A couple of years ago I wrote a post on the gerrymandering going on in Utah, and the need to reform the districting process to focus on maintaining the integrity of communities and on eliminating the overwhelming advantage of incumbents. This year a movement has arisen to attempt just that. Fair Boundaries is promoting a citizens initiative to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to offer districting plans with those goals in mind.
While there has been some fairly high-profile bi-partisan support (including from former Representative Jim Hansen, with whom I rarely agree), the response of Republicans in the legislature has been less than enthusiastic. They deliberately ignored the implications of the initiative and assumed two redundant redistricting processes to inflate the published cost of the initiative. Utah House Speaker Dave Clark has staunchly opposed the initiative, complaining that the initiative would invite lawsuits (from whom and on what grounds, Speaker Clark appears to be less forthcoming), and assuring Utahns that the current redistricting process “embraces the system of checks and balances,” —seemingly ignoring the fact that the very nature of gerrymandering insulates incumbents from checks. When a poll on his own website went in favor of the initiative, it mysteriously disappeared. And most recently, Republican legislators attending “Conservative Day” at the University of Utah forced organizers to eject a Fair Boundaries booth staffed by a former Huntsman intern.
One of the central traits of conservatism is a healthy skepticism of government. It is the very nature of government to seek to protect and expand its power, conservative theory correctly asserts. Government should therefore be viewed cautiously. It should be structured in such a way as to minimize the potential for any given government entities to abuse government power, and to subject government entities to accountability.
Except, these conservative government officials seem to believe, when it comes to them. We should just trust them, because they are above reproach. To consider any checks to potential abuse is to insult their integrity.
Just as they did when they attempted to install the school voucher system against the wishes of the citizens of Utah, these Republican legislative leaders show a disregard for the democratic process and their status as representatives of the people.
No system of districting can be perfect. But it is reasonable to try to create a check on the power of the legislature and their incumbents with an independent commission. On such an important issue—and one in which the legislature has such a clear conflict of interest—the public should be able to decide. If you are a registered Utah voter, please go to Fair Boundaries, find out where you can sign the petition*, and if possible, help collect the signatures necessary to put this initiative on the ballot in 2010.
*I currently have a petition available for signatures.