Better UTAH has actively followed, and has been an active participant in, Utah’s 2011 redistricting process. Although there have been some positive elements to this process, we are disappointed that the redistricting committee has fallen prey to a simple phenomenon: the bigger the prize, the more politicized the outcome.
Throughout the process, the redistricting committee gave great lip-service to the ideals of public participation and transparency. This show of feigned interest in the public’s input was most clearly evidenced by the  public meetings the committee conducted around the state and the provision of an online map-drawing tool open to the public.
However, the committee hedged its bet from the beginning by refusing to create an independent commission and by failing to adopt specific, reasonable and measurable metrics by which to gauge the fairness of the final maps.
In the end, it is clear that, as feared, the committee had political goals which would prevail over the public interest. These goals included overzealous incumbent protection, political gerrymandering for party gain, and explicit efforts to draw maps that would favor, or hinder, specific elected officials and prospective candidates.
Without diminishing the importance of the school board map, and overlooking the effort to pass a reduction in the board size, the committee used this map to demonstrate the efficacy of its interest in public input. It did this by adopting a map drawn by a member of the public as its “base” school board map.
When it came to the state house and senate maps, the committee began to show its fallibility and true interest in incumbent protection and party gerrymandering. Nevertheless, the outcry from the public to keep communities of interest together above other considerations was strong enough to persuade the committee to improve the initial maps to split fewer and fewer communities and to focus less and less on pure incumbent protection. However, certain districts were still drawn based on political realities. For example, Reps. Sandstrom and Herrod could potentially face each other in the 2012 cycle only because the accepted wisdom and expectation was that Rep. Sandstrom would be challenging Governor Herbert and would not be running for reelection.
Nevertheless, in the end, it can only be concluded that the house and senate maps could be better but also could be worse. The real question always was what the committee would do with the biggest prize – the Congressional map – in this pivotal year when Utah would receive its fourth seat in the US House of Representatives. And the redistricting committee did not disappoint.
Despite an overwhelming call from the public to keep communities of interest together, despite a majority preference for “doughnuts” over “pizza”, and despite the presentation of maps that fairly represent all Utahns, the redistricting committee adopted a Congressional map so flawed that the Democratic Party has threatened litigation and charges and admissions of gerrymandering have come from all corners of the State.
As the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board has noted, the Congressional maps support the proposition that the public process has been nothing more than a sham. There is little substantive argument that the Congressional map has been drawn for anything but pure political purposes – so much so that it is likely that Utah will be highlighted again, as it was in 2001 by the Wall Street Journal, for the extreme nature of the gerrymandering of this map. The 1st District is clearly drawn with protection of Rob Bishop in mind. The 2nd District is clearly drawn to force a challenge to Utah’s lone Democrat – Jim Matheson – from both the right and the left. The 3rd District would seem to play beautifully to the new desire of Jason Chaffetz to stay in the House of Representatives after deciding not to challenge Senator Hatch in 2012. And the new 4th District, despite Mia Love’s belief to the contrary, seems to have been clearly drawn for the pure benefit of Carl Wimmer’s desire to run for Congress.
The adopted map fails to respect communities of interest such as the lion share of Salt Lake County or Utah County. After realizing that the originally stated desire to be sure that all four Utah Congressmen would have a vested interest in Utah’s public lands could be satisfied without artificial gerrymandering, simply by drawing the map to allow each district to be as compact as possible but to encompass neighboring public lands (e.g, Utah County and the Wasatch National Forest), the committee resorted to a tortured argument about maintaining a mix of urban and rural voters in each district. This, however, was yet another instance where the public spoke loudly and clearly – particularly the rural public – in stating that voters wanted their Congressional representatives to understand their unique urban or rural issues. While this is not to say that every Utahn does not have common interests, it also must be recognized that many Utahns do have different interests as well. In the newly drawn 2nd District – even more of a mockery than the previously drawn 2nd District, two potential constituents could live several hundred miles apart. They will share different interests by the very nature of their urban (Salt Lake City) and rural (Delta) locales. Their lifestyles, air quality, water quality, sources of income, tourism and pollution, schools and communities will be vastly different. They will, quite literally, not even share the same weather.
In adopting this map, the Legislature has effectively created six statewide senate-type districts providing each with something akin to full state representation. This is not a question of Democrat or Republican but, rather, is an issue that should concern all Utahns who support the Constitutional objective of vesting statewide representation in the Senate and vesting representation of more localized communities of common interest in the House of Representatives.