This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
With a $53 million commitment to build a deep-water port in Oakland to ship Utah coal to China, $4.5 million in seed money to sue the feds for public lands and a scheme allowing billboards to obscure Utah's scenic byways, it's clear the Utah Legislature does not reflect the will of the majority of Utahns
Why? It's called gerrymandering.
The Legislature is charged with readjusting the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts once every decade the year after Census results disclose population shifts in the various states.
There always has been some political shenanigans involved in redistricting by both Democratic-controlled states and Republican-controlled states.
But the last two redistricting efforts in Utah in 2001 and 2011 are so blatant in the disregard for fair elections they have drawn national attention.
When the Legislature in 2001 tried to neuter Salt Lake City, the lion's share of the congressional district held by the lone Democrat, Jim Matheson, by slicing it up into Republican-dominated districts, even Republicans were red-faced about it.
Then-Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah called it one of the worst examples of gerrymandering he had ever seen.
Then Republican Congressman Jim Hansen, who had Republican strongholds in his district moved over into Matheson's district to defeat the Democrat, said, "If there was ever an argument for letting someone other than the Legislature do redistricting, this is one."
The Wall Street Journal called it a "scam" to defeat Matheson, one likely to produce "effective disenfranchisement."
When Matheson narrowly won re-election in 2002, despite the gerrymandering attempt to oust him, he continued to get stronger in his newly defined district through effective constituent services and hands-on communications with the voters.
So in 2011, the Legislature made it even worse. They shifted much of the rural areas in southern and eastern Utah, which began voting more for Matheson each election, to a new rural area along the state's western flank.
Then Matheson won again in 2012 after deciding to run in the new Fourth Congressional District, which also was drawn to favor a Republican.
Matheson chose not to run again in 2014, and the Republicans finally got the all-GOP congressional delegation they had craved.
And in the process of cynically manipulating congressional districts in order to disenfranchise Democratic and independent voters, they zealously did the same thing in their state legislative districts.
They took Democratic-leaning Tooele, for example, and carved it up into three legislative districts dominated by other, heavily Republican areas.
They diced and sliced Salt Lake County to weaken Democratic blocs. They split up a Democratic district in Ogden so it would be absorbed by more rural Republican zones, and they shoved key parts of Democratic stronghold Carbon County into Republican-dominated neighboring counties.
The result is this:
According to a chart distributed by Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis at a dinner he spoke at this week, the Democrats' share of representation in the Legislature is about half that of the Democrats' vote total.
In other words, because Democrats and independents have been disenfranchised by gerrymandering, their votes don't count.
The chart shows that before the draconian gerrymandering of 2001 and again in 2011, Democratic representation in the Legislature was far more reflective of the party's vote share than in recent years.
In 1990, a non-presidential election year with no statewide offices on the ballot, the Democrats actually received the majority of the vote in the combined three congressional district elections 52.88 percent to 43.21 percent for the Republicans. That was the year that Democrats Wayne Owens and Bill Orton won congressional races and the Democrats cleaned up in Utah County. In the Legislature, though, the Democrats had just 39.42 percent of the representation to 60.58 percent for the Republicans.
In 1992, the Democrats held 35.54 percent of the seats in the state Senate and House, while getting 45.74 percent of the cumulative vote share in the three congressional districts.
In 1994, Democrats had 28.85 percent of the legislative seats while attracting 42.84 percent of the votes. In 2000, the year Matheson was first elected to Congress, the Democrats got 31.73 percent of the seats while garnering 40.17 percent of the vote share.
Then, after the gerrymander of 2001, the Democrats' share of seats dropped to 25 percent while getting 39.74 percent of the vote total.
Those numbers remained fairly consistent until 2012, after the second round of gerrymandering, when Democrats got only 18.10 percent of the seats. Their vote share that year dropped to 33.44 percent, but it still was twice the percentage of their representation in the Legislature and after many Democrats and Republicans simply gave up and stopped voting because the districts were so skewed to insure a one-party outcome.
In 2014, the Democrats' share in the Legislature was 16.34, and the Democrats' vote share was 30.16.