This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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 Republicans in the Legislature stubbornly refuse to do the right thing and appoint an independent commission to propose new political district boundaries in the wake of the 2010 census. So, a group of prominent citizens has appointed itself to do the job.
That's a breathtaking bit of arrogance. Nevertheless, it may actually do some good.
The self-appointed Utah Citizens' Council intends to draw its own boundary recommendations for the state's congressional, legislative and school board districts. It will offer its plans to the Legislature, just as an independent commission would. If the group's boundary proposals are obviously superior to those that legislators create themselves, it might place public pressure on lawmakers to adopt the independent plan.
Or not. Don't hold your breath. This is the Utah Legislature, after all, which has resisted all calls to create an independent redistricting commission. Instead, lawmakers draw the boundaries themselves every 10 years, often with an eye to retaining office. That's the problem.
By contrast, the unofficial Citizens' Council would give the public an example of how a real independent commission might work. It has adopted a series of principles that it says should guide the process. Among them are openness and transparency, in pursuit of which the council will conduct public meetings around the state to gather suggestions.
The Legislature, by contrast, often draws boundaries behind closed doors.
Every 10 years, the Democrats complain that the dominant Republicans draw the districts to give their party the advantage.
But among the critics of this process is Republican Jim Hansen, who represented Utah in Congress for a generation. He says that in 2001, he and fellow Republican Chris Cannon and Democrat Jim Matheson had agreed on a map for the state's three congressional districts that they all considered fair. Nevertheless, the GOP legislators threw it out in favor of a plan designed to throw a huge swath of rural Utah into Matheson's district to defeat him. It didn't work. Now Hansen is part of the Citizens' Council.
Utah has gained a fourth congressional seat with the new census, so drawing four new districts is the top prize in this year's reapportionment.
The best proposal for an independent commission came from the Fair Boundaries initiative. Unfortunately, it didn't get enough petition signatures to make it onto the ballot last year. And who sets the absurdly high signature requirements? You guessed it. The Legislature.