Commentary: Proposition 4 promotes Utah’s experiment in democracy

On Nov. 6, Utah voters can approve Proposition 4. This citizen initiative is a response to the Utah Legislature’s inability or refusal to allow truly competitive democratic elections.

Utah legislators have, over the years, chosen not to respect the democratic process. Our democracy is in danger. Arguably, the No. 1 problem confronting our nation’s lawmaking process is partisan gerrymandering. This problem is 230 years old. Today it has grown like cancer. If we do not act, then our democracy may die.

Competition is good in the marketplace, in athletic contests, in political campaigns and, I tell my students, in dating. Unfortunately, each 10 years, so many of our legislators who have praised competition in public will conspire in private to redraw their districts in order to prevent competitive challenges to their governmental positions. This problem results in communities being divided and weakened.

The Founding Fathers at the 1787 Constitutional Convention approved the new U.S. Constitution by a vote of 38-3. Elbridge Gerry was one of the three delegates who voted no because he opposed a sharing of a state’s power with a new central government, and because he was suspicious of representative democracy.

In 1812, 25 years later, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry approved an election map that would benefit the privileged few over the struggling many. One drawn district included 12 counties and had the look of a monstrous creation. Critics called it a “gerrymander” — and the name has haunted Americans for over two centuries.

President George Washington’s first veto was an act of Congress that would have allowed drawn congressional districts that favored the incumbent members’ re-election.

Years later, President Ronald Reagan called for “an end to the anti-democratic and un-American practice of gerrymandering congressional districts.” Reagan declared: “The fact is gerrymandering has become a national scandal and a conflict of interest.”

I am a citizen and taxpayer in Utah who wants problems solved by lawmakers who vote on solutions resulting from a competitive process. When we lack competition, then eventually we see corruption. So I support competitive elections where voters choose their elected officials rather than incumbent politicians acting behind closed doors to draw districts that guarantee their re-election.

In 2011 I served as vice chair for the Salt Lake County Citizens Advisory Commission on reapportionment of districts (based on the 2010 federal census) covering 40 percent of Utah’s population. Our seven-person board drew council districts that were nonpartisan and kept communities united rather than divided.

In 2017 I signed the “Better Boundaries” citizen initiative petition that was submitted to and approved by the lieutenant governor — Utah’s state elections officer. Nearly 200,000 Utah voters signed this initiative petition — far more than the required 113,143 signatures required.

Nov. 6, Utah voters can approve Proposition 4. If approved, then I believe it will be a win-win-win for democracy in Utah. An independent seven-person commission authorized to draw legislative districts in public rather than behind closed doors is transparent democracy.

Utah communities such as Holladay and Murray and Millcreek, as well as South Jordan and West Jordan, deserve to be represented in the Legislature by one lawmaker focused on a city’s concerns — rather than have those communities divided and weakened.

Utah deserves better government. I urge a yes vote on Proposition 4.

Tim Chambless

Tim Chambless, Ph.D., is a retired associate professor/lecturer at the University of Utah, where he taught for the Hinckley Institute of Politics and Political Science Department. He has taught current issues for the U.’s Osher Lifelong Institute for 12 years.

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