Opinion: Why Republicans feel justified in rejecting maps proposed by Redistricting Commission

Utah’s Republican legislators aren’t likely to worry much about negative public opinion if they brush aside the maps created by the independent Redistricting Commission.

That’s because they feel a majority of their own constituents didn’t want the commission created in the first place. It’s been mostly forgotten that voters in 2018 approved creation of the commission by a tiny margin of 6,944 votes statewide, out of more than one million votes cast. Prop 4, creating the commission, won 50.34 percent to 49.66 percent.

But what’s relevant for GOP legislators is that in most of their districts across the state, the ballot proposition lost. Prop 4 lost in every county in Utah except Salt Lake, Carbon, Grand and Summit. It won big in Salt Lake County, 232,453 votes to 165,945. But that means it lost big in most of the rest of the state. And a majority of House and Senate districts are outside of Salt Lake County. And it probably also lost in some strong GOP districts in southwest SL County.

So, it’s going to be easy for most Republican legislators to say, “Well, yes, Prop 4 barely passed statewide, thanks to overwhelming support by Democratic voters in ultra-liberal Salt Lake City. But it lost in my district and it lost in most districts across the state.”

Legislators pay attention, of course, to statewide vote totals. But they are much more concerned about voting results within their own legislative districts.

I was quite surprised by how close the vote was. I thought Prop 4 would win fairly handily all across the state. But I was wrong.

So when legislators changed the voter-created law in a subsequent legislative session, they had no fear of voter retaliation. And now they will feel their constituents are with them if they ignore the proposals of the independent Redistricting Commission.

I don’t think they will simply ignore the Commission-proposed districts. They will consider them and say they can do better. The much-publicized resignation of former Congressman Rob Bishop from the Commission won’t be the major factor in what they decide, but it does give Republican legislators some cover on the issue of rural representation in Congress.

Bishop makes the case that all four House members should have a healthy slice of rural Utah so the delegation is united on important public lands issues. The GOP Legislature is likely to agree with Bishop.

The argument can certainly be made that urban Utah, with its more liberal orientation on many issues, including public lands issues, is a distinct community of interest. So, it should be kept intact in one of the four congressional districts.

Democrats and liberal activist groups have adopted that thinking, knowing it would produce a strongly Democratic-leaning district.

But Republicans can counter with the argument that all Utahns, including suburbanites and urbanites, love Utah’s public lands and feel a kinship to rural Utah. So rural Utah is part of their community of interest. True, most Utahns don’t have a Sierra Club perspective on public lands, but they care deeply about rural Utah nonetheless.

I think the Redistricting Commission made a good-faith effort to keep communities of interest together, according to their definition. I appreciate their hard work and service to the state.

But there’s no consensus definition of community of interest. So it will simply come down to who has the votes — and Republicans have the votes.