the necessary caveat, “But it doesn’t matter what the people think unless the Republican state delegates feel the same way.”
Despite a record of fiscal responsibility and generally-good management, the Utah Republican Party and our Republican representatives cannot assume that the people of Utah will continue to tolerate and embrace, in perpetuity, a party in which the vast majority of its voters feel ignored because 3,500 state delegates make nearly every electoral decision of consequence and where the voice of the opposition is purposefully diluted to the point it has no consequence. If it stubbornly persists in maintaining and extending a system of political dominance with little regard to principles of fairness, meaningful representation, or the opinions of its non-delegate supporters, its runs the real risk that a number of its members will turn away and seek alternatives. There are legitimate alternative perspectives for voters as well as demographic shifts underway that could aid such a transition. The Republican Party cannot take the people of Utah for granted forever.