Utah to (finally!) get its 4th Federal Congressional District!
Ten years ago, we counted just 800 persons shy of getting a fourth seat for Utah in Congress; that seat went to North Carolina instead. A major court battle ensued because Utah wasn't allowed to factor in religious missionaries serving missions abroad whereas North Carolina was able to count its military and civil servants living abroad. This was obviously wrong, but Utah wasn't able to persuade the courts. The entire Utah Delegation wanted then to alter the Constitution by giving Washington, D.C. a Representative coupled with a 4th for Utah. Fortunately, this horrible idea (see 2006 wonderful DN opinion by former Rep. Jim Hansen) went nowhere and instead the 800 persons short has rectified itself by Utah's continued population explosion. Because of the addition of this fourth seat, Utahns can expect some significant boundary changes when we next vote in Federal elections in 2012.
Criticism of the 2000 Reapportionment
Utah's 3 Congressional Districts changed dramatically in 2001 and resulted in a fair amount of criticism. (See BYU Universe article for before and after maps.) Noble-thinking Republicans thought that it would be good to have all of Utah's Reps co-responsible for Utah's vast land and resource areas; partisan-thinking Republicans were hoping to create a district so Republican we would be able to rid ourselves of Matheson (actually getting rid of Matheson could be considered noble as well, but not to those who don't study Matheson sly votes). Whatever the motives were, the redistricting backfired.
The first way the 2001 Reapportionment backfired for the GOP is that liberal Matheson has successfully held the seat through the 5 Federal election cycles since reapportionment. Second, it has spawned an organization called Fair Boundaries which seeks to implement a non-elected oligarchy of 11 persons to manage reapportionment. This idea is yet another way of taking power out of the hands of We the People and our elected representatives; the promoted "cure" is worse than the problem. Third, Republicans lost the media war: an example of this is a 2001 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "The Gerrymander Scandal" applying the word "scam" to Utah.
Witness the scam Republicans pulled off this year in Utah to defeat the state's Democratic Congressman, Jim Matheson. The state's GOP legislature carved up his urban Salt Lake City district and mixed city neighborhoods with 14 rural counties. The GOP plan moved 684,000 people from one district to another, while competing plans moved fewer than one-tenth as many.
Defense of the 2001 Reapportionment: Bad locally, not atypical nationallyNot that the WSJ is the conservative paper many perceive it to be--indeed it's widely-considered the most liberal--but Republicans were unable to come up with an effective counterargument making redistricting look like a gerrymandered attempt to remove Matheson (despite some in the legislature who I believe had good intentions.) Furthermore even the WSJ editorial admitted Utah's Congressional Districts were "not the worst." To name but a few of the numerous worse examples consider the likes of: Arizona 2nd California 23rd California 38th California 39th Florida 22nd Florida 23rd Illinois 17th Maryland 2nd Maryland 3rd Massachusetts 2nd North Carolina 12th New York 22nd New York 28th Tennessee 3rd Texas 19th Washington 1st and my all-time favorite: Illinois 4th. New Jersey is perhaps the worst overall gerrymandered state: not only do all 13 districts look like a bad jigsaw puzzle, but this gerrymandered outcome was a result of one of these "bipartisan districting commissions" (similar to the Utah Fair Boundaries proposal) put into the New Jersey State Constitution by voters in 1995 (see Rutgers 2010 redistricting study).
