Thursday, October 20, 2011

Utah's Reapportionment Blues

by MICHAEL ORTON
Story and Video ©2011 ImageProviders – All Rights Reserved

SALT LAKE CITY –

Sure, everyone knows that Utah is a red state. SO RED, that the current president of the United States didn't even bother to campaign there in 2008. With the most recent census allowing Utah another seat in congress, (a feeble attempt to do that earlier, in exchange for their congressional delegation's support for D.C. statehood, failed miserably) the state's reapportionment committee held several weeks worth of meetings to solicit public input and place the process on display for the voters to witness and attempt to understand. Utah has enough democrats to send a congressman from their party to Washington more than once in the recent past, but their ability to do so in 2012 has likely perished now that the playing fields have been redefined to favor those with rabidly conservative, republican-only, views.

When it all came down to a special session of the state's legislature to adopt the four new congressional district boundaries, the minority leaders claimed it was only for a privileged few to decide without any compromise or credible opposition. Sophisticated computer analysis using census tract information, demographics and psychographics allowed districts to be drawn privately. This insured the votes required to send four conservative republicans from the Beehive State to congress with insufficient challenge, the democrats charged. Many claim that these "red meat" conservatives will go to congress praising the Tea Party – Don't Tread on Me platform for their constituents too lazy or underinformed to understand that taxation without representation is not even the precedent. (Do these pols even know there was a "Whiskey Rebellion?")

State Representative Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) rose on the evening of the final adoption to declare that the evil federal government was taking dollars away from the state's schools via the designation of public lands as wilderness areas; so by his logic, Utah just had to send four conservatives back to congress to straighten everything out and save the children. He could have been speaking Japanese to the democrats who claim that public education is not a priority with their loyal opposition. (Indeed, their overwhelmingly republican legislature approved more funding for highways than education during the last lawmaking session, and several of the GOP are attempting to divert public monies to charter school organizations).

One of the few democrats on the reapportionment committee was state Senator Ben McAdams. He spoke to some of his constituents with an insider's view of just how gerrymandering works in a state where the dominant culture reveres virtuous principles like fairness and honesty and where this month, traditionally democratic Salt Lake County was carved and served up for the U.S. congress just the way the republicans wanted it to be. VIDEO:   

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Utah State Senator BEN McADAMS on Reapportionment - Oct. 14, 2011
Video ©2011 MICHAEL ORTON for ImageProviders – All Rights Reserved

McAdams explained that at one point, the process stalemated for almost 48 hours even with a plurality on the republican side of the aisle. The problem, he said, was that the republican caucus didn't anticipate that so many egos in the Utah House of Representatives would want to run for congress – the big show. At that point it became a private, intramural skirmish while the democratic minority, along with the public, waited. Majority leaders are quick to point out that this is the way that the voters of their state want it. The seats don't belong to any party, they say. The seats belong "to the best candidates." Left in a district without any hope of re-election, Utah's lone democratic congressman, Jim Matheson, now ponders a run for U.S. Senate or even the governorship.

In the end, more than a million taxpayer dollars and several weeks effort came down to a last-minute designation that was unveiled only a few days before it was adopted without public input, created by party bosses, behind closed doors. With minority objections, one of the reddest states got even more red.

Especially in Utah, more might makes more right.



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Then, more Utah reapportionment insight, including the republican view, here:

and here:
http://microbureauutah.blogspot.com/2011/10/overwhelming-congressional.html

and more committee video here:
http://youtu.be/LOeBe8ITOVQ?t=2s

Friday, October 7, 2011

OccupySLC in the Rain

Video and story by Michael Orton
SALT LAKE CITY –

Some wore suits with neckties and wingtips. Some wore mountain gear. They had a late start compared to their counterparts in New York, where the movement had grown to more than ten thousand by this day. At Utah's capitol, approximately 250 people showed up even though the National Weather Service had warned that they'd be in the area's first big storm of the season. They came anyway. Unions, political parties, minority representatives as well as moms and pops who were just tired of what they called, "corporate greed."

The citizens' drumbeat was constant.

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Video of OccupySLC – ©2011 MICHAEL ORTON for ImageProviders. All Rights Reserved

So they assembled in the cold morning rain, and by the time they marched to the city's Pioneer Park more than a mile away, the mountains of northern Utah were showing their first blanket of snow. The placards got soggy, but the resolve remained undiluted because, like many others, they were concerned about the disparity of wealth in the nation. A couple of days before, Nick Kristoff of the New York Times had said that, "in effect, the banks have succeeded in socializing risk while privatizing profits."

These people agreed.

And nearby, lobbyists at the statehouse were requesting privileges at the capitol health club (presumably to be closer to the legislators) and to begin valet parking service there. Utah lawmakers had scheduled meetings on the following day to determine how a fourth congressional district would be defined, fueling rumours that the state's democratic party would be gerrymandered out of existence.

In Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park, the Utah demonstrators were pitching tents to stay awhile, to let people know that they meant business, too.