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Redistricting is bipartisan for a price

Published May 11, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

My column last week opined that the lawyers hired by the Legislature do the Republicans' bidding because that's who runs the show.

My basis for that conclusion was the nearly $16,000 the Legislature's Office of Research and General Counsel charged the Democratic Party for its GRAMA request of documents relating to the Legislature's redistricting process compared to the little more than $2,000 charged for the Republicans' request.

That triggered protests from some readers who pointed out that the Legislature's Records Committee that voted to uphold the cost imposed on the Democrats were made up equally of Republicans and Democrats.

So there was no partisanship involved, they argue.

Ah, but there's the rub.

Historically, the Democrats in the Legislature and the Democratic Party have been adversaries when it comes to legislative redistricting and who it hurts.

A logical look at the process that past few decades in which the Legislature draws new legislative and congressional boundaries each year reveals unquestionably that the process favors Republicans and hurts Democrats.

That's because Republicans have the votes to draw the boundaries any way they wish.

In states dominated by Democrats, it's the Democrats who get the benefit.

Every 10 years, the Democratic Party howls. But Democratic leaders in the Legislature don't generally share that outrage.

Why?

Because the Republican leadership in the Legislature tends to draw boundaries that protect Democratic incumbents, particularly those in leadership and on the Redistricting Committee, but create other districts that make it virtually impossible for a Democrat to win.

The result is that Republican membership in the Legislature is above 80 percent while the party's advantage among voters is more like 60-40.

Protecting Democrat incumbents gives the Republicans cover when they are accused of blatant political maneuvering because they can point to the Democrats who vote for the plan.

That became evident in 2001 when a special redistricting session of the Legislature ran late after legislative leaders had promised to adjourn early to accommodate two Jewish members of the House so they could make their commitment of observing a religious holiday before sunset.

The reason was that Republican leaders weren't ready to end the session until they got the number of Democratic votes promised them by Democratic legislative leaders, whose districts were protected under the plan.

That Republicans pick winners and losers among Democrats was evident that year when the districts of Democrats Ron Allen of Tooele and Milly Peterson of West Valley City were combined, forcing them to run against each other.

When then Senate President Al Mansell asked a reporter covering the Republican State Convention if he knew who won in the Democratic Convention that day between Allen and Peterson, he pumped his fist victoriously when informed Peterson had lost.

The suspicion that games were being played with the Democrats this year was bolstered by testimony at the Legislative Records Committee hearing that pointed out Democratic officials at first were told their cost would be $5,000 for their request, only to be told when they tried to pick up the records that the $5,000 only covered one of three boxes. The legislative attorneys selected which box the Democrats would get and that turned out to contain mostly records already made public.

A judge's ruling recently that the charge was arbitrary and too much, and that the state must pay the Democrats' attorneys fees confirmed once again the importance of three independent branches of government to check and balance each other. —