Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Despite the delays, redistricting has been mostly fair

Published: Sunday, Oct. 9 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah's Speaker of the House Rebecca Lockhart delayed a vote on redistricting pending further public hearings. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah's Speaker of the House Rebecca Lockhart delayed a vote on redistricting pending further public hearings. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Last week brought an abrupt change in the weather, along with some new twists in the political environment. The definition of a political columnist is someone who comes down out of the hills after the battle is over to shoot the wounded. So here we go.

Utah lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on boundaries for four congressional districts and will reconvene later in this month. Why are they prolonging the agony?

Pignanelli: "The cautious seldom err" – Confucius. An overlooked element of the redistricting controversy is that new maps for the Utah Senate and House districts passed with near unanimous votes, from both parties. This indicates a bipartisan consensus that the process and results were fair within the parameters of population shifts. Indeed, it is unprecedented for a member of the redistricting committee to redraw the boundaries of his/her district to include another incumbent — as did Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy. Kiser and several other legislators of both parties deserve praise for such statesmanlike conduct.

GOP leaders are proud of a procedure that achieved balanced results for the state offices, after an exhaustive process. (The key word is exhaustive. Most Utahns, including me, soon became bored with all the public hearings.) This reflects House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart's commitment to the full deliberation of legislative activities — a foundation to her political rise. Thus when some lawmakers pushed a map during the special session that had not been vetted in committee or the public, Lockhart was consistent to postpone a vote until further review was provided. Senate President Michael Waddoups concurred with this action.

Never mentioned, but always present, is the ghost of HB477 to remind Republicans and Democrats that citizens want an open and robust process.

Webb: It sometimes takes a little time to forge agreement among 75 House members, 29 Senate members and the governor. It made perfect sense to recess for a while, receive public input, consider and understand all the nuances of proposed boundaries and then reconvene for final votes.

Despite predictable but illogical complaints from Democrats, do-gooder groups and liberal editorial writers, this redistricting process has been the most open, transparent and fair in many decades. While Democrats have demanded a gerrymandered district carved out specifically so a Democrat is guaranteed to win, the Republican majority and Gov. Gary Herbert are on track to create districts that accurately represent the political makeup of the Utah electorate, with Republican/Democrat proportions similar to current districts. That's fair and proper.

Is all this consternation over congressional boundaries working to the benefit of Jim Matheson and to the detriment of others?

Pignanelli: Utah is the fourth most urbanized state in the country (85 percent of us live in a town or city). Admittedly, public lands issues impact all Utahns — regardless of residence. But all the arguments promoting congressional districts with a rural/urban mix will not resonate if the public perceives redistricting actions to harm Matheson. Utahns enjoy Matheson's maverick ways and do not want him victimized in political games. If his potential opponents are believed to garner an unfair advantage through redrawing boundaries, it could harm their initial fundraising and organization efforts.

Webb: Democrats and do-gooder groups are accusing legislators of gerrymandering to benefit Republicans, while demanding that they gerrymander to benefit Democrats. That's called blatant hypocrisy. Legislators are being magnanimous to Matheson, giving him a district that is politically proportional to the one he has now. It won't all be the same voters, obviously, because that's impossible. He will have a fighting chance in the new district. Remember, Matheson almost lost last year in his old district to an underfunded Republican, thanks almost entirely to the national political climate. If Matheson loses in his new district, don't blame redistricting, blame President Obama. The president and the national political environment will have far more impact on Matheson's race than his district boundaries.

With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sarah Palin staying out of the presidential contest, is Utah favorite Mitt Romney the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination? Do these developments help or hurt Jon Huntsman?

Pignanelli: Romney can capture the support of traditional Republicans that were hoping for Christie. However, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the true "comeback kid" — don't be surprised if he bounces back in November. Huntsman has the ability to fill Christie's role of a straight talking governor, but he needs to adopt a creative message soon.

Webb: The nomination is Romney's to lose, but there will yet be plenty of ups and downs before the late-August GOP convention in Tampa. Romney has been steady and presidential and needs to remain so. But he can't sit on his lead, can't run out the clock. He must be aggressive and show some passion and fight. Most importantly, he needs to develop and champion realistic, in-depth solutions to the nation's problems, including entitlement reform, tax reform and deficit reduction. He must protect his Republican base, so he can't run to the center, but he shouldn't pander to the baser instincts of the far right.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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