Monday, October 3, 2011

Redistricting has Been Kind to Democrats...So Far

Redistricting has Been Kind to Democrats...So Far

Copy of now archived article from 9/16/11 at:

By Bob Bernick, Contributing Editor

If you had shown me last spring the redistricting maps of the Utah House and Senate unanimously adopted this week by the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee, I would have been more than a little surprised.


Because the majority Republicans did not treat the minority Democrats too badly.

In fact, depending on possible election outcomes in 2012 (assuming these maps are ultimately approved by the Legislature in an early October special session), Democrats could come out OK in the redistricting process.

And that is exactly why I’m thinking these maps won’t be the final boundaries for the 75-member House and 29-member Senate for the next 10 years.

The Senate map has a better chance of passage than does the House map, I admit.

That’s because the Senate redistricting combines no GOP incumbent senators.

Yes, it’s ugly boundaries for Tooele County.

But instead of the having the county split into four Senate districts, as is now the case, it would be split into two.

Still, it’s unlikely a Tooele candidate could win a Senate seat – the county has about one-third of the population base for both of the proposed districts, thus making it unlikely a county politician could win or hold one of the new seats.

And, yes, the map is draw to protect Senate Majority Assistant Whip Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City. But the map is also drawn to protect other GOP incumbents, as well.

Two Democrats are drawn into the same district – Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, and former minority leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay.

But, to be fair, the Salt Lake City/east side Salt Lake County Senate seats held by Democrats didn’t grow in population over the last 10 years as fast as other parts of the county.

So it is only right that two Democrats be put together.

And Romero is running for Salt Lake County mayor next year, so Democrats won’t see a battle of two incumbents.

The House is a very different matter.

Republicans on the Redistricting Committee – which includes Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo – approved a plan that put 10 incumbents into five combined districts.

Three Democrats and seven Republicans would face an incumbent if they run in 2012 and the map stands.

Two Democrats are combined: House Minority Leader David Litvack and newcomer Brian Doughty, both D-Salt Lake.

Rep. Janice Fisher, a Democrat, and Rep. Fred Cox, a Republican, both from West Valley City, are combined.

And in the most controversial suggestion, six GOP incumbents are combined: Rep. Brad Galvez, R-West Haven, and Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden; Reps. Todd Kiser and LaVar Christensen, both R-Sandy; and Reps. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, and Chris Herrod, R-Provo.

Now, there are 58 House Republicans. It’s tough to draw a map with such a super-majority that wouldn’t combine at least a few GOP incumbents.

It’s especially difficult if you compartmentalize various geographic areas of the state and say House districts won’t be allowed to significantly encroach into surrounding areas.

For example, since the numbers so perfectly match up, Salt Lake County was basically kept whole, as was Utah County. Northern Utah fit well together, so did Washington and Iron counties.

But politically speaking, Utah County is really a tough sell as drawn today.

First off, the county is all Republican – no Democratic House members at all. So you can’t combine two Democrats in Utah County.

Secondly, while Lockhart may have voted for the map in committee, her caucus stand may be different. How does she tell her Utah County colleagues – most if not all of whom supported her in the speaker’s race where she won by one vote – that two arch-conservatives must be combined when, because of growth in parts of the county, there will be three open House seats created?

Why can’t the Utah County map be drawn that would give all incumbents their own districts and have only two open new seats?

Trust me, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, the House chair of the committee, has tried time and again to draw a Utah County map that makes some sense and doesn’t combine any incumbents.

Sumsion said that in the map approved last week “one of my best friends” in the House is combined with “another friend” – and Sumsion is not happy about it at all.

But that’s just the way the numbers and population shifts make sense, he said.

Members of the 58-strong House GOP caucus may define “makes sense” very differently.

Still, when there is political blood in the water, it can become every man for himself.

And to draw lines that protect Sandstrom and Herrod could mean that other incumbents end up in a district with mostly new constituents – and the loss of the geographic power base that put them in office.

What good does it do Utah County incumbent House members to save Sandstrom and/or Herrod if they, in turn, are challenged by a LDS bishop, city mayor or councilman or business leader from their new area who can knock them out in the GOP county convention or primary?

Wheels within wheels, hard choices all around.

You can see the new Senate and House redistricting maps at:

Take a look. You may not know where your current incumbent lives (hey, you may not know who your current incumbent is).

But take a bird’s eye view. Do the new maps make sense to you?

If so – and they make sense to me – you should let your representative and senator know that you like what your see (or don’t).

Personally, I think the majority Republicans have done pretty well by the minority Democrats – given the population shifts and reality of the numbers.

Now we’ll see if the House and Senate GOP caucuses will go along with the maps proposed by the Redistricting Committee (this comment assumes that significant boundary changes aren’t made before the caucuses get a shot at them).

Remember, GOP House and Senate leaders want the redistricting maps to receive overwhelming support in the Legislature come October.

And if they have to draw more lines – and hurt some more Democrats -- to get that, well, don’t be surprised by that outcome, either.