Behind the Lines: Playing politics with redistricting
Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.
Bagley: I was tempted to pick my "We Are the 99%" cartoon for this week's BTL chat. I can't imagine another subject on which we are likely to disagree more stongly. Instead, I'm going with the redistricting cartoon because I honestly don't know how you feel about the Utah GOP's attempt to gerrymander Utah's lone national Democratic elected official out of existence. We'll have plenty of chances to discuss the virtues of turning America over to the plutocrats later.
Lambson: First let me understand your context. Are you outraged that Republicans play politics with redistricting or are you shocked that politicians play politics with redistricting more generally or what? I wish that narrow political interests could be removed from politics. I wish we all lived in a spirit of brotherly love and good will. I wish the oceans were made of fresh lemonade. And I wish that chocolate was not fattening.
Bagley: And I wish we had an independent redistricting commission, like they do in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey (check out http://bit.ly/oxzaTU ), and Washington. A Tribune poll found that three out of four Utahns want one as well. (The poll didn't ask about chocolate).
Lambson: I am not sure that political practices in, say, California should guide policy in Utah, but I am not opposed to checks and balances in government. Before creating yet another commission, however, I would like answers to a couple of questions. How do you establish and maintain the independence of the redistricting commission and what mandate do you give them?
Bagley: The details are boring and vary from state to state (click on the New Jersey link above). The fact that red states, such as Idaho and Arizona, have opted for a solution also favored by blue states, such as Hawaii and Washington, shows this isn't a gimmick one side pulls on the other. It has to do with basic fairness. Children understand this better than do our legislators. Confronted with sharing a cupcake, kids bind themselves to a rule that is elegant, simple and fair. One divides the cupcake, the other chooses which half to take. Our Republican legislature, on the other hand, has gone to great lengths to insure that one third of the state's voters won't even get a crumb. The redistricting plans coming from Utah's Republican legislature have one goal: unseat Matheson to take all six federal offices for themselves. That is government worthy of Boss Tweed.
Lambson: Actually, the fact that the majority parties in various states impose the same kind of institution doesn't imply anything, even if the majority party is different in different states. I understand that all analogies break down when pushed too far, but could you be more precise about what fairness means in this context, and how the solution to sharing a cupcake answers the question about how a commission maintains its independence and what its mandate should be? I am not opposed to a commission in principle, I am simply pointing out (once again) that creating another institution, or passing another law, or removing one set of politicians in favor of another does not automatically solve problems.
Bagley: Redistricting is a constitutional requirement, so if you're going to have redistricting committees anyway, why not at least try to create them to reflect all-American, democratic values like fairness and openness? Bipartisan and independent committees are not perfect, but are a far, far better solution than the Utah GOP, closed-door grabfest we witnessed this year.
I chose this week's "Top Comment," not because I agree with it, but because it reaffirms my suspicion that we're reliving the '60s all over again.
Top Comment from last week:
Swarmi wrote: I submit the kids demanding communism are creating the polarization.