Power Corrupts

Meet Representative Paul Ray.

Currently the representative for House District 13 in the Utah House of Representatives. (He’s actually my representative). First elected in 2000 with 66% of the vote. Upset in the 2002 Republican primary by Dana Love, who then ran unopposed in the general election. Ray came roaring back in the 2004 Republican primary and defeated Representative Love, then won with 86% of the vote in the general election, albeit against only a candidate from the Constitution Party. He’s been in the Utah House ever since.

His electoral history since (keep in mind that he’s represented the same general area of Davis County even after lines were shifted a bit in 2011 reapportionment).

YearPaul RayTop OpponentMargin
200681.5%Ben Wofford (D) – 18.5%+63.0
200872.9%Wofford (D) – 27.1%+45.8
201077.7%Wofford (D) – 22.3%+54.4
201269.2%Bradley Asay (D) – 30.8%+38.4
201471.5%Bob Buckles (D) – 28.5%+43.0
201672.6%Buckles (D) – 27.4%+45.2
201864.2%Tab Lyn Uno (D) – 35.8%+29.4
202063.1%Uno (D) – 36.9%+26.2
No primary challenge threat since 2002!

Do the above results help illustrate why Paul Ray can use his position as the Legislative Redistricting Committee Co-Chair to push through this Congressional map over the objection of 98% of public comments? Where the “easy” district has a +23 partisan lean towards Republicans and splits Salt Lake County four times along 3900 South?

What about his own district? Modest changes (since Davis County grew slower than other parts of the state over the past 10 years) shifted lines a bit, but it still appears that his own district will maintain about the same partisan lean based on statistics on Dave’s Redistricting. Just over 68% of his district remains Republican allowing Representative Ray to run forever in his seat and maintain his power as long as he wants to. How convenient.

Looking back over nearly 20 years of service in the Utah Legislature and I cannot identify one single piece of legislation that Representative Ray sponsored that had meaningful impact. Does that mean that passing a Congressional map “drawn” in secret by national GOP operatives to give Utah to the Republicans for the next decade will be his defining act in his legislative career? Sure seems that way.

But enough about Paul Ray. He did have a co-chair for this whole thing.

Meet Senator Scott Sandall.

Senator Sandall was first elected to the Utah House in 2014 in House District 1 with over 77% of the vote. He was re-elected in 2016 (82.8% [against someone from the Constitution Party]), before deciding to run for the State Senate (District 17) in 2018, when he won 77.8% of the vote.

While his history in the legislature isn’t nearly as long as Representative Ray’s, he was given the position to co-chair the committee that would draw the maps, which he relished, even allowing other Republican members of the committee to call Utah voters dumb for “not really understanding” that the proposition that created the Utah Independent Redistricting Committee (UIRC) in 2018 was always going to be advisory to the all-powerful legislature.

What about his own Senate district. Did the new maps shore up his future in Box Elder, Cache, and Tooele Counties? Sure looks like it. After winning his 2018 race with almost 78% of the vote, his district now shows that it is… about 78% Republican according to Dave’s Redistricting.

Honestly, at the end of the day, both these guys live and serve very Republican parts of the state, so it’s not like their districts could have been made a whole lot more competitive. But at the same time, it’s sad that they are so frightened of allowing Democrats to have a voice in this state that they ignore thousands of public comments (some of them to their face at an in-person public meeting) about trying to be more fair by adopting any of the much more reasonable UIRC maps. Now, Utah Democrats need a miracle in the most “competitive” district in Utah to have a chance to get a federal representative out of four despite having 37-38% of the vote share statewide in most elections.

Furthermore, the legislative supermajorities held by the Republicans in both houses of the Utah Legislature will continue for the next ten years. Only five of 29 State Senate districts have Democrats in the majority of voters, and only three seats are “competitive” overall. In the House, 11 seats are “competitive,” with only 12 districts (of 75) showing a majority of Democrats within their boundaries.

The Democrats on the committee didn’t seem to really want to fight any of these districts, or really push back against the Congressional map. Maybe it’s because they are resigned to be in the minority forever, but at least the inter-party fights for all those heavy Democrat seats will be epic if they ever decide to leave… so yay?

Utah is one of six states with four Congressional seats, and reapportionment didn’t add or subtract from that number going forward. Utah is not alone among those states in having four Republican Representatives – Arkansas also has four Republicans and super red districts. But Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, and Nevada all have at least one district represented by a Democrat, and even real competitive districts even after new maps were drawn. Iowa, which has similar demographics to Utah, managed to draw their maps in a way that they have TWO competitive seats.

But Utah is probably even more like its neighbor to the West. Nevada has four Congressional seats and a population centered around a major metropolitan area (Las Vegas). Roughly the same amount of people live in metro Las Vegas (2.2 million) that live in Salt Lake, Utah, and Davis Counties in Utah. If Nevada can adequately represent their urban areas with two districts centered on Las Vegas, why can’t Utah do the same with its three counties? Then again, Nevada allows its citizens to be adults about almost everything so maybe they aren’t really the same thing…

Regardless, the legislative maps have put the final nail in the coffin for competition from the Democrats in Utah. In my lifetime, we’ve had Democratic governors and Representatives, but it really feels like Ben McAdams’ narrow win in 2018 might be that last major election won by a Democrat in the state. The Utah Republicans have not felt challenged in the state for half a generation, and they’ve allowed that power to corrupt them, making decisions only to hold on to that power, often at the price of damaging Salt Lake City and County.

Silenced people are less willing to vote (which is already evidenced by low turnout in Utah for most election), and when that really starts to happen, Utah will no longer be the fastest growing state in the nation. It will become a literal island, surrounded by states with relatively more progressive policies, and people who are fleeing the wildfires or high taxes of the west coast will likely decamp to Colorado for their outdoor recreation. The Utah GOP seems to want to keep Utah squarely in the 20th Century, and by passing this gerrymander at the Congressional level, they are all but ensuring that they will succeed.

One thought on “Power Corrupts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s