Competitive, much? The two closest races in the state involved the fourth congressional district and Proposition 4, an initiative designed to end political gerrymandering in the state.
Proposition 4 passed by a narrow margin, 50.34 percent to 49.66 percent. In a column last month, I urged voters to support it. Too many political districts in Utah have been drawn with little more than preserving a Republican seat in mind.
However, I also said the proposition was imperfect, and one of those imperfections is that it doesn’t aim to make political races more competitive in Utah. Rather, the new commission it sets up to redraw political boundaries after the 2020 Census will be charged with keeping communities together and preserving traditional neighborhoods.
Those are two quite-different things.
If communities of interest are divided into several districts, the thinking goes, natural groups, such neighborhoods that are heavily Hispanic, end up under-represented, particularly in the Legislature. As a result, their mutual concerns aren’t heard when bills are discussed.
That’s a compelling argument, and it points out a real need in a state that is growing increasingly diverse.
But political observers also have long been worried about the lack of competitive races in Utah. In years past, many incumbent state lawmakers have run unopposed, going to bed early on election night and waltzing into office without much worry about facing different ideas from any loyal opposition.
The number of one-candidate legislative races was lower this year than two years ago as more Democrats and United Utah Party members signed up. That doesn’t mean their races were competitive, however. And still, Democrats were completely absent in 12 legislative races. Three of the four congressional races were pretty much wipeouts.
But the fourth congressional district consistently is competitive. In 2012, Republican Mia Love lost to Jim Matheson by 768 votes, or 0.29 percent of the votes cast. In 2014, she beat Doug Owens by 4,225 votes, or 3.29 percent. This year, after two excruciating weeks of ballot counting, she lost to Democrat Ben McAdams by 694 votes, or 0.26 percent. Only in 2016 did Love win by the comfortable margin of 34,184 votes.
The question is, what will Proposition 4 do to the fourth district? If you redraw congressional boundaries with communities and neighborhoods in mind, will it remain competitive?
Competitive races ensure that voters gain a better understanding of differing political philosophies (even if the ads tend to be nasty). They tend to keep people from becoming insular and comfortable in their belief systems. The fourth district seems to be exactly what the state needs.
The overriding question is, can districts be drawn with both competitiveness and communities of interest in mind? If not, which is most important?
Up in smoke? Former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson has signaled he may sue on behalf of a group that wants to stop the Legislature from holding a special session to alter Proposition 2, the initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Utah. He has a steep hill to climb.
Utah is one of 11 states that puts no restrictions on its Legislature changing a law passed through a voter initiative. Some states put time limits, requiring lawmakers to wait somewhere between two and seven years before making changes.
But clearly, state lawmakers are the final law-making authority in any state, and even their decisions can be changed by a future Legislature or struck down by the courts.
But Anderson also claims The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints violated the state constitution by helping to craft the compromise lawmakers will consider. That compromise was crafted by a long list of organizations on both sides of initiative, including groups such as the Utah Medical Association, the Libertas Institute and the Utah Patients Coalition.
Should a church not be allowed to join the dialog on a matter it sees as an important moral issue? More importantly, isn’t the community best served by a compromise solution with broad support, rather than the all-too-familiar one-sided solution that divides people and breeds resentment?
The answers seem obvious to anyone who cares about good public policies. Clearly, however, last Tuesday’s final canvass of votes didn’t put the 2018 election completely to rest.