Thursday, 29 September 2011

Redistricting Time 2011


I noted in a previous entry that Utah's hit comedy reality show, "Government," had missed a major opportunity for partisan laughter recently. It seems that, given the chance to shaft our state's Democratic minority by eliminating one state congressional seat on Salt Lake City's West Side (for you non-Utahns, the West Side is Salt Lake City's most ethnically and economically diverse community) to create an extra one in Utah County, Utah Republicans blinked. Consider that mistake corrected. From Lisa Roche, writing for KSL:


Utah State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said Wednesday the party will take the state to court unless Republicans back away from a controversial new congressional map...Democrats have data showing that while roughly 40 percent of Utahns vote Democratic, the party holds on average less than 30 percent of elected offices. The lawyers' memo suggests that the court look for "partisan symmetry" between votes cast and the legislative seats held by a party. 

...His threat comes after the Legislature's Redistricting Committee voted Tuesday to advance a congressional map from House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, that divides Salt Lake County among three of the state's now four congressional districtsDemocrats, outnumbered 5-14 on the committee, are expected to present an alternative at the committee's final meeting on Thursday.  A special legislative session to set new congressional, legislative and state school board districts based on the 2010 Census starts Monday.

These are the redistricting changes adopted by the legislature in 2001:



And this is the proposed redistricting map for 2011:



The Utah Republican Party is a curious institution. It holds an amount of power in this state roughly equivalent to a hybrid of the Empire from "Star Wars" and the Mafia from Mario Puzo's "The Godfather," only far less scrupulous and more ruthless than either fictional counterpart.

As the above summary notes, Republicans technically shouldn't be that powerful in Utah. They only outnumber Democrats by roughly 3-2, not that intimidating a majority at all. A cursory glance at the current redistricting situation becomes even more hackle-raising when you keep this fact in mind. The Utah Legislature Redistricting Committee has fourteen Republicans but only five Democrats? When the ratio of Republicans among voters is actually three to two? Let's hash that out: citizens, R-3 D-2. Redistricting Committee, R-7 D-2.5. That's about a 133% discrepancy.

Just as the Gini Coefficient can be used to examine income inequality and allows us to compare different countries and/or political economies using a consistent metric, there should be a coefficient that measures disparity in representative democracies. In such a rating system, the U.S. would rank somewhere around Liberia or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and even within such a competitive framework, I'd bet that Utah would rank in the top two or three least representative states.

This isn't our first visit to this particular peak of awfulness. After the 2000 census, even the Wall Street Journal referred to our state's redistricting process as "a Republican scam." Still, it's worth thinking about what the ULRC is doing here. Salt Lake City is more than the most liberal part of Utah. It's the economic heart of the Wasatch, a city that during business hours is populated by "2.5 commuting workers to every resident worker," our State Capital. It's also the spiritual center of the Mormon church.

In spite of all this, what the legislature is trying to do is silence Salt Lake City; shut up its residents and deny them a voice, any voice, in the affairs of the state and the nation. They will do this by slicing the city into three chunks and tacking each chunk onto a larger, more exurban or rural, Republican-controlled area. This is a naked ploy to neuter our state's already timid Democrats and steal the already tiny proportion of seats currently occupied by representatives of Salt Lake City's urban population.

It's wrong. It's shameful. And it's a slap in the face to residents of Salt Lake City, who are courteous enough to welcome commuters from the exurbs into our infrastructure every day. All we ask for in exchange is an equal share of the vote.

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