Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says vetoing redistricting maps would be a ‘fool’s errand’

Cox rejects assertions he abandoned bipartisanship by not rejecting gerrymandered maps that disadvantage Democrats.

(Kristin Murphy | Pool) Gov. Spencer Cox speaks with media during the PBS Utah governor's monthly news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

The Congressional map passed by Utah lawmakers last week drew a lot of criticism for mincing Salt Lake County into four parts. Many were angered by the gerrymandering of the state’s largest county and held out hope that Gov. Spencer Cox would come to their aid with a veto or threatened veto to force changes. That didn’t happen.

“Even if I was inclined to veto these maps, it would be a fool’s errand,” Cox said Thursday during his monthly KUED news conference.

With apologies to Shakespeare, a veto from Cox would be sound and fury signifying nothing. The redistricting maps passed with veto-proof majorities last week, and Cox knows his decision would be easily overridden. But, the congressional map passed in the House with just 50 votes, which is the bare minimum to override a veto. How hard would it be for Cox to convince just one lawmaker to flip their vote to let the veto stand?

“If you think it was exactly 50 votes, then you don’t know how the Legislature works,” Cox said. “It was much more than 50, but they only needed 50. That’s how these things work.”

As The Tribune reported last week, House Republican leaders spent time during a closed caucus meeting before the final vote counting noses to ensure they had the needed 50 votes. That threshold is important for two reasons, to avoid a veto and block a referendum effort to overturn a decision at the ballot box.

The final congressional map was widely panned. One expert called it a “brutal gerrymander” that favors Republicans so much it makes a Democratic victory nearly impossible.

Lawmakers completely ignored the three map proposals from the independent redistricting commission, created through a voter-approved initiative in 2018. An analysis from the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project concluded that each plan had at least one competitive district that gave Democrats a reasonable shot at winning.

Cox steered clear of the debate between the Legislature’s maps versus the independent commission’s, only saying there were good ideas put forth by both groups.

“I’ve said before if I got to draw the maps they would have looked different. But that wasn’t a choice before me” Cox said. “The choice was, do I accept these maps or do I veto them?”

Cox chafed at anyone who questioned his motivations.

“Reaching across the aisle and working together doesn’t mean you get to gerrymander a district for Democrats,” Cox said. “I was faced with a decision to support or veto, and I chose to support. It doesn’t change who I am. It doesn’t violate any campaign promise of bipartisanship or working together.”