Amy Roberts: The Scarlet ‘R’
Last spring, I was one of nearly 100,000 Utah residents who became the ultimate RINO when I temporarily converted to the Republican Party. I was one of many Democrats and Independents around the state to change my political affiliation in an effort to have a voice in who would be our next governor. The goal of this partisan switcheroo was to hopefully see Jon Huntsman’s name on the ballot during the general election, though there was also the added benefit of definitely not seeing Greg Hughes’ name there. It is no secret that in a statewide race, the candidate with the “R” behind his or her name is very likely to be the last one standing. And the slight chance it could have been Hughes was enough to make me fill out the paperwork. To suggest he was an ethically compromised candidate is the biggest understatement since the captain of the Titanic said, “Hey look, there’s some ice ahead.”
Among those of us who switched parties, the general consensus seemed to be — if you can’t beat them, join them. Because in Utah, the GOP has a closed primary, meaning only registered Republicans are allowed to vote for the candidate they wish to represent the people. Democrats allow voters of any party and those registered as unaffiliated to participate in their primaries.
Utah is well known for two things and uninhibited gerrymandering is the other one. The boundaries of the state’s four congressional districts look like a smashed iPhone screen. Jagged and seemingly incoherent to anyone who can’t interpret the code. The Republican-controlled state Legislature has drawn these pattern-less lines to ensure any primarily blue sections of the state are divided up, allowing Republican representatives a deliberate advantage while at the same time devaluing the voices of a large number of Utah voters. It’s why residents of Hooper and Vernal share the same congressman as Park City. And that’s about all we share.
In 2018, the majority of voters approved Proposition 4, also known as Better Boundaries, which promised to create an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative district lines. Despite the passing of Prop 4, Utah lawmakers attempted to dismantle the voter-approved initiative, and eventually a watered-down compromise that removes accountability and transparency from the redistricting process for the Legislature was signed into law.
So what happened when voters got fed up with a government of the party, by the party and for the party? They changed their political affiliation to participate in the primary. Now, though, state lawmakers want to make that more difficult. Rep. Jordan Teuscher, a Republican from South Jordan, recently drafted H.B. 197, which limits when voters can change their political affiliation and vote in a primary. So essentially, the party of extreme gerrymandering is suddenly concerned when those impacted by the extreme gerrymandering tactics attempt to have a say in who their elected officials will be. Of course, this could all be avoided if the Utah GOP had an open primary, but that definitely takes the fun out of voter suppression. Sometimes I think the only difference between the Taliban and the Utah Legislature is that one group actually demands face coverings.
And while I’m happy to report my temporary stint as a registered Republican did not include automatic membership into QAnon, it did come with a lot of contemplation. The irony of the many state officials claiming to be “representatives of the people” yet intentionally working to squander the people’s voice is not lost on anyone. They take an oath to represent their constituents, not a political affiliation. If you have to suppress the vote in order to win, it might be time to reexamine your ideas. Chances are, they aren’t as popular as you think.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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