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Paul Rolly: Gerrymandering extremists

Published October 2, 2011 11:34 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The statement from the Legislature's Redistricting Committee that it carved Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County into three congressional districts because of the need for all districts to have an urban-rural mix is exposed as a lie simply by looking at the committee's proposed District 4.

That is a suburban district, pure and simple, without the rural component that Committee Chairman Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, said was essential in the boundary-drawing process.

District 4 envelopes the most conservative parts of Salt Lake County, including politically scarlet West Valley City, Taylorsville, West Jordan, South Jordan, Riverton, Bluffdale and Herriman, combined with several northwest Utah County cities with deeply conservative voting records.

No vast federal lands in that district, which belies Sumsion's insistence that all Utah's representatives in Congress should be beholden to rural as well as urban voters.

But District 4 is the perfect district for Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman. He lives, works and worships in the heart of that district, and those communities have a higher-than-average representation in the tea party movement to which Wimmer speaks.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said that district was not drawn specifically for Wimmer.

But permit me to boast, just a tad.

I predicted in a column eight months ago that Wimmer's reward for being one of the most devout soldiers in Lockhart's battle to unseat previous speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, would be a congressional district drawn just for him.

What a coincidence.

Lockhart, Sumsion and other leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature say partisanship had nothing to do with the way the four congressional boundaries were drawn. Never mind that they are shaped to insure that each one leans heavily Republican. Democratic Salt Lake City is neutered, thrown in with parts of conservative Davis County and all of rural southern Utah.

If you believe the vow of non-partisanship, I've got a bridge over Utah Lake I'd like to sell you.

This blatant gerrymandering by our elected representatives every 10 years for the past several decades has a more serious, and sinister, consequence.

University of Utah political scientist and Hinckley Institute of Politics coordinator Tim Chambless has studied political gerrymandering for 40 years and has found that the direct result has been to push both major political parties to their opposite extremes.

The deliberate drawing of partisan districts that discourage competition from the minority party frustrates the moderate elements of either party to the point that they give up and don't participate. That leaves the field to extremists on both sides, which in turn leads to the election of extremist candidates who refuse to compromise, thus fostering the unbreakable gridlock we see in Washington today.

Indeed, Utah, a prime victim of blatant gerrymandering over the last three decades, has gone from a 66 percent voter turnout, fifth best in the nation, in 1980, to a 34 percent turnout in 2010, third-worst in the United States.

Democratic State Chairman Jim Dabakis points out that over the last 10 years, Democrats received 43 percent of the vote in legislative races, yet only 27 percent of legislators are Democrats — a ratio he says is a direct result of gerrymandering by the Republican majority.

But Chambless notes that gerrymandering is not just a Republican plague.

Massachussets, whose political boundaries are drawn by Democratic legislators, has a Republican U.S. senator and has elected Republican governors in the past. Yet all 10 members of Congress from that state are Democrats.

That's no coincidence, says Chambless, nor is it coincidental that the first bill George Washington vetoed was a reapportionment bill. —




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