Last night, the Utah Legislature finally signed off on a map for Congressional districts. Unsurprisingly, more than a few individuals were engaged in over-the-top weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth that could teach William Shanter more than a few things about over-acting. While I can accept a lot of legitimate complaints about the final product (it’s not my first choice either), a lot of the claims made by critics are either logically inconsistent or flat-out lies.
First off, many people claim that all redistricting is a highly partisan affair, and that the Republican majority cannot be trusted to treat Democrats fairly. The votes on the House and Senate districts, however, simply don’t bear out this claim. The House map cleared by a 74-1 vote. The Senate approved its own boundaries by a 25-1 vote. In both cases, a single, lone Democrat voted against the districts for their own body. It doesn’t sound like partisanship had a lot to do with those maps at all. Again, this isn’t a judgement on the Congressional maps, merely an observation that fairness can and has been in at least part of this process.
Another common claim is that the public isn’t being heard or considered in the process. However, a citizen map for the Congressional districts was one of the six finalists approved in committee (by a unanimous vote, I might add). The Garber map received significant discussion and consideration. Even though it did not ultimately prevail, it did shape the discussion. That’s kind of the point; it’s really difficult to tell what kind of influence the various citizen maps had on the process, and it’s really lazy to say that because a citizen-proposed map was not approved modification-free that the input had no effect.
A real head-shaker is the insistence that specific principles trump others when drawing districts. A lot of space has been spent trying to define a “community of interest”, but there’s a lot of ways you can go about it. You can go by partisan, ethnic, or demographic make-up. You can use city, street, county, or major road boundaries. I don’t think any of these is more valid than the other. In cases of partisan break-up, you can create a bunch of “safe” districts (3 R, 1 D in most proposals), or you can try breaking them up a bit to see what happens. Who’s to say that one of these is better than the other? Why should either urban or urban/rural mix districts carry the day? In the end, it’s all judgement calls. Just like the citizen maps, the failure of your preferred principles to be reflected doesn’t mean that no consideration was given to them.
I can understand how people can be upset with the finished product for not reflecting their preferred solution or principles, but resorting to over-the-top rhetoric in the 11th hour is not just unproductive, it’s highly damaging. Ask yourself this question: do you need to convince the people who already agree with you, or the people who are on the fence? Do you think that putting a Congressional map on-par with the Holocaust the way the Daily Herald has done makes you look good to reasonable people? And most importantly of all, where have you been during the last four years as the composition of the legislature used to make these decisions was elected?
Those who think that preaching to the choir for a couple of weeks can substitute for making rational arguments while participating in the electoral process are simply divorced from reality. It might help beat the minority party’s fundraising drum, but don’t expect much appeal beyond a few partisans, nor anything in the way of tangible and long-lasting results.