After a Wednesday morning Senate vote, the Utah Legislature has overwhelmingly approved a controversial redistricting map that would divide Democrats in Salt Lake County among the Beehive State’s four Republican-centric congressional districts.
The proposed map is now going to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk for approval.
On Tuesday evening, some Utahns tried to appeal to the governor to intervene in the redistricting process after House Republicans approved the congressional map. Those discouraged by the proposed redistricting argued the maps were subject to very little debate and would effectively prevent Salt Lake County’s residents from electing Democratic leadership for the next 10 years.
Cox told constituents in a 35-minute social media Q&A Tuesday evening that he would not veto state lawmakers’ decision, saying the Utah constitution gives the Legislature — and the Legislature alone — redistricting powers.
“I’m a very practical person. I’m not a bomb-thrower, and I believe in good governance,” he said. “I’ve been told that just a veto just for the sake of a veto is something that I should do. I just think that that’s a mistake.”
The governor’s office received more than 500 questions for the regularly scheduled Q&A, most focused on redistricting, Cox said.
Here’s what you may have missed from that speech:
Why Cox won’t veto the Legislature’s decision:
“The law is very clear, the constitution of the state of Utah is very clear, that the Legislature, and it only mentions the Legislature, has the authority and the duty to make changes to those maps,” Cox told his live social media audience.
“Unless and until that constitution is changed, the Legislature will always have that authority. I know many of you are thinking that’s a conflict of interest, and you’re right. That is a conflict of interest. I think that’s fairly clear. They get to kind of draw the lines within which they’ll run.”
“I do not have plans to veto these maps ... The congressional map passed with a veto-proof majority in the House. I’ve been told that the Senate has the same numbers and will likely pass with a veto-proof majority.”
Cox discussed the independent redistricting commission and was overpowered
“Now there are some states that have changed ... actually changed their constitutions, if it was part of their constitution, to put in place these independent redistricting committees,” the governor explained to those on Facebook. “That is not what happened here. There was a vote that was taken ... approving an independent redistricting commission.
“There were some changes made to that redistricting commission by the Legislature after that. And that was mostly supported by the people who ran that ballot initiative. But ultimately, at the end of the day, it is only a recommendation and can only be a recommendation, unless and until the constitution is changed.”
Frustration — and party politics — is part of this system
“Now, whether or not [the Legislature overriding the redistricting commission’s maps] is a good idea probably depends on what your political persuasion is ... If you’re a Democrat that lives in Salt Lake City, you’re probably really interested in drawing a boundary that is mostly Democratic, right in the right in the heart of the capital city and making sure that there’s a district you can win there,” said Cox.
“If you have to divide counties, Republicans are always going to divide counties with lots of Democrats, and Democrats are always going to divide counties with lots of Republicans, and it’s happening all over the country.”
“Many people are upset. Ten years ago, I was one of those people. I was working not on Congressional maps, but on Legislative redistricting maps. Sanpete County had been divided into three separate house districts. Sounds familiar for those in Salt Lake, who are upset about that. We’d been upset for 10 years.”
“I understand the frustration that people are feeling right now, and the place that should be directed is making sure that we elect people that have the same interests that you do and are interested in maybe changing those maps the next time around.”
Why Cox says Salt Lake County must be split up
The governor said the “biggest debate has been around: ‘Do we have one district that would be mostly Democratic around Salt Lake City?’”
“It’s important to note that these four Legislative districts, congressional districts, have to be the same population, and so we have to divide the state up ... So that means that there has to be divisions in counties somewhere, and especially in a place like Salt Lake County.”
“There is a lot of talk about communities of interest. That is certainly one area where that is a good way to make maps, try to keep people similarly situated together, communities together is something that I think is positive.”
“I’ve been a big supporter of having rural areas in every one of our congressional districts. By the way, it’s impossible to draw a map without having some rural areas in (all four) congressional districts ... I believe we get better representation and it helps to overcome some of that growing divide that we’re seeing between urban and rural Utah.”
Other redistricting maps are important, maybe more important
“There was a flood of people that showed up to complain or argue about the congressional maps. And then something happened (and) as soon as they were done talking about the congressional maps, almost everyone left,” Cox said of the lack of interest in other proposed maps.
“That’s always surprising to me because the state House and Senate maps are perhaps the most important if you ever want to have an impact on the congressional map. So in order to change the congressional maps, you have to elect people that see the state the way that you do.”
Cox remains a Jazz fan
The governor is known for his small town roots, stated opposition to “politics as usual” and his love for the Utah Jazz.
“I apologize for doing this during a Jazz game. When we scheduled this, we missed that. I hope if you’re not watching me, you’re watching the Jazz beat the Atlanta Hawks. This will be about a half-hour, so we’ll definitely get you to the second quarter and the rest of the game if that’s something that’s important to you.”
His relationship with Salt Lake Tribune Jazz reporter Andy Larsen, however, may be a bit more strained.
Larsen tweeted that Cox passed up an opportunity Tuesday night to be decent by vetoing the maps. Cox responded simply, “Thanks Andy.” The governor has since deleted the tweet.
But, Larsen had more to say: The Utah Legislature’s gerrymandered maps make me angry. Here’s why.