Protest over gerrymandering leads to an audience with Utah’s lieutenant governor

‘I’ve never done anything like this.’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bobby Kennedy is handcuffed after blocking an entrance at the State Capitol as the Utah Legislature hold a special session in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. Kennedy expressed his disgust at the redistricting maps put out by the Legislature and said, "I've never done anything like this. This is a decade of misrepresentation."

Bobby Kennedy had participated in protest marches before, saying he was happy to be part of the head count. That was the extent of his political activism ... until Tuesday morning.

He was upset by the redistricting maps released by the Utah Legislature late Friday night. Kennedy, who shares a moniker with the scion of one of the most famous political families in American history, felt he had to do something. And that something was lying in front of the doors to the Utah State Capitol as the Legislature began a special session on Tuesday.

“I figured if I can’t make them take me seriously, at least I can make them walk around me,” Kennedy said.

That’s how the 36-year-old University of Utah graduate student found himself being cuffed by a State Patrol officer at the Utah Capitol, which eventually led to a short audience with Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson.

“They released the maps on Friday night, and gave us less than 72 hours to consider something that will impact me and the rest of the state for the next decade,” Kennedy said.

Lawmakers drew the ire of many Salt Lake City residents who were angered they rejected the proposals put forward by the independent redistricting commission in favor of their own maps. The Congressional boundaries proposed by lawmakers break Salt Lake County up across all four districts. It also puts parts of Salt Lake City in the same district as Cedar City and St. George. The districts, as drawn, are heavily Republican and make it very difficult for a Democratic candidate to be elected to Congress.

“I’m just feeling so disenfranchised,” Kennedy said. “They’ve made it so we have no representation in Washington.”

Kennedy’s protest violated the fire code for blocking the entrance to the Capitol. The Highway Patrol briefly detained Kennedy but determined he wasn’t a threat. Then Kennedy found himself outside the office of Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who chatted with him briefly.

“She was very polite, but all she did was deflect my concerns,” Kennedy said. “She felt sorry that I was frustrated, which didn’t help much.”

Now that he’s got a taste of political protest, Kennedy says he liked it.

“Now I know all I have to do is violate the fire code, and it might get me an audience with the Lt. Governor. That’s really dangerous,” Kennedy laughed.