Utah Capitol

Utah redistricting defeat goes beyond a normal political loss

As someone who has been a participant or close observer in the political system for decades, I have ended up on the losing side of political fight after political fight. I have voted for the losing candidate about half of the time in presidential contests, I have been on the losing side for every statewide race in Utah since I moved here, and I have seen the Utah Legislature undo ballot measures I supported.

And last week the Legislature passed, and Gov. Spencer Cox signed, a bill that ignored the work of an independent redistricting commission that would have given the state the fairest district boundaries in decades.

And somehow last week’s defeat seems different than all the others.

I’m not sure why it seems that way, but certainly it has something to do with the continuing attacks on democracy, particularly that of Jan. 6 and those coming believers in the Big Lie.

I remember when I was growing up how in school we talked about the elections in Eastern Europe, then part of the Soviet bloc. Sure, they have elections, we were told, but they don’t really mean anything, because those who are in power will always find a way to remain in power.

Now, I don’t believe we’re in the same place where Eastern Europe was then. Nor are we in the same place where Hong Kong now. But I can’t help but believe we’re headed in that direction.

And I don’t know what to do about it.

Even since the days when I opposed the Vietnam War, the message from the powers that be to those seeking change was the same: Work within the system, we were told.

And that seems to be what Cox was saying to Utahns who felt disenfranchised by the redistricting plan. He said: “I understand the frustration that people are feeling right now, and the place that should be directed is making sure that we elect people that have the same interests that you do and are interested in maybe changing those maps the next time around.”

In other words, Democrats who want a fair election should figure out how to get the boundaries they want even when the boundaries drafted by Republicans made that all but impossible.

And the thing is, Utahns concerned about de facto one-party rule had done exactly what good reformers are supposed to do: They worked within the system, passing the 2018 initiative that provided for an independent redistricting commission. And what good did that do? Nothing other than sending a message that ultimately was ignored.

Like I said, I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the answers, and I’m feeling defeated.

Photo of Utah Capitol by Danny Burke via Unsplash.

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