If you live in the District of Columbia, the capital city of the United States, and have a car or truck, your license plate probably says, “End Taxation Without Representation.”
If you live in Salt Lake City, the capital city of Utah, and have a car or truck, you should be able to get a license plate that says the same thing.
In Washington, they are protesting the fact that 689,000 residents of the federal district have no voting representation in Congress, though they are expected to pay taxes and obey the laws like everyone else.
In Salt Lake City, we continue to have no real voice in Congress either, as a liberal-leaning community is drowned in a wash of Republicans.
It’s what Utah Republicans do instead of passing those vile voter suppression laws popping up in places like Texas and Georgia. When your vote is so seriously diluted, it doesn’t have to be suppressed.
Ten years ago, the Utah Legislature ignored justice, common sense and public input to carve liberal, multi-ethnic, Democratic Salt Lake City among three of the state’s four congressional districts, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The rest of each of those districts, two of them reaching to the Arizona border, rolled in suburban and rural areas in a deliberate, and successful, attempt to diffuse the influence the state’s major city would have in Congress.
This year, as the Legislature prepares to repeat the process for this decade’s constitutionally mandated reapportionment, there is no reason to expect anything different.
The Legislature’s redistricting committee will have a public process. Lots of hearings. A website with a cool interactive map that allows anyone to draw and redraw congressional, legislative and state school board districts in a practically infinite number of ways.
There will also be an independent commission — demanded by the voters in a 2018 ballot initiative but basically defanged by a later act of the Legislature — running a parallel process that lawmakers can be expected to totally ignore.
It is obvious just walking around neighborhoods from the Avenues to Sugar House to Rose Park that the folks who live in a lot of those houses are not represented in the U.S. House of Representatives. That’s particularly true for residents of the 2nd and 4th districts, both represented by Republicans who voted with the treasonous Donald Trump to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election.
Last year, campaign signs for Biden and for Democratic 2nd District congressional candidate Kael Weston far outnumbered placards for Trump or Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart in Salt Lake City. Many of those same yards had, and still have, Black Lives Matter signs, or signs supporting Bears Ears National Monument, or welcoming immigrants — all things that their member of Congress stands against.
Add up the votes cast in all three of Salt Lake County’s congressional districts, as I am wont to do every two years, and the Democratic candidates garner 55% of the vote. Statewide, Democrats get a little more than a third of the total vote, yet walk away with none of the congressional seats.
The supposed reason for this clear act of gerrymandering is that it is good for each member of Congress to have a diverse constituency, specifically a mix of urban, suburban and rural, so everyone has a voice. But vivisected the way Salt Lake County is, it basically means those with urban sensibilities and needs have no voice at all.
According to U.S. Census figures that came out the other day, Utah now has an official population of 3,271,616. Not counting however many hundreds or thousands were missed in a COVID-year headcount. Divided over four congressional districts, that’s roughly 818,000 per.
Just making Salt Lake County its own congressional district would make sense as a way of keeping together a contiguous community of interest. But, at 1.16 million, that’s too many. Salt Lake City, with a population of 200,000 and change, is too small.
But, by my not-necessarily-precise calculations, a geographically concise and politically compatible blob of Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, West Valley City, Taylorsville, Murray, Holladay, Millcreek, Midvale, Kearns, Magna, Cottonwood Heights and West Jordan would add up to 809,620. Throw in some of the unincorporated areas and you are basically there.
That’s the university faculty vote to the east, the Hispanic working class to the west and enough diversity to make the district winnable by a real Erin Mendenhall/Derek Kitchen Democrat — not one who has to trim his sails by, say, opposing Nancy Pelosi (like Ben McAdams) or voting against the Affordable Care Act (like Jim Matheson) — or a moderate Republican.
Which is why it will never happen.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, wrote this while watching the Field of Dreams baseball game on television, a fantasy made real.