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McEntee: Redistricting renews need for independent commission

Published August 24, 2011 6:46 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Watching the Legislature's redistricting committee — pie or doughnut? — gives ever more reason to push for an amendment to the Utah Constitution to enable voters to choose an independent commission to redraw Utah's statewide political districts.

Back in January, a Tribune poll found that 73 percent of respondents, across gender, political and religious lines, preferred that such a commission would assess the changing needs of the population.

At the time, both Senate President Michael Waddoups and House Speaker Becky Lockhart scoffed at the idea. Everyone has a conflict of interest, they said, and everything is political.

It certainly is in this year's exercise.

Waddoups and others favor the pizza pie model, in which the Salt Lake Valley is divvied up so all four federal representatives have urban and rural responsibilities.

But in a series of meetings with legislators, rural Utahns have said they want a single, large rural district, reasoning that their interests would be best served by that model.

Utah's urban zone — Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties — is a mixed bag of interests, issues and politics. Under the doughnut plan, Salt Lake County would be split, but only in two ways instead of four.

It's the idea of community interests, and ideally a political system that understands and cares for each of them. For most of us, it's not about who's goring whose political ox, but how best we can manage our lives with the best politicians we can choose at the polls.

Then there's the notion of entrusting the creation of new political boundaries not to those who have a dog in the fight, but with an independent advisory commission that would analyze the existing system, take public input and submit their recommendations to the Legislature.

Under the 2009 Fair Boundaries Initiative, none of the members would hold political office at the time of action, and they'd get no monetary compensation other than per diem and expenses — and they could decline those.

The initiative, sadly, couldn't quite raise enough signatories — Utah requires 95,000 — to get the measure on the ballot, leaving the matter to members of the Legislature to do the work. This decade's committee is comprised of 14 Republicans and five Democrats, a testament to the GOP domination of the state House and Senate.

We'll have to see what they come up with in October, when lawmakers are expected to meet in a special session to pass the final plan. I can't say I have high hopes.

All the more reason, 10 years from now, to look back on what they create, and try again for an independent commission. All we have to do is remember, in 2021, what happened in 2011.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com and facebook/pegmcentee.