Opinionated @ CFE

Redistricting Histrionics

Oct
18

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.

9 Responses to Redistricting Histrionics

  1. The perfect capstone to the last few weeks. Democrats have planned to use this as a political issue since the beginning, regardless of the final map. Which is expected and understandable. But, to me at least, they lost a chance to come out as the principled party. Instead, they didn’t get the donut they wanted and threw a hissy fit.

    • That’s just it: there are plenty of good arguments against the adopted Congressional map and the principles it chose to follow. Instead of making those, a lot of Democrats (and a few Republicans and non-partisans) chose to go for the fiery rhetoric and sound bits. It’s low-information and acts as if voters are too dumb to understand reasoned and nuanced arguments.

  2. Posturing is what parties do. Its good for fundraising. That said there are very legitimate concerns to be raised over the process. Last night I heard several lawmakers claiming overwhelming support for the urban rural mix. One of these lawmakers referenced a meeting I was at in which every single person who spoke was in opposition to it. In fact, of the four meetings I attended personally or covered for KVNU, I did not hear a single rural voter speak in support of that agenda. The final map wasn’t a “modification” it was a completely different map. So much so that legislative legal counsel was telling House reps to stop calling it the “Garber modification.” I agree that often political parties try to spin a message for their own gain, that’s politics. But no one should defend the obvious spin lawmakers were trolling out during the special session. The process could have been much better, and only lawmakers shoulder the blame for what it lacked, not Dabakis or Wright. Good map or bad map, the legislative body has in no way come clean with voters of Utah, and they shouldn’t be proud of that.

    • And all of that is valid criticism. Screaming that democracy has been axe murdered in a dark alley, however…

      And to play devil’s advocate, we pretty much knew the legislature was pushing for the pizza slice to carve up left-leaning enclaves. Odds are good that those who felt that the legislature’s plan wasn’t desirable were probably speaking more loudly in public. Those who were okay with the plan likely didn’t feel as much of a need to speak or chose more convenient means such as phone calls and email. Of course, nobody knows for sure, but it’s something to consider.

  3. Excellent post.

    For all you people who are angry at the map – I hope you submitted your own during the many weeks the public was invited to do so? No? hmm. Utah’s population patterns are unique. Some thing to keep in mind before you dismiss the whole effort:

    1. The districts have to have equal population, Geography is secondary.
    2. Salt Lake county has to be split at least in two. There are too many people to have it in one district.
    3. The districts have to have both urban and rural, That’s just how the population is. All the districts need part of the Wasatch front in order to have enough people. All counties in the state except the 5 on the Wasatch Front (SL, Utah, Davis, Weber, and Cache) put together do not have enough people for one district.
    4. More than just SL county must be split. Utah county is too small. Davis and Weber together are too small, Cache and Washington are too small. The only other way to do this is to have 3 mostly urban districts along the Wasatch front and one containing the rest of the state plus chunks of the Wasatch front counties adding up to about 50,000 people. Having 4 urban/rural districts is at least as logical as having 3 urban and one rural with selected chunks of urban gerrymandered in.
    5. There aren’t enough Democrats living close to each other to have a safe democratic seat. So, even if that was a valid concern, it just isn’t possible.
    6. There aren’t enough Democrats in the legislature, and they aren’t united enough to make a difference. That’s why the map from the Rep. caucus was passed, all they need are most of the Republican votes.

  4. Davis Didjeridu

    Jesse, you’re cherry-picking. It can easily be said that the process of drawing the Congressional maps did not reflect the bipartisan work that resulted in the other maps. The Garber Map was never seriously considered; the map that was produced was a variation of Sumsion’s.

    • “You’re cherry-picking.”

      Duh. If my point was to highlight the ridiculous behaviors, why would I start quoting the few reasonable people? 😉

  5. The governor can veto the map and request they choose one that came from the redistricting committee that we apparently spent a million dollars and a bunch of time on just to be torpedoed at the last minute by Sumsion’s awkward mess.

    Yes, I have used the map tool, and there’s no rational reason for the south east side of SLC to arbitrarily be cut into 3 districts with blocky, indecipherable cuts between them (and I’d say that even if I didn’t live in such an awkwardly divided community).

    I’d actually like to see the Democrats draw a map they like, explain their reasoning, and then openly negotiate a compromise map. Then we could honestly say we had an open process and wouldn’t need a lawsuit.

    The majority party can even offer open preconditions to such a plan. Here are mine: The best maps have small perimeters, keep cities together and follow natural boundaries like mountains, rivers and interstates. I am not a fan of donut hole plans because they force the other representatives to cover a larger geographical area, and thus provide less representation for the additional smaller communities in their district.I see no geographical or common governance-interest reason to combine Salt Lake City and Saint George into one district, and the same applies for any other crescent shaped district.

  6. Pingback: How Not to Submit a GRAMA Request @ Opinionated @ CFE

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