It’s part of my job as a political reporter to look into the souls of Utah politicians, and perhaps see part of the dark side.
And two changes proposed to the Utah Republican Party operating procedures – one to the party constitution, another to the bylaws – has me wondering.
The party’s constitutional change would say that any partisan office whose district(s) falls wholly into one county will have its candidates picked by county delegates.
Previously, the county delegate language only applied to state House and Senate districts.
While not mentioning the U.S. House seats from Utah, the proposed language change would require a U.S. House GOP candidate(s) who are now picked by the state delegates at state convention, to be picked by county delegates from that district in the county convention.
This may not sound like a big deal.
In fact, under the Utah Legislature’s current districting law all 4 U.S. House seats cross county lines – and so those GOP candidates would, and are, picked in the state convention by the delegates from those geographic areas.
But if adopted at the May 20 state GOP convention, the constitutional change would mean in the future – should the GOP-controlled Legislature so desire – if a county had a large enough population to accommodate a U.S. House seat wholly within its boundaries, then the county delegates would pick that person inside the Utah Republican Party.
It also means that a State School Board election/district – if it was wholly inside of a county – would be picked at the county convention.
The Legislature recently changed state law to say that State School Board members – there are 15 of them – will be elected in a partisan manner.
Today, it’s estimated that Utah’s total population is 2.996 million people, and growing every day.
We got an additional U.S. House seat in the 2011 Census. So it’s not likely we’ll grow enough to get a fifth seat in the upcoming 2020 Census.
As it now stands, only Salt Lake County, with a 2017 estimated population of 1.029 million people, is large enough to contain its own U.S. House seat – now at about 516,000 people.
It is also large enough to include nearly five State School Board districts – each now at about 199,733 people.
Utah County, with a population today estimated at 749,000, could contain three State School Board districts – and how conservative would GOP board members, picked in the Utah County GOP Convention, be?
While they may deny it, Republican state legislators in the 2011 redistricting made sure Democrats were marginalized in the U.S. House seats.
For example, while Salt Lake City – with a very Democratic group of folks – is not large enough to have its own U.S. House seat, the Capitol City surely could have been the heart of a district wholly in Salt Lake County.
Instead, Republican lawmakers drew the city into the 2nd Congressional District – the population heart in Republican Davis County.
As a result, Salt Lake City residents are, in fact, under-represented by GOP Rep. Chris Stewart.
How can I say this?
In the Salt Lake City part of the 2nd District, in the last election Democrat Charlene Albarran got 62.5 percent of the vote to Stewart’s 34 percent of the vote.
So, two-to-one Salt Laker’s didn’t want Stewart, but that’s whom they got.
Don’t worry, you fair-minded people who believe some day the Republican Legislature will treat Salt Lake City fairly.
That’s not gonna happen.
But what about some good GOP legislators who live in the south part of Salt Lake County, which is more Republican?
Could they draw, in 2021, a GOP-leaning district wholly in the southern part of the county?
If so, then those Republican candidates would be picked not in the state GOP convention, but in the Salt Lake County convention.
And it could be argued that Salt Lake County Republican lawmakers would have a leg up on the competition in that situation.
Of course, all this also assumes that the SB54 dual-route for candidates to the party primary is done away with by a future Legislature.
Because if not, then the county delegates – who historically have been EVEN MORE archconservative than the state delegates – could be bypassed by signature-gathering candidates.
Still, if the state GOP delegates on May 20 go along with their party bosses who are suggesting the change to the party constitution, watch for some shenanigans in drawing new U.S. House seats in the 2021 Legislature, now just four years away.
And look way ahead by another decade, when it could be possible that Utah County, all by itself, could be large enough to have its own U.S. House member – picked by Utah County delegates alone.