OK, here are some Bob Bernick political predictions for 2011.
Keep in mind that often I’ve been wrong -- or just a little wacky -- in my political crystal ball, whether just before an election or at a New Year. But here goes:
-- Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker will win re-election to another four-year term in 2011.
-- The Republican-controlled Legislature will draw a four-seat U.S. House redistricting plan that will satisfy only a few and anger many Utahns. (That is, it will anger the Utahns who even care about what the new 4th Congressional District will look like.)
I watched from afar the 1981 redistricting by the Legislature (also controlled by Republicans, but with a Democratic governor).
And I was the main Deseret News reporter covering the 1991 and 2001 legislative redistricting proposals, attending some of the hearings around the state that the special legislative redistricting committees held.
In the end, legislators cared a lot more how the 75 Utah House and 29 Utah Senate seats were drawn – because that affected them directly – than they did about the U.S. House redistricting.
Still, in both 1991 and, especially, in 2001 GOP legislators tried to make the three U.S. House seats safely Republican.
They thought they had gotten the upstart U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, the only Democrat in office in 2001, when they pushed his Salt Lake County eastside district out to the east, south and southwest.
Suddenly, Matheson was representing one of the largest geographic districts in the United States.
Many people complained. And I believe it was the Wall Street Journal, not known as a liberal media mouthpiece, that editorialized how terrible the Utah Legislature gerrymandered the new 2nd Congressional District, with an eye toward defeating Matheson.
And the Utah Republicans nearly did.
In his 2002 re-election race, Matheson – who spent a lot of time campaigning in eastern and southern Utah – barely won against Republican John Swallow (who just happened to be a member of the Legislature that redrew the districts).
Matheson won with less than 50 percent of the vote, and topped Swallow by less than 1 percentage point.
Swallow and the Republicans thought they could get Matheson in 2004 with a rematch. But Matheson won by a larger margin then. And since 2004, he’s won by ever-increasing majorities (at least until 2010 when conservative Morgan Philpot did better than other recent GOP contenders).
Republicans argued that it was only fair that Salt Lake County – which includes more than 40 percent of the state’s population – be split three ways. They said all three U.S. House representatives should get a slice of the county’s population.
Republicans go on and on about how splitting up Salt Lake County makes for better representation statewide, you don’t have one highly-urban congressman who may at times be working against the rural goals of the other two, etc., etc.
But anyone who looks at the current U.S. House district map of Utah (you can see it online at utahelections.gov) can see how silly it really is.
Rep. Rob Bishop’s 1st District comes down into the quit liberal Rose Park area of northwest Salt Lake City, for example.
Look at the election returns on the state election site over the last few cycles. You’ll see that Bishop – who always wins easily district wide – loses badly in Rose Park. I mean, those folks really don’t want Bishop to be their congressman. Talk about disenfranchisement.
And, yes, Matheson has the northeast corner of Utah County. And he doesn’t win there, either.
Considering that Rose Park would love to have Matheson, a Democrat, as their congressman, and American Fork, Highland and those Utah County areas would love to have Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, as their congressman (hey, Chaffetz even LIVES in that area of Utah County, not in his 3rd District), why just slap those citizens in the face through U.S. House redistricting?
Common sense would say that in 2011, Salt Lake City and part of Salt Lake County should be combined with Park City to make one more-moderate U.S. House seat, and then split up the rest of conservative, Republican Utah into the other three GOP-safe seats.
But will common sense rule?
While Republicans picked up 63 U.S. House seats and control of the 435-member House in the 2010 national elections, 2012 will be another bitter partisan battleground.
And Democrats could make great gains in, or even take back, the U.S. House then.
National and Utah GOP leaders will no way want to give Democrats even a shot at winning a U.S. House here – one of the most Republican states in the nation.
So my prediction: Salt Lake City may be split up three ways, the county most likely split four ways, through the 2011 redistricting. And if Matheson can win re-election in 2012 in his even-more Republican 2nd District, well, it won’t be through the lack of creative district drawing by legislative Republicans.
-- The Utah House will be more conservative in 2011 than it’s been in years. There will be some really strange debates and votes taken.
New Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, will have to use all her political and personal skills to keep the odd-fellow coalition together of Utah County and south-Salt Lake County conservatives and Salt Lake and Davis County moderates – the coalition that allowed her to beat outgoing Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara.
The House could blow up over several issues, like illegal immigration and the budget.
-- If that happens, I think you may well see the state Senate take on a role it used to have 20 years ago – the voice of moderation and reason. Yes, that may sound like a surprise considering what’s happened in the Senate in the 2000s. But it’s a real possibility with Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, retiring from the Legislature in 2012 and not having to worry about the Republican right taking out after him.
-- Gov. Gary Herbert will have chances – we’ll see if he takes them – to become a real statesman this year and next. If lawmakers pass a hard-core, even-bigot-biting, immigration bill, Herbert could veto it. Or at least call a special session to try to get it watered down.
Of course, he risks angering Utah Tea Partiers, not only on immigration, but on other issues as well.
And not playing to the right wing of the Utah GOP could mean a serious challenge from his right in 2012. But Herbert – with Lt. Gov. Greg Bell urging him on – could well step up to the reasonable-route plate this Legislature, counting on a more moderate group of GOP state delegates in 2012.
-- Utah’s economy will rebound better than most other states in 2011. Look for tax collection surpluses to build throughout this year. And you can bet some of that cash will come back to Utahns in the 2012 Legislature as tax cuts – always a smart move in an election year.