Utah’s way has always been slow and steady.
So comments this week from a Roy legislator who complained that the public was “beating the hell out of” board members on the new Inland Port Board Authority are more than a bit much. Apparently, public advocates’ “bombardment” is slowing things down for Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy.
As Taylor Stevens reported in October, “The port, a planned distribution hub for goods to be imported and exported via rail, truck and air, will be located on approximately 20,000 acres in Salt Lake City’s westernmost area. It is expected to be the state’s largest-ever economic project.” So, it’s kind of a big deal.
As for Buxton’s pesky public, first, legislators should never refer to constituents and the public as a nuisance. This is kind of an obvious public-servant PR tip.
Legislators themselves are responsible for the perceived haste. They passed the legislation that created the project late on the last night of the 2018 legislative session. With little debate, and little, if any, public input.
The state’s largest-ever economic project on the shores of the ecologically fragile and economically necessary Great Salt Lake probably needed more time in the planning stages. A midnight surprise is going to be perceived as, a midnight surprise.
The board needs to take the time to get things right. For instance, earlier this summer the board closed some of its subcommittee meetings to the public and failed to publicly notice them. When the full board later unanimously approved the decisions these subcommittees made, without public comment, citizens appropriately called foul.
Buxton is just plain wrong about the process going too slowly. As Inland Port Authority Board Chairman Derek Miller assured, nothing could be further from the truth. Miller says most important is that they work “methodically, thoughtfully and with the input of the public.”
He’s correct. I support the project. I think it’s an innovation the country needs and will benefit Utah. And because of that, I want to see it done right — the Utah way.
My friend recently defined the Utah way, “which is like watching an elephant get pregnant. In the beginning there’s lots of noise and excitement … but it ends quickly and takes 19 months for anything to happen.”
Which brings me to gerrymandering. Stay with me.
There’s an argument that recent elections prove that gerrymandering is alive and well in the Utah Legislature, with a provocatively-titled article, “Utah Democrats won a third of the votes for the state House, but only a fifth of the seats. Is this what gerrymandering looks like?”
Well, that answer is no. This is not what gerrymandering looks like. This is what a representative democracy looks like. We don’t live in a proportional system, so you can’t use proportional numbers to compare. For example, just because a Democrat wins a district in Salt Lake City by 72 percent and a neighboring district votes Republican by 53 percent doesn’t mean we should really have two Democrat legislators.
I again refer to the work of Adam Brown, a political science associate professor at Brigham Young University, who recently tweeted that according to the efficiency gap used in the Wisconsin gerrymandering case, Utah Democrats actually hold an advantage in the Utah House and Senate.
Utah’s four congressional districts, on the other hand, do show signs of gerrymandering.
Brown also noted that the maps show more of a bipartisan incumbent-protection racket than a partisan gerrymandering one. (Racket was my word.)
What is my point?
First, the constant cry of gerrymander at every election in a state where the dominant political party controls a majority of the political offices is a little like crying wolf. No, there is no gerrymander to the Utah House. Why should we believe your other arguments?
Second, many Utahns are ready to dive straight into the deep end of the Better Boundaries ballot initiative, which passed in November. But the “independent” commission won’t be appointed until after the 2020 census, and the Utah Legislature has forecasted a court fight over the initiative.
In other words, my message to everyone this holiday season is to remember the Utah way — and slow your roll.
Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.