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Commentary: Gerrymandering takes away the voice of Utah progressives

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, right, and Jeff Wright talk about the formal launch of the Better Boundaries initiative, which will ask voters to create an independent commission to redraw political districts . The pair spoke from the Cicero Group offices in Salt Lake City Thursday, July 20, 2017.

We hear a lot about gerrymandering in today’s political climate. Politicians choose their voters rather than voters choosing their representation. It fits nicely into a tweet if you’re particularly passionate about it and, in all honesty, it’s one of the few areas that people across the political spectrum mostly agree needs fixing.

It is a big reason that, despite the fact that in four of the past five presidential election years, the majority of Americans voted for Democrats on the ballot, but 33 (almost 70 percent) of state governors are Republican. Utah is certainly no different.

In 2010 in Utah, there were 22 Democrats in our Legislature. In a body with 75 people, that was just under 30 percent. Considering that in 2008, 35 percent of Utahns voted for a Democrat at the top of the ticket, the numbers do not demonstrate a perfect correlation, but it’s pretty close.

Also remember that 2010 was a census year, so 2011 was a redistricting year. Post-redistricting and post-2012 elections, the number of Democrats in the Utah House shrank from 22 to just 12, for a total of 16 percent of the Utah House of Representatives. Did the demographics of Utah change so much? Nope. In fact, with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket in 2012, the voting ratio in Utah was just about the same in 2008; about a third of Utahns voted Democrat.

Yes, there are arguments for different ways that data can be extrapolated, and yes, of course, some people definitely voted for Obama for president and a Republican as their representative in the Utah House. But I’d bet the farm those instances were the exception rather than the rule. In general, voters select the same party for much of their ballot.

The reality is that in 2011, most of Obama’s voters were packed together into a nice, tidy handful of districts in Salt Lake County, and the rest were sectioned off into districts with meandering borders that would minimize their voting impact and marginalize nearly 50 percent of Utah Democrats in one fell swoop. The result: a Legislature with a super-majority conservative voice, half of Utah Democrats who have been disenfranchised at the state level and 100 percent at the federal level.

And yet, nearly every Republican running to fill a state House seat that is currently occupied by a Democrat is claiming that Democrats should abdicate their liberal voices in order to grant more power to the ill-gotten power that Republicans granted themselves in 2011. I can’t speak for all voters, but as a voter, constituent and candidate in a Democratic district, I find this argument offensive.

Let’s be clear: Conservatives do not speak for liberals and progressives in Utah. Having a seat in the Republican caucus room simply does not equate to having a voice at the Utah Capitol. I’ve seen Republican challengers in several districts make this claim, and the idea that a Republican, even a moderate one, will speak for Democratic ideals is absurd.

I am confident that Utah Democrats will support Democratic candidates at the polls this year. And I am so hopeful that we will turn out in droves — not only to support the Democratic seats that we currently hold, but to send many more to the Utah House, where they belong; where they will fight for our state’s vulnerable and disenfranchised people, for our working families, for our children and for our environment. Oh, and don’t forget – vote yes on the Better Boundaries Ballot Initiative on Nov. 6.

Jen Dailey-Provost

Jen Dailey-Provost is the Democratic candidate for the Utah House of Representatives District 24.

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