Many years ago, when I was young, single and adventurous, I took a road trip with a couple of buddies to the California coast.
Along the way, we stopped to eat at a diner in southern Utah. It was pretty late, and the diner was nearly empty. As we settled into a booth, a customer at the counter turned to another patron a few stools away and said: “Looks like we got some out-of-towners in here, Bob.”
Bob turned around, peered at us from under the brim of his cowboy hat and mumbled: “Yeah, they ought to git.”
Bob and nameless guy were a few years older than we were, and this occurred 50 years ago. But if they are still around, there is a good chance these two, holding such disdain for anyone not of their clan, voted for Republican Chris Stewart for Congress.
And Stewart, who by most accounts had a dismal showing at his town hall meeting in West Valley City, will win re-election for as long as he wants despite his paltry results in the polls in Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous county and its economic driver.
That’s because of people like Bob and his friend and a political tool called gerrymandering.
But the left-leaning Salt Lake County portions of those districts are swamped by rural Utah, which in most areas votes overwhelmingly Republican.
While Stewart got just 35 percent of the Salt Lake County vote, he racked up 90 percent in the rural parts of the district, which include the counties on Utah’s west end from Davis down to Washington.
Because Salt Lake County is carved up three ways, its population is politically neutered, and its residents have virtually no voice.
Evidence of the stranglehold rural Utah has on Salt Lake County can be seen at the Legislature, which has 24 Republicans of the 29 senators and 62 Republicans of the 75 House members.
Every Democrat is from Salt Lake County, and since all the important decisions are made in the GOP caucuses, the Democrats and their county constituents are barred from the bargaining table.
All four Utah members of the U.S. House and both members of the U.S. Senate are Republicans — and the Legislature’s meticulous drawing of congressional boundaries to stick Democrat-leaning areas into larger GOP strongholds ensure that it will stay that way.
Estimates show the 1st Congressional District is 72 percent Republican, the 2nd is 65 percent Republican, the 3rd is 74 percent Republican and the 4th is 62 percent Republican.
In a fair political atmosphere, Stewart might be tossed out in the next election. His Salt Lake County constituents at his town hall meeting showed their frustration by roundly booing him when he spoke. But their voices won’t count for much at the voting booth.
Stewart is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, whose GOP majority recently closed its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, concluding there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian conspirators.
That came from committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who has shown himself to be Trump’s errand boy and has been accused of helping to cover up any evidence of collusion.
Committee Democrats say there is ample evidence of possible collusion, but the chairman has refused to consider such evidence or call witnesses who might provide it.
Stewart is one of Nunes’ chief sycophants and one of the most vocal advocates of the “no evidence” mantra.
He said so to state lawmakers during the recent legislative session and tried to repeat that assertion at the town hall meeting
Stewart, Nunes and the other Republicans shutting down the investigation are abrogating their constitutional responsibility to be a check on the executive branch and investigate allegations of wrongdoing.
Then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, was hot to do that as head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee when it looked as if Hillary Clinton would be elected president. But when Trump won, Chaffetz didn’t want to do it anymore and resigned from Congress.
Democracy is dead in Utah.