Speaker Lockhart: A word about redistricting

A message from Speaker Becky Lockhart:

A lot has been made about various groups’ threats to sue the state over redistricting efforts.

Multiple groups including both Republicans and Democrats are threatening to sue if they don’t get what they want. It brings to mind the phrase that if everybody hates what you’re doing, you must be doing it right.

Redrawing Utah’s political lines is constitutionally mandated and a matter of necessity because of population growth. The Legislature will meet next week to approve maps that will be used for the next 10 years. Those maps will include 75 state House districts and 29 state Senate districts, 4 U.S. Congressional districts and 15 state school board districts.

Everyone along the political spectrum including the deceptively labeled “good government” groups want their own special gerrymander under the guise of fairness.

But despite the easy sound bites from political party hacks, radio talk show hosts and editorial boards, we don’t draw arbitrary lines. We can’t. The population deviations between districts have to be extremely small. There may be philosophical differences, but what is drawn will be legal because we are using sound principles established by both state and federal court precedent.

As a result, some Democratic-leaning districts will have to be combined. Conversely, some Republican districts – more than the Democrats, in fact — will also have to be combined. Friends from the same side of the aisle will likely have to run against each other, because in the end the numbers reign supreme. Equal representation demands that district boundaries will shift to where the people have chosen to live.

We’ve been elected as legislators to make tough decisions. We look at all sides, hear all arguments and do some serious soul-searching. And though the Legislature is constitutionally mandated to draw districts, we have involved the public at every turn.

The redistricting committee, of which I am a member, has held dozens of public meetings over the summer throughout the state. Committee members represent all geographic areas of the state, and even over-represent the ratio of Democrats in the Legislature. We’ve fielded thousands of e-mails and phone calls.

We launched an unprecedented public website — RedistrictUtah.com — that allows anyone to draw their own maps and comment on others. To date, there are nearly 300 maps drawn by legislators and the public, with more than 1,000 comments written about them. The School Board map adopted by the committee was originally submitted by Rob Horner, an interested citizen from Logan.

But even with huge public input and a thoroughly transparent process, calls continue for a so-called “independent commission” from groups who quite simply aren’t getting their way. When their arguments are not convincing, they claim we aren’t listening. This is just not true.

Aside from the fact that these groups are deceptive in their purpose, it’s a ludicrous idea that there is even such a thing as an “independent” person or commission when it comes to political lines. Everyone has a conflict. And I, for one, would rather have an elected official accountable to the people be making the decisions rather than someone who will make decisions and then disappear into the night.

It’s been disappointing, though perhaps not surprising, to hear of the planned lawsuits over a redistricting effort that is not only incomplete, but has been the most open and inclusive in Utah’s history.

The legal maneuvering comes from those who want us to break the basic laws of mathematics and the political will of the people of Utah. They think they shouldn’t have to face the same realities everyone else will. They’ve decided to attempt to achieve through the courts what cannot be attained through the duly elected representatives of the people.

It’s willful ignorance or outright self-importance on their part that they won’t acknowledge that the very demands they are making are the very things that will get us successfully sued at a cost of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Their talk is cheap. Their threats are opportunistic. Their verbal bomb-throwing is meant to obscure the reality of a fair process.

Starting on Monday, the Legislature will be in session to debate the maps, as we’ve been elected to do. It will be heated, and there will be some from both sides of the aisle unhappy with the results. But in the end we will send good maps to the governor for his signature.

If the naysayers think they’ve got themselves a lawsuit after that, there’s really only one thing left to say:

Bring it on.