Friday, January 14, 2011

An open letter to the Utah State Legislature

Dear members of the Utah State Legislature,
I was troubled (but not surprised) by a recent blog post by Speaker Lockhart posted regarding the redistricting process and the complaints that have arisen from it.
In essence, she speaks down to the complaints of those who feel that the process has been unfair – emphasizing that the process has been perfectly legal. This, I feel, is a true statement; however her words (and by extension the words of the body) reflect a hubris that many are truly complaining about.
This complaint is nothing new – indeed some form of it has existed since the dawn of civilization. But the degree and duration of such holier than thou attitudes seem to have increased over the past five or so years (certainly it seems this way for as long as I have been following the Legislature). This seemed to have reached its peak with the HB 477 debacle – but, in the eyes of many, both Republican and Democrat, the redistricting process has been some cruel encore presentation.
It appears that the Legislature has, once again, willfully ignored the will of (at the very least) a sizable minority of the people in an effort to maintain political power at the expense of the citizens of the State of Utah.
It is said that politics is dictated by those who show up. And time and time again, from all corners of the state, those who chose to show up to the public meetings regarding redistricting overwhelmingly asked that communities be kept together; that city, county, and regional lines be kept together as much as possible. On top of this we drew maps, joined coalitions, and aired our concerns to you – all in the hopes that you would listen.
But no one was really all that surprised when you attempted to push through a federal map that had been unseen by the public – amended from a basic map that did not conform to the wishes of those who voiced their concerns.  Were we angry? Yes. But in reality we were disappointed.
We were disappointed that you continue to hide behind disingenuous defenses.  For example, it is true that a “community of common interest” is an intangible that can not easily put down, but to quote Justice Stewart “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”
We were disappointed because in one breath legislators say that they should be in charge of the process because they know the state and its citizens, and in the next they seem to say that they cannot see the difference between Salt Lake City and Monticello because the term is too vague.  Having lived in this state my entire life, I can tell you that they have very little in common – yet this concept seems to evade you. Furthermore, having lived in this state, I can tell you that there are four unique regions: Salt Lake Metro, Provo Metro, Ogden Metro, and rural Utah.  Of course each area has its own unique quirks, but it seems bizarre that you can’t even find a general boundary to agree upon.
We were disappointed because you continue to hide behind the argument that an urban/rural mix would ensure that all of the states interested would be represented by all of its representatives.  I would posit this point to you: The Constitution specifically set up the Senate for the task of representing the interests of the state, not the House. Indeed, the House was designed to be as representative of the passing whims of as many varied and different interests of the districts. Representatives were designed to represent the specific interests of specific people – the idea being that the multiple, various, and in many cases opposed, viewpoints would have to debate issues on a national stage.  By spreading a Representative out across various urban/rural districts, you are asking those in Congress to simultaneously vote for a water bill that helps the urban and hurts the rural area of the district, to vote for an urban rail line and not improvements to a country road, to fight for inner city school programs and against country development programs – the list goes on and on.
We are disappointed because you argue that no independent commission is unbiased…yet somehow neglect to mention the fact that you too have very specific biases that enter into the equation. When this is brought up, you state that, because you are elected officials, the voters can ultimately hold you accountable. Two points: First, the bias an independent, bipartisan commission may favor one political party over another, however this bias is reduced by having equal representation on both sides, thereby making it more likely that they will listen to the concerns of the citizenry. The second point is that the legislature still  has ultimate approval of any map; so even if an independent commission did propose a map, you still would vote on it and still be responsible to the voters.
We are disappointed because we know your bias is much more immediate and much more personal. An independent commission could be created and dissolved in relativity short order. You, however, in order to do the business of being a legislator, must make deals to advance your agenda – and to that point, sometimes advancing your agenda means advancing your career. We know you are too close to the process and that you can’t admit that you have a horse in the race beyond representing the people.
And this brings me back to my ultimate point: we are disappointed because you can rightly claim up and down that the process is legal, but we all know that you can not claim that the process is fair. You continue to talk out of both sides of your mouth, thumb your noses at legitimate requests from community members, and act as if you are above the process when we all know you are not.
So, in the end, we are not angry – just disappointed and hurt that you feel you can continue to treat us this way.
You will do what you will do, but you need to know that why we are upset, not why you think we are upset.

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