In the name of representative democracy, critics of the recent redistricting process are actually diminishing representative democracy. This is the central point in the redistricting debate — and it should be the overriding point.
The map passed by the state Legislature reflects a good mix of rural and urban voters. That mix will have a moderating influence in the long term. And that moderating influence is in stark contrast to the desires of the map's critics, who sought boundaries to protect "communities of interest." Those "communities," in reality, are simply islands of partisanship destined to perpetuate and increase extremes in both political parties.
Much frustration has been expressed over "closed-door meetings." In reality, the process has been remarkably open. Prudent and effective people, and not just lawmakers, often meet privately, away from the din, to fine-tune ideas after broad input has been submitted. This was the case with the current redistricting process.
Many Utahns share a justified concern about the growing influence of shrill political voices. But representative democracy shouldn't suffer in our search for counter influences. Partisan whining and threatened lawsuits only reduce public confidence in our elected officials — and that's a bad thing. If you disagree with a representative, learn how to constructively influence him; don't burn down the house to fry a piece of bacon.
Representative democracy does not mean agreement. Critics of the map seem to believe that it does. They argue that they've been disenfranchised. They argue that they are unfairly represented because their party lost an election. They argue that they've been procedurally railroaded. None of this is true. What has occurred is representative democracy, and this is what we have until someone comes along with a better form of government in a free society.
The current focus of criticisms avoids more important discussions. Utah is overwhelmingly populated with conservative-minded citizens. Opposing voices that seek to change those conservative minds should do so honestly through education and advocacy, not through tent cities and threatened lawsuits. They ought to occupy a reasonable and relevant political philosophy, not Pioneer Park. Likewise, Utah's "mainstream establishment," afraid of losing political purchasing power, should be cautious in making specious arguments about "closed-door meetings" when those are the only meetings they entertain in their own affairs.
The new redistricting map is fair and wise. It represents the current political profile of Utah as well as a prudent mixture of rural and urban votes. As great a place as it is, urban Salt Lake City is not the center of the universe. There's a reason why highway congestion grows worse around the city: most of us only visit it from 9 to 5. We choose to live elsewhere — where culture is different, where values are different, where pluralism exists, not "communities of interest."
Our state Legislature is constitutionally mandated to redistrict political boundaries. It did that. It did not gerrymander the process. Compare this new map with any other state in the Union and you will soon realize how reasonable it is.
If you truly have the best interests of Utah at heart, you'd thank state legislators for their good work on redistricting, not criticize them.
Paul T. Mero is president of Sutherland Institute.