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Opinion: I don’t trust Republicans to redraw Utah’s political boundaries

The chair of Utah’s Democratic Party believes an independent commission’s maps will better represent the needs of people, not politicians

People rally over redistricting in Utah in 2011.
People rally over redistricting in the Rotunda of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Monday, Oct. 3, 2011. Lawmakers once again are redrawing Utah’s boundaries based on new Census data. This year, an independent commission will present proposed maps as well.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In an op-ed published by the Deseret News on Thursday, Republican Speaker of the Utah House Brad Wilson discussed his plans for the Legislature’s redistricting committee.

He’s right: Utah does deserve a fair and equitable redistricting process. It’s a shame that Speaker Wilson and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature have no interest in anything other than talk on independent, fair maps.

In 2018, voters gave our state’s leaders a clear message by passing Proposition 4, the Better Boundaries Initiative. They wanted to see lines for legislative districts drawn clearly, in the open and offering representation to all Utahns. Then, the Republican Legislature gutted that proposition in the very next legislative session, neutering the power of the Independent Redistricting Commission and instead asking Utah voters to effectively just trust them to draw the lines themselves.

Nice try.

Utahns know exactly what Republicans plan to try, because it’s the same playbook that was used 10 years ago, when Republicans split Salt Lake County in three to dilute voters’ influence there.

They also did it in Moab, where they split the town down Main Street, lopping Grand County residents into districts as far away as Richfield and Roosevelt.

Ten years later, as Brad Wilson astutely points out, lawmakers are going about drawing their own maps again — this time, stringing you along with a loose pinky promise: “The Legislative Redistricting Committee does not take partisan data into consideration when drawing maps.”

Do you buy that? I don’t.

Republicans have already admitted they are looking at where their colleagues live — working to protect their friends and punish their enemies. They also claim the next three months will be hectic and rushed — but that’s due to Republicans’ own unwillingness to take a thoughtful, measured approach to drawing fair districts. Utah’s Constitution doesn’t require the districts to be finalized until the end of the 2022 Legislative Session.

Instead of taking the time to draw districts, though, Republicans know it’s to their own benefit to make the process as harried and confusing as possible. Now, that process will be further obfuscated by two dueling committees, one with a mandate of the voters choosing their politicians (the Independent Redistricting Commission) and another with the opposite intention: politicians choosing their own voters (the Legislative Redistricting Committee).

I don’t know what to expect from the independent commission, but I do expect maps that take the people into account, not politicians. That is what democracy is about, and that is what Utahns want — regardless of political party.

Your legislators should know that you’re watching them, and that you expect them to vote and advocate for the success of the independent commission’s maps, not those of the Republican kangaroo court.

Jeff Merchant is the Chair of the Utah Democratic Party.