Derek Kitchen: Utah will not stand for partisan gerrymandering

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper and Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, center, pose with concerned Utah voters Teresa Carlson, left, Marilyn Bown and Helen Moser who are concerned about possible partisan gerrymandering of the redrawing of redistricting lines. Riebe was joined by Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City and to emphasize the importance of the will of the voters in drawing new lines in the redistricting process, Aug. 19, 2021 at the Millcreek Library.

This November, the Utah Legislature will convene to adopt new political maps. They will have two choices before them: listening to the will of the people or drawing new lines that benefit politicians.

These maps will define the next 10 years of important decisions in Utah. The work is enormous. We need fair boundaries to have effective representatives in government.

One thing is clear, Utah is bigger than ever. The partisan gerrymandering of past redistricting cycles is inappropriate this time. We cannot forget that a majority of Utahns voted to eliminate partisan gerrymandering in 2018. As voters, our voice is strong. We must be persistent and hold the Utah Legislature accountable.

Following the standards set out in the Independent Redistricting initiative brings a fresh opportunity to look at our shifting population and regional needs. We know that it’s unwise to divide neighborhoods, and that splitting up communities dilutes our voice as citizens.

We’re not surprised by the recent census data that confirms Utah is on a path of rapid growth and change. Our state continues to experience some of the fastest population growth in the country and we’re also the youngest state in America, with the median age of just over 30 years old. It’s imperative that our boundaries are better than the last time.

We need to see concrete action on so many issues that are important to the people of Utah. Health care, climate, water, education and air quality. It’s all on the line. Fair boundaries and equal representation is key to strengthening our institutions.

The practice of manipulating electoral district lines to ensure victory for one party regardless of what voters want, makes it hard to get bad politicians out of power. Even Ronald Reagan called gerrymandering “a national disgrace.”

When the maps are released this November, the Utah Legislature should adopt maps by the Independent Commission. These are the legitimate maps for Utah, not only because the people of Utah voted for them, but because they’re created without considering political party or any single person. Politicians should not choose their voters.

The people of Utah are right to be concerned, too. Our state Legislature has a reputation of strong-arming things against the will of the people. With redistricting, the voters have flexed back by creating the Independent Commission. The people should choose who represents them, not the other way around. We will not stand for further gerrymandered districts that favor one party.

We have to do whatever we can to ensure our representation is accurate. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is about democracy and people, not party and politics.

The beautiful thing about this is that when you don’t have to protect incumbent politicians, maps can be looked at with fresh eyes. Independence means creating boundaries that legitimately represent the people, our neighborhoods, and the unique character of our communities throughout all of Utah. These seats don’t belong to Democrats or Republicans – they belong to the voters. With the Independent Commission, we finally have a chance to get it right.

Will the Republican supermajority be so bold as to exploit their power to ensure that — despite our rapid growth and diversification — the Utah Legislature looks exactly the same 10 years from now? That’s up to the citizens of the state to decide.

Let your legislator know that you’re watching — and expect nothing but honesty, and for them to adopt the legitimate maps produced by the Independent Commission and the people of Utah.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City.

Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, represents District 2 in the Utah Senate.