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Utah is indeed ruled by Republican Party

Over the years I've probably written a dozen columns about Utah's domination by the Republican Party.

Here's another one, this time bolstered by a new Gallup poll that measured the lower 48 states for the percent of adults who said they were Republicans or Democrats, or leaned to voting for Republicans or Democrats.

Over several years, Gallup talked to 45,000 people in 44 separate telephone surveys.

The findings: Wyoming is the most Republican state in the nation. But Utah is second in the GOP ranks. Gallup found 66.6 percent of Wyoming adults said they are Republicans or lean to voting for Republicans.

Utah came in at 63.6 percent.

Only 28.6 percent of Utahns said they are Democrats or lean to voting for Democrats. Gallup found that 7.8 percent of Utahns steadfastly held that they are true political independents.

Over the years, Deseret News pollster Dan Jones & Associates has found that around 20 percent of Utahns say they are Democrats, 45 percent say they are Republicans and the rest say they are independents or belong to a minor third party.

The difference is that Gallup pushed its respondents — especially those who said they are independents — to say whether they lean to voting for Democrats or Republicans.

In any case, the non-coastal western states — Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada — are in the top 15 GOP states in the nation. The old West is Republican country.

Utah's congressional delegation is 4-1 Republican, with Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, the only Democrat among them. All statewide elected state officers are Republicans. The Utah House and Senate are more than two-thirds Republican.

Utah hasn't had a Democratic governor since 1984, when Matheson's late father, Scott M. Matheson — held the post. We haven't had a Democratic U.S. senator since 1976. Democrats lost control of the Utah House in 1974, lost control of the state Senate in 1978.

A whole generation of Utahns has been born, raised and grown old enough to vote and has never seen a Democratic governor, U.S. senator or Legislature in Utah.

What does living in such a one-party state mean?

It means Democrats can basically be ignored, if that's the will of the majority Republicans.

Yes, at times Republicans have to deal with such Democratic officeholders as Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson.

But even Anderson gets punished for his politics.

The 2003 Legislature was prepared to take away from the city $2.3 million in light rail transportation money. But Anderson buckled under a bit and promised he personally wouldn't join in any other lawsuits aimed at stopping the Legacy Highway, a road from Davis to Salt Lake counties that would feed, Anderson claims, more traffic into Salt Lake City from the north.

It means that legislative Democrats need to find GOP supporters for their measures — or watch them fail.

Rep. Dave Litvack, D-Salt Lake, was pleased to find support for his hate crimes bill in the 2003 session from Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, and GOP Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, among others. But in the end, even that GOP help wasn't enough. Litvack's hate crimes bill passed the House in a close, emotional vote only to be called back later and killed.

It means even a whiff of partisanship dooms any Democrat-sponsored bill in the Legislature.

I've watched Democratic lawmaker after Democratic lawmaker have to defend minor pieces of legislation before GOP criticisms that never would have come if the sponsor had been a Republican.

It means the state Republican Party can close its primary election to registered Republicans only and not suffer any consequences from voters.

It means that if you have an "R" next to your name on the ballot, you have a real head-start on your Democratic opponent. In many state House and Senate elections — where polling shows the voters really don't know their candidates — Democratic candidates, no matter how conservative, bright or appealing they may be — just can't win. There are too many straight party-line GOP voters to overcome even a weak Republican candidate.

It means while the majority party believes it reflects the will of the electorate — and in many things it does — the voice of the minority is often not heard. Or that voice is not paid much attention to, even if it is heard.

GOP officeholders like to say that when you have large majorities there are natural disagreements within the party caucus. And so while Democrats may not have a lot of sway, the natural give and take between moderate, conservative and a few arch-conservative Republicans brings a balance that in other states is seen between Democrats and Republicans.

You do see that balance at work.

Tuition tax credits in the Legislature is a good example. Moderate Republicans in the House joined with Democrats to defeat the measure — which flew through the Senate.

But now those moderate Republicans have to face their county or state GOP delegates in the 2004 GOP conventions. And such internal political tests are the real place where the conservative wing of the Utah Republican Party makes its voice, and votes, heard.

So, according to Gallup, Utah is the second most Republican state in the nation.

That's not likely to change much in the years ahead, especially after the GOP-controlled Legislature redrew U.S. House and state House and Senate district lines to shore up legislative districts that already were voting Republican.

In the process, they made a few districts even more Democratic in voting — leaving fewer "swing" districts that could be won by a strong Democratic campaign.

Rep. Matheson survived a strong challenge last year in the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, which now is, by some estimates, 7 to 10 percentage points more Republican than before. It will be tough for Matheson to win the seat again in 2004.

If you don't like Republicans controlling the political life of Utah, you've got two choices: Learn to live with it or move.

According to Gallup, Massachusetts is the most Democratic state in the nation — 54.9 percent associating with that party. (Which makes former SLOC chief Mitt Romney's GOP gubernatorial win there last fall even more impressive.)

Or you could try Washington, D.C. Gallup says 85.2 percent of those residents are Democrats or lean to voting for Democrats.

Short of calling for the moving van, you could vote for a Democrat in city elections this year or state and federal elections next year. The Democrat probably won't win. But you could say you swam against the political tide.


Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at bbjr@desnews.com