Opinionated @ CFE

Fixing Redistricting Through Smaller Districts


We all knew that redistricting would be a tough business, but I’m not sure anyone suspected it would be this tough. In addition to the normal partisan concerns, cities and counties are all calling for not being split up into multiple districts. There’s also a┬ádichotomous┬ámessage of “don’t gerrymander” combined with “don’t make us lose seats even though the population figures say we should” coming from Utah Democrats. There are things, though, that would readily alleviate many of these problems.

The Legislature has opted to keep the House frozen at 75 seats rather than allowing it to expand to the limit of 87 from Article IX, Section 2 of the Utah Constitution. This creates less flexibility in redistricting as each seat need to contain roughly 33,000 residents. Even an expansion to the maximum limit would only drop the size of a district to 28,500. This makes it difficult to not split up large cities or combine smaller cities together, sometimes in piecemeal, but it is a step in the right direction. Consider that in 1900, just four years after statehood, Utah had just 276,000 people and a district with the current number of seats would be just 3700 people. We have ten times as many people, but no more representation. This will obviously mean that many voices will not be heard.

While we can’t do much about the federal level (though organizations like ThirtyThousand working to fix it), we can absolutely work to make sure that our districts allow for much more fine-grained representation. It’s too late to do anything for this year, but we should ask that something be done to expand the House as much as possible. It will keep neighborhoods whole, make legislators more responsive and accountable, and allow cash-poor candidates the opportunity to serve.

Current Ethics Efforts Put Effort Into the Wrong End of the Problem


After the legislature decided to do as close to nothing as possible about perceived ethics problems earlier this year, some citizens were left a bit steamed. There do appear to be a lot of conflicts of interest in the legislature (like a full-time lobbyist as a legislator) and while there have been some rather blatant conflicts of interest (I’m looking at you, Aaron Tilton), tightening up gifting, spending, and lobbying rules is an ineffective way to take care of the problem.

The real problem is that when each legislator is given enough power to push through legislation on their own, they become a magnet for lobbying. No matter how many rules you make, no matter how many laws you pass, no matter how harsh the punishment, the problem of a single legislator wielding considering individual influence and power will still exist. This is only compounded when the number of constituents represented by each of them increases, resulting in a need for even more funding to effectively campaign for office.

I think the appropriate remedy for this situation is to keep adding members of the House of Representatives, both at the state and federal levels. Not only do you dilute the power of the individual lawmakers, you greatly increase their responsiveness to constituents and spread the lobbying dollars much more thinly. It may also put an end to oddly-drawn district boundaries since they can be made smaller and thus more compact. The door is also opened to third-party and independent candidates who can invest plenty of time and not a lot of money.

Additional rules only create additional loopholes. Let’s go for a solution that really takes care of the problem.

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