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McEntee: Utah redistricting bad for Dems and democracy
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At long last, the public records about the Legislature's tortuous path to redrawing Utah's political districts have been released and — besides the partisan game-playing one would expect to find — they show considerable angst from the most important party: voters.

Legislative leadership last week unveiled the records, which chronicled how lawmakers scrapped, scrabbled and finally sculpted something that few, if any, much liked.

The release ended a financial battle between the Utah Democratic Party and Republicans who dominate the Legislature. Democrats long ago had paid $5,000 to get what party leader Jim Dabakis now calls an empty bucket of useless information, and he vows to get that money back.

But it was the emailing Utahns who interested me. Here's a sample of what they had to say in October 2011, when the redistricting process was in full swing and the Republicans never failed to retreat to closed caucuses to work things out.

"It is with great displeasure that I have witnessed the destruction of constitutional principles by the very people I elected to represent me," said one writer. "This is just what they did in the old Soviet Union."

A southern Utah writer said, "We are sick and tired of having SLC [Salt Lake City] decide who represents us, as evidenced by the overwhelming support for [former congressional hopeful] Morgan Philpot in the last election. Please do not support the [state Rep. Ken] Sumsion maps as they are drawn behind closed doors."

That "closed door" business certainly resonated at the time — and still does. The public, the lobbyists and journalists languished for hours while the majority party fought it out. In the end, Republicans settled on a map that will affect our voting decisions until 2021.

But, as another writer put it a few days before the final decision on redistricting: "These plans are all extremely unfair. If it were me, I would vote no on all of them this week, whether I were Republican, Democrat or independent. None of them makes you look like statesmen and women."

If there was one telling image on the last night of the redistricting session, it was the opaque window in the door of the Republicans' caucus door, and the ghostly figures moving back and forth behind it.

A democracy — and I'm using it the small-d sense — shouldn't operate like that. It's why so many of the letter writers objected, and why we all should do the same every time lawmakers shut the door.

It took a year for legislative leadership to post online about 16,000 records, many of which are duplicates. Outgoing Senate President Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said last week that the cost of potential litigation — and the news media's interest in the documents — persuaded leadership that the disclosure was in the public's interest.

Of course, he soured the moment by saying that the Democrats had overreached in their criticism "just to draw attention to their party, which is verging on irrelevance at this point" — something some GOP lawmakers seem bent on achieving every 10 years when they redraw political boundaries.

But Utah Democrats aren't gone yet. And, few as they may be, you have to give them this: They never backed down.

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

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