Opinionated @ CFE

The Redistricting Lawsuit Blunder


Every decision we make is a calculated risk, trying to figure out if the reward and odds of success are worth the potential pain. Most of the time, we do fairly well. Every now and again, someone, somewhere, will make such a boneheaded miscalculation that the rest of us will scratch our heads and go “huh?” Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dababkis is having one of those moments right now.

For those of you not paying attention, Dababkis threatened a lawsuit over the current redistricting effort due to perceived gerrymandering. I’ve looked at some of the proposed maps and, yes, I think the Sumsion 6 Congressional one in particular is a real stinker. It’s kind of a problem, though, to threaten to sue over a map that hasn’t even been adopted yet. Already some substantively different maps have been seriously discussed (including one from Speaker Lockhart that actually looks half-decent), and there’s still plenty of time for back-and-forth to create more new maps. Throwing down the threat now is petulant foot-stomping.

This doesn’t even get into the risk/reward problem that following through on such a threat presents. Consider that the odds of winning a lawsuit on redistricting are extremely slim. Even if such a suit succeeded, we’re talking about maybe 3-4 total seats affected in the legislature. And the cost? I’d say a good six figures after all of the inevitable appeals. (Them lawyers don’t come cheap.) It’s a very high cost with a very small reward and a very high risk. The money might as well be put on red down in Vegas.

The whole affair has been correctly pegged as grandstanding. Dababkis isn’t enough of a rank amateur to think that any suit filed would actually succeed, but he knows that he can score a bunch of political points with the party faithful, even if it is a complete waste of their rather limited funds. Unfortunately, it’ll stop there, and fail to resonate with the rest of the electorate.

8 Responses to The Redistricting Lawsuit Blunder

  1. Davis Didjeridu

    When Lockhart and Waddoups claimed that the 2001 gerrymandering was all great because no one sued then, I think threatening a lawsuit this time is worthwhile.

  2. A lawsuit re U.S. Congressional map is worth it. These 4 seats are important for Utah’s representation in DC, and the map the legislature is considering now is a Lockhart/Sumsion map pulled out of their a** at the last moment, with NO public input, representative of GOP political strategy only (federal land issues).

    They Republican legislature just wasted over $100 K on a website, software and 19 field meetings to to avoid the appearance of willful arrogance. But in the end they did NOT listen to citizen feedback, they objected to advocacy groups input, disparaged citizen surveys and polls, and did not adopt any citizen maps, even those with significant public support.

    If the Dems have the money I would support a lawsuit. If the taxpayers ave the energy left, they should demand their money back.

    • First off, you need to be immediately corrected on your facts. A citizen map was adopted for the State School Board districts. Your claim that citizen input was entirely ignored is hyperbole. I would also point out that the most recent maps passed the House 74-1 meaning that elected Democrats seem to be okay with the final product as well. Be mad at the end result all you want, but to say that it isn’t bi-partisan is rewriting reality.

      It would also be very hard to quantify the effect of citizen input on the other proposals one way or the other. Claiming something is so without evidence doesn’t make it so (but neither does it prove the converse). Put on your logic hat before making those kinds of statements of fact.

      It’s certainly the prerogative of the Utah Democratic Party to spend their money however they want. A low-yield, high-cost Quixotic charge seems to be a bad strategic move any way you slice it. I’d hope that Democrats are smart enough to recognize this and demand better.

  3. They still need to go back to one of the citizen-created maps from their six finalists as the base map. All the legislators seem to think that southern Davis County belongs in the same district as St. George – which is totally senseless. The legislature is proving that no matter how noble their intentions, they are incapable of following through on having a truly open process – and I lean strongly Republican.

  4. I’d like to point out (for both the sake of completeness and irony) that the protesters from yesterday didn’t bother to show up to the committee meetings today. Maybe they don’t count because they don’t show up when it matters. (And, FYI, the House map that passed 74-1 just cleared the Senate 26-1-2. Gerrymandering indeed.)

  5. I think the lawsuit was very necessary, especially given that the entire weekend was spent deleting emails regarding he redistricting process. The idea that citizen input is important to them is a farce. It was all smoke and mirrors. If we hadn’t shown up last night, that map would have passed.

  6. The legal help will come cheap. There are plenty of lawyers happy to do this pro bono. (I would.)

    As much as I respect that this is a sensitive issue and that people are likely to freak out regardless of the outcome, it also seems highly unlikely that it’s coincidence the one democratic county happened to get split into three separate districts.

    I’ve heard justifications about this, mainly, that it’s good for every rep to have both rural and urban constituents. But I’ve never heard anyone explain why that in itself is a good thing.

    It seems like the most surefire way to make sure there isn’t a single rural Utah voice in the house. (I.e. when Bishop or Matheson are thinking about a vote, will they really say, “You know, the bulk of my base along the Wasatch Front will like this, but I really worry about my fringe in the fields.”)

    I’m not so sure I’m right, but I know the current result looks wrong to me. And I likely can’t do much about it except to wait for ten years and hope again.

    • The urban/rural mix doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either. I think Fair Boundaries struck gold with their map.

      I do think that actually filing a suit given the low chances of success and relatively low payout aren’t worth it and are a strategic mistake. Now getting a flashmob to the capitol late at night to make sure a bad map doesn’t pass? That’s genius. More stuff like that, please.

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