I guess one could argue that Republicans did the same thing in a red state that Democrats did in blue states. This attitude was summarized by John Swallow who after participating in redistricting as a Utah State Legislator in 2001, then turned to make runs against Matheson in 2002 and 2004:
"People need to understand it's a political process that happens every ten years, and that in Utah, just like in Washington, majority rules." (BYU Universe)Recently-defeated Matheson opponent Morgan Philpot also voted for the redistricting in 2001 and came up with this ultra-partisan defense:
"[Democrat Minority Leader Ralph Becker's] appeal to fairness is nonsense. The fact of the matter is that's the nature of the game. Let's wake up." Philpot added that by their nature political parties "cannot seek fairness." (Ogden Standard-Examiner, October 2, 2001; emphases mine)
Although the 2001 redistricting wasn't an issue in the 2010 midterms, hopefully Philpot will use his political clout to retract this statement and support a fair redistricting by noble-minded elected Republicans in 2011. Calling fair reapportionment "nonsense" and "a game" is exactly the kind of partisanship that will turn people away from the Republican party. While I truely believe that Swallow or Philpot would have hands down done a much better job than Matheson has, perhaps bad karma struck thrice (twice Swallow, once Philpot) as voters with sufficient memories held out this against the GOP.
2001 State Reapportionment--particularly the House--a gerrymandered mess
While I consider the Federal reapportionment to be lightly gerrymandered, the state's alignment into State House Districts and State Senate Districts was awful. To this I defer to valid points raised by Fair Boundaries organization coupled with my own observations.
- House District 69: Grand County--population 8,000 was split in half down Main Street of Moab while carving up 4 other counties
- House Districts 67, 70: The confluence of slices of rural counties
- House District 8: Herniated into Ogden after squeezing through a 5-block gap
- House Districts 53: Even though Summit County was right at the 30K population mark needed for its own rep, liberal Park City was deemed by the Republican legislature to have to be cut in half. Some of 53 protruded into Wasatch county.
- House District 25: Combines Federal Heights area with a piece of Park City. Road travel between the two areas is impossible without crossing House District 28. Although connected by land, the two areas are essentially non-contiguous
- Senate District 24: Tooele County got split into 4 Senate Districts while not boasting enough population to justify even one.
- Senate Districts 13/27: Utah County took away land Tooele county when it had plenty of population with its own borders. Instead, SE Utah County got lumped into District 27 which extends clear the the SE corner of the state.
How to Conduct a Fair Reapportionment
While Utahns don't want a silly commission, we do want fair reapportionment. We don't want reapportionment to be based on racial profiling, incumbency, or political parties. We want to be grouped into logical, compact groups. We have a wonderful state division unit which divides us called the "county." County boundaries should be the foremost consideration when dividing any redistricting line. I suggest the following rules for Utah be adhered to (specifically written for divison of the four Federal Congressional Districts, but mostly applicable to any redistricting):
- Strike balance between keeping districts segregated (into urban and rural; more a Democratic tenant) and desegregated (all districts have both urban and rural; more a Republican tenant)
- If a county has reached the population threshold for representation (for Utah abt 2.8M divided into 4 districts or 700,000), that county merits strong consideration for a representative whose district lies completely within the county
- As much as possible, keep the full county intact as a voting unit.
- Keep county breakups to a minimum: that is, break into twos is better than breaking into threes.
- Don't string counties along like Texas 19th, keep county groups compact.
What the 2011 Federal Redistricting of Utah Map Should Look Like
I'm not here to draw maps, but here's an outline a basic idea from the application of these five rules to a Utah with 4 districts:
- Salt Lake County (SLC), with over 1M in population would have its own representative; it would also be the only county with its own representative confined within county lines.
- "Boomtown" Utah County with population currently (est) 560,000 will be on the verge of meriting its own representative by 2020 with a population of 727,000 (see 2008 Baseline Projections Summary, Utah Gov Office Plan & Projections). Of course, by 2020 it could be Utah at 3.6M in population is looking for a 5th Congressional District anyways. Thus for 2010, Utah County could prepare for 2020 by taking some of the population from the south end of SLC and be a compact district of its own without having to string or divide other counties.
- There would both northern and Dixie districts, considerably rural, to help balance out the two urban districts. The division between north and south would help keep the geography workable for a single representative.
- There would still be population in SLC to be absorbed by either the northern or Dixie district depending on exactly how the counties are allocated and how the SLC seat is drawn.