Gov. Spencer Cox has signed off on a new map for Utah congressional districts, despite entreaties from those who argued Republican lawmakers gerrymandered the election boundaries to cement their party’s advantage for the next 10 years.
He also signed into law a measure that changed Dixie State University’s name to Utah Tech University, resolving a long-running debate on whether or not change the school’s contentious name.
The governor previously indicated he would endorse the Legislature’s map design, saying in a Facebook Q&A that the Utah Constitution tasks state lawmakers with the decennial task of drawing these lines. He also noted that the Legislature had a supermajority of votes — suggesting that his veto would be overridden even if he did choose to use it.
“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.”
His explanations didn’t stop critics from protesting earlier this week outside the state Capitol, where lawmakers had been meeting in a special session to complete the redistricting work. The crowd members called on Cox to exercise his veto despite the likelihood that legislators would overturn it.
The final version of the congressional map divides Salt Lake County between the four districts, diluting the power of the left-leaning voters who live there. While the 4th Congressional District has swapped partisan control four times over the last decade, the new boundaries will make it nearly impossible for a Democrat to win.
State legislators argue that giving Salt Lake County its own congressional district would represent its own form of gerrymandering. They say their map prioritizes balance and making sure each congressional seat covers both rural and urban communities so representatives understand the needs of voters across the state.
Better Boundaries, an anti-gerrymandering group, blasted the map as “egregiously partisan” and said it would explore legal and legislative remedies. The group was at the forefront of a 2018 initiative to create an independent redistricting process in Utah, with the goal of creating more accountability for the Republican-dominated Legislature.
The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission did meet for weeks this year to craft its own set of maps, but state lawmakers largely ignored their proposals.
In a Friday statement, Better Boundaries indicated it’s interested in “pursuing a legal path to a binding commission, whether through the courts or another ballot initiative.”
The Dixie State change capped off a prolonged debate over the name. The school had advanced the rebranding in hopes of severing the last tie on the campus to the Confederacy of the Civil War South. However, many in the Southern Utah community resisted the transition and described it as a “cancel culture” attack on their heritage.
A compromise was reached to name the main St. George campus of the university “the Dixie campus,” to preserve the title in some form.
The official change and rebranding will start in July of next year.
The governor anticipates endorsing the remaining special session bills once he receives them from the Legislature next week, according to a press release from Cox’s office.