This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Thursday at the Utah Capitol is your chance to experience a live political debate with our three current U.S. Congressional representatives as invited guests, hopefully sharing their own views on our state's current redistricting efforts and possibly even sharing their own maps. This event will also include a lively conversation about Utah's new fourth congressional district.
Utahns love our mountains, canyons and deserts. Our current U.S. congressional delegation loves these federal lands also, but not for the reasons most citizens would guess. In fact, they recently unanimously chose to not protect any of Utah's wilderness areas or public lands when invited to do so this summer by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
Likewise, Republican leaders of 22 Utah counties, representing 99 percent of BLM land in Utah, have agreed that there are no "crown jewels" in Utah that require additional federal protection. A request for permanent protection of BLM-managed wilderness areas across the country will be delivered from the Department of Interior to Congress on Oct. 15, but no Utah lands will appear on that list.
Lost opportunity? Nope. GOP strategy: Refuse to protect wilderness areas; initiate a lawsuit with the owner of these public lands, the federal government; keep the momentum going on states' sovereignty issues until Utah can figure out how to "take back" BLM-controlled land within our state boundaries.
The Utah Patrick Henry Caucus, a group of conservative constitutionalist Republicans, supports this pre-emptive "land grab" out of fear of future federal protections to wilderness areas, such as what many Republicans believed happened when President Bill Clinton designated the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in 1996 via the Antiquities Act. This term is erroneous since the land grabber was also the owner/administrator of these federal lands. However, the Patrick Henry Caucus members "reject the position that States' sovereignty must be subordinate to the federal government." Does this message from our U.S. congressional delegation in D.C. really represent how Utah voters feel about our wilderness lands? Poll data, please.
You don't have to be an environmental activist to believe that it would be criminal to see oil, gas, or coal mining corporations destroy our beautiful canyons and our wild lands. Not all agree, including members of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee, several of whom are also members of the Patrick Henry Caucus. And Gov. Gary Herbert. ("Utah's 10-Year Strategic Energy Plan," Gov. Gary Herbert, March 2, 2011).
Redistricting Committee members have stated many times this summer that their Republican majority supports a four-way split of Utah with the center being our state's most densely populated urban area and capital, Salt Lake City.
They invited public input and even spent $100,000 on specialized software to encourage voters to create their own maps. The public responded loudly that they preferred a separation of urban and rural districts provided by the "doughnut hole" maps. Citizens concerned about our "crown jewels" should be storming the Capitol on this issue.
Which plan will survive next Thursday's debate? If the legislators have their way, it looks like the pizza slice. Most citizen comments during the road trip, both rural and urban, supported the doughnut hole design. Many legislators' intentions were decided well before any voter input was invited as part of an overall Republican strategy for the future of our state. Despite their legislative pledge of fairness and transparency, voters are already crying foul. Can citizens challenge the Redistricting Committee to represent voter views on Thursday?
Sue Connor is a psychologist with the University of Utah.