Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Why a Redistricting Commission may make things worse

Why a Redistricting Commission may make things worse

For our transportation organization, UTA, an un-elected board didn’t work as well as most would have liked. Do we want another un-elected commission?

Both in 2016 and 2017, Rep. M. Nelson proposed rules (passed the House but not the Senate, yet) that would help solve the problem that happened the last time the Utah Legislature passed new redistricting maps. In 2011, the legislative redistricting committee had really good rules and goals, but then both political parties threatened law suits and many of the ideals were abandoned. If we could just get one or two specific Republican State Senators to go along, the new proposed rules would likely pass. Those rules, and having the elected legislature create the maps, would work much better than having an "independent" un-elected redistricting commission where the one independent person gets to make the final decision.  

Even though I was not on the redistricting committee last time, I drew maps for the 2011 redistricting bills and some were officially voted on. My Congressional "Hat and Three Stripes Map" was the most favored by the committee, prior to the political parties’ involvement. I even had a similar map Senate Sponsored by Sen. Ben McAdams, the only bi-partisan Congressional District Map. (No, it didn't pass).

The maps I drew to start with had one goal in mind: to keep the districts as close to city and county lines as possible, using major roads or other obvious boundaries such as rivers, etc. I had the Congressional District divided with very few county or city boundaries crossed. My state political party chair threatened to sue the state if that map was adopted. I tried to make it fair. I wasn't trying to favor one party over the other, but didn't use any political party stats to create it. I had the Congressional District maps balanced to one person. 

If the rules that the committee was trying to follow were placed as legislative rules, it would have avoided the threats of lawsuits for following them. Outside groups created state house, state senate and state school board maps down to just a few people, while to keep the county and city boundaries as close as possible, the state house and state senate districts needed a larger difference between districts, perhaps 2% to 3%. When these other groups started doing that, we followed and we started losing district boundaries that made sense. Creating districts with populations this close actually made things worse. This is another reason for the rules being adopted differently.

At least for the Utah House map, only one State Representative voted against the final map. It initially passed 74 to 1. However, she won in 2012 and I lost. The map wasn't perfect, and I knew it would be tougher to win, but I voted for it because my area made more sense than other options, and we were creating new districts even though several State House Members would end up running against each other. We even changed the house district numbers for these combined districts so no one would have an advantage.

Remember many years ago, Rep. Merrill Nelson lost because he wanted fair redistricting boundaries more than getting elected. I repeated that in 2012. If the State House boundaries were so bad, why did all but one democrat in the House vote for that map?

With additional legislative rules in place prior to redistricting in 2021, it will be better to have an elected body create the maps rather than an appointed body that has no accountability. Didn’t learn anything from UTA?

Vote No on a Redistricting Commission.

Fred C. Cox, former member of the Utah State House of Representatives, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016. West Valley City, Utah