The obscene gerrymandering of the state’s four congressional districts as performed by the Utah Legislature does have one argument to support it. It’s an ugly, cynical argument. But it’s an argument.
If Salt Lake County is split into three districts, as it was over the last 10 years, or into four, as in the maps approved by the Legislature and soon to be rubber stamped by a meek Gov. Spencer Cox, the argument is that there will be three, or four, members of Congress ready to stand up for the community’s wants and needs.
When the city or the county needs cash for, say, more TRAX lines, or airport improvements, or is seeking federal grants for more police or air quality monitoring systems or other boodle, the theory is that there might be four members of Congress, not just one, pulling strings in committees and pushing whatever executive branch bureaucracy is distributing the money.
It’s a view of government that is embarrassingly — but not irrationally — transactional, zero-sum, pork-pulling, back-scratching. It sees the federal government not as a repository of our principles but as a distributor of favors, with each state, county, city, school district and Native nation scrambling for its share of limited cash like so many Hungry Hungry Hippos. (”Whosever hippo gets the most marbles wins.”)
If that were truly all our government, our nation, was, then, sure, crack the state’s major city into as many pieces as possible and potentially quadruple our pull in Washington.
But that’s not what’s happening. It is not the reason for the Legislature’s decision to abandon, almost without a thought, the infinitely more high-minded, reasonable and mathematically justified recommendations from the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission. The one that would have kept all of Salt Lake City in a single congressional district, where it belongs.
For one thing, if boosting the power of a community by giving it multiple representatives were really the goal, the Legislature would have done the same for, say, the Orem-Provo community. Which it didn’t.
It also perpetuates the current situation in three districts, and spreads it to all four, where Republican candidates can totally ignore Salt Lake City voters and still win.
And the idea that it is the job of Utah’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives to bring home the bacon was destroyed just the other day when all four of our state’s members, Republicans all, voted against the $1.2 trillion INVEST in America Act, aka the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.
It gets to be called bipartisan because a few Republicans in both the House and Senate, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, voted for it. But Utah’s four House members — Blake Moore, Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Burgess Owens — all gave it the thumbs down.
It didn’t matter to them that Utah and its people stand to get $3 billion in road improvements, plus at least a shot at allocations to mass transit, broadband, water, health care and education. Which suggests that their utility as bringers of infrastructure to Salt Lake City, or any other part of their constituencies, is limited at best.
What the new districts are clearly designed to do is make sure that none of the Prius liberals in my neighborhood, or any of the working class voters on the West Side of Salt Lake City, will have a remote chance of having a member of Congress who represents their views of what the United States of America is and should be. No say in the protection of public lands, education, air quality, racial equality, progressive taxation.
Our legislators expect us to sell our principles for cash. Because they think that’s normal.
It matters here, and it matters on a national level, as a narrowly divided House stands to flip between Democratic and Republican control as often as every two years. Whichever party holds the majority at any moment gets to elect a speaker, chair committees and move or block legislation. And count, or not count, electoral votes.
There have been eras in American history where that turn would not have been so crucial. But these days we’re not talking about whether the corporate tax rate will be 25% or 28%, or whether to spend money on school lunch programs rather than aircraft carriers.
We’re talking about whether a party that has already elected a fascist president, tried to overturn one election and stands ready to do so again will have influence over our nation.
Make no mistake. That’s what the Utah Legislature has moved to make possible.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, can write in the names of all 50 states on an unlabeled map of the United States. (Except he might get New Hampshire and Vermont turned around.)