Drama follows Utah’s Independent Redistricting Commission as it prepares to present maps to lawmakers
Utah’s new Independent Redistricting Commission has been surrounded by drama this week.
On Monday, commissioner and former Republican Congressmember Rob Bishop resigned in the middle of its meeting. He called it a “metro-centric group,” since five of the seven commissioners live along the Wasatch Front, and stressed that he thought it was important to have both rural and urban areas represented in Congressional districts.
Then, House Speaker Brad Wilson, who appointed Bishop, said the departure showed the commission wasn’t working the way it was intended to, and “we may need to go back to the drawing board and determine whether this process makes sense.”
This all happened a week before the commission is set to deliver 12 maps to the Legislature for consideration.
Katie Wright is the executive director of Better Boundaries, the group behind the 2018 ballot initiative that created the independent commission.
Wright said the process has been solid, and the commission has followed all the rules in the statute — which was approved by the Legislature.
“There is nothing tangible that is being said that points back to the work of the commission,” Wright said. “The commission's work is stellar. The maps are politically neutral, and they keep cities and counties intact, and that's what Utahns have been asking for.”
The commission has also adopted a Congressional map that includes rural and urban representation within the districts.
The group is charged with advising the Legislature and recommending new maps. Because of that, Brigham Young University political scientist Adam Brown said its only power comes from public support.
“So all the commission could ever do was produce maps and hope that the public would like the commission enough to put pressure on the Legislature to seriously consider them,” Brown said.
Brown said Bishop’s walkout and Wilson’s comments could weaken that.
“It's important in politics for the Speaker of the Utah House to be able to say what looks like a good reason to ignore the commission's maps,” he said. “You need something to say to defend your actions. That's what Bishop has done here. He's given legislative Republicans who want to draw their own map something to say to voters who ask why they didn't take the commission's recommendations.”
Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, said Wilson’s comments directly contradict what voters said they wanted when they showed their support for the 2018 ballot initiative.
“The fact that they're casting doubt and trying to undermine the will of the people is, I think, a sad reflection on what you get when you have a supermajority rule,” Kitchen said. “The whole point of Rep. Wilson’s [comments] is to not only kneecap the process that the voters voted for, but to completely undermine democracy.”
The Independent Redistricting Commission will present its maps to lawmakers Monday afternoon.