Democrats fight ‘gerrymandering’ on the Hill
The House Government Operations Committee this week shot down a bill that requires two-thirds of Utah’s House of Representatives and Senate vote to approve redistricting plans before lawmakers can change political boundaries.
According to Salt Lake Democratic Rep. Roz McGee, there is "growing concern about the redistricting process and the impact that it’s had on this country."
"Gerrymandering" of political districts by the dominant political party "is not only an issue nationally," McGee said. The term gerrymandering is used when politicians vote to redistrict political boundaries to serve the interests of a state’s dominant party.
"Two-thirds is a step in the right direction," she said, adding, a simple majority is currently required to pass a redistricting plan.
When updated United States census numbers were released about six years ago, the Republican-dominated Legislature designed a redistricting plan for the state.
"There was really no sense to it at all other than, in my mind, to continue to be able to secure (seats) for a Republican," said Coalville resident Laura Bonham, co-chair of Utah’s Democratic Progressive Caucus. "Summit County was very heavily gerrymandered, more than most districts in the state."
Bonham, who has twice challenged state Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, for House District 53, said during the state’s most recent redistricting Park City and the Snyderville Basin were provided two representatives in the state House.
"Why put Snyderville Basin into a Salt Lake district, how does that benefit those people?" Bonham said.
Rep. Ross Romero, a Democrat who represents areas in Salt Lake City, also represents portions of western Summit County on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Ure represents potions of Summit County, including Park City, and areas in Daggett, Morgan, Wasatch and Rich counties.
"Basically they cancel each other’s voice out," Bonham said, adding that Republicans "divided" western Summit County to squelch the voice of the area’s Democrats. "I would very much like to see the Snyderville Basin returned back into this district with Park City."
A non-partisan committee, independent of the Utah Legislature, should be appointed to oversee future redistricting of the state, she added.
"This is the difference between you voting for a candidate and the incumbent candidate voting for who’s going to vote for them it’s a power grab," Bonham said. "I would imagine that 12 ordinary, average, everyday citizens could come up with a much more sensible redistricting map."
But with a 7-4 vote Monday, Republicans on the House committee likely killed McGee’s House Bill 91.
"This is the ebb and flow of what we enjoy here in the Democratic process," said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, before he voted against McGee’s bill.
HB 91 would prevent Utah lawmakers from redistricting congressional, state Senate or state House districts without two-thirds approval from both legislative bodies.
"You’ll never get it even if we pass the bill we would virtually be in a special session for a year," Ure said. "I think it’s an impossibility. To get two-thirds majority in both bodies you could virtually have 10, 15 people that would stalemate the entire process for days and days and days."
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