Bob Bernick’s notebook: 2018 could cast a long political shadow over Utah

What happened politically in Utah in 2018 that will have the longest effect in future years?

Two things, as I see it:

First, citizens passed Prop 4 – the independent redistricting commission.

Second, the medical marijuana proposition also passed, with the Utah Legislature changing it in a special session to make it more workable and reasonable (is what those voting for it said).

I list Prop 4 ahead of Prop 2 – the medical marijuana – because if allowed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert to take effect unchanged, the independent redistricting commission will have a long-term impact (for good government) that will last lifetimes.

Gone will be gerrymandering of U.S. House and legislative seats based on partisan advantage – and lawmakers drawing their own legislative districts.

Yes, the Utah Constitution says the Legislature will redraw state and federal political boundaries every 10 years after a Census – making sure each district has about the same population, so we have a “one man, one vote” system.

Each person’s vote counts for about the same – you don’t have one state House district with 50 voters, another with 50,000.

Republicans have had the majority in the Utah House and Senate since 1978. Had Republican governors to sign their redistricting plans since 1985.

So we have what we do today: Four U.S. House seats that until this November’s vote had four Republicans in them.

Salt Lake County Democratic Mayor Ben McAdams beat GOP Rep. Mia Love by 694 votes in the 4th District. But the 4th District is, under normal elections, +13 percent Republican in its voting.

Incumbent Republicans in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Districts won huge victories in 2018, just as they have for decades.

Likewise, Republicans hold large majorities in the state House and Senate, with many rural districts not being held by a Democrat for 50 years.

Salt Lake City, and to some extent, Salt Lake County, are voting Democratic these days.

But the city has not been in one U.S. House seat for years.

While the county makes up the lion’s share of the 4th District (thus McAdams having a chance), legislative Republicans, in their redistricting, continue with the flawed argument that the city, and the county, should be cut up into several slices, thus having a “rural” and “urban” element.

This, of course, is just a ploy – an argument to disenfranchise almost all the city voters, and many of the county’s, as well.

Prop 4’s independent commission would stop that. We’ll see what evil the GOP Legislature (and Herbert) will allow in gutting the new law.

On medical marijuana, leaders of the LDS Church came out weakly, then firmly, against Prop 2.

They said it was too liberal, significantly flawed, and would endanger children’s health by allowing them to get marijuana too easily.

But the real political fight there is how the church went about its lobbying efforts.

Church leaders were politically bloodied in California’s same-sex marriage fight several years ago.

And they were headed down that same public confrontation until retiring state House Speaker Greg Hughes brokered a compromise, which allowed for a reworking of Prop 2 in a special session, thus blunting the passage of the initiative in November.

It was a “whewww” moment as a big fight was avoided.

But did church leaders learn anything from the experience?

Who knows when the next “moral” public issue will come again – recreational marijuana, privatization of Utah’s public liquor sales, abortion, should the U.S. Supreme Court throw that divisive issue back to the states.

Whenever that comes, if the process followed by Hughes et al. – private meetings known to the public as happening, with interested parties invited in as compromises are worked out, then public hearings leading to the best possible bill being passed – the 2018 Prop 2/medical marijuana process, with the LDS Church playing a major role, will be instructive for years to come.

I certainly hope that the GOP-controlled 2019 Legislature, with Herbert being actively involved, will not turn away from the citizen initiatives passed in 2018.

A few of the initiatives passed with slim majorities. But they passed.

Laws are always tweaked by the Legislature, with an eye to making them better.

But 2019 could be a time where citizens’ initiatives are gutted – with the result that voters feel even more disenfranchised by the dominant political party in the state.

Let the process work. See how the new citizen-passed laws function.

And perhaps 2018 can go down as the year citizens spoke, all to the betterment of Utah for decades to come.