I’ve watched four Utah redistrictings by the Legislature, covered two for the Deseret News and now this last one for UtahPolicy.
Each is different, mainly because they come at different political times in our state and nation. And, of course, rarely are but a few senators and representatives who were around for their first redistrict, be around for their second.
Thus, there is very little institutional knowledge about the process and political pitfalls.
(Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, has been around for three, both as a House and Senate member, and he’s proud to say he’s never been on any of the Redistricting Committees.)
For me, the 2011 redistricting was the most fair I’ve seen on the legislative level – that is, for the Utah House and Senate themselves.
Historically, it’s been when legislators draw their own seat’s boundaries that I’ve seen the hardest infighting, most hurt feelings, and impacts on future leadership races and re-elections.
But most of that was missing this time around – in the legislative redistricting.
I give much of the credit for this to Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, and Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.
As the co-chairs of the 19-member Redistricting Committee, Sumsion and Okerlund went out of their way to work with fellow Republicans and Democrats. Yes, I said Democrats.
For not only the Democrats on the committee, but other minority party members to a person, praised how Sumsion and Okerlund set the tone and organization.
For what later happened on congressional redistricting, the good feelings and rational (for the most part) thinking in the legislative redistricting shows me that a body of 104 part-time people CAN deal with a very close, personal conflict of interest and still provide a good work product.
Unfortunately – yet understandably – this fell apart in the redistricting of the new four-seat congressional map.
I don’t profess to know all of the weights and measures, the personal political infighting, and the shifts in tone and power that took place over the last four weeks or so in the congressional work.
I do know that the 58-member House GOP caucus was fractured.
And I’ve been told several reasons for this. For me, it seems like the old question: What comes first, the chicken or the egg?
Did House GOP leadership fail to lead because of some internal squabbles or innate character traits?
Or did leadership do the best they could, but were hampered by dissident (if that is the right word) factions in the caucus that WANTED leadership to look weak or ineffective?
Did GOP lawmakers do the best they could considering all the pressures against them?
Or did they abrogate their responsibility to partisan pressures in an effort to defeat Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson?
House GOP leaders know there is some discontent among their caucus.
Last week, in an open caucus, leaders asked if the process they used in redistricting was a good one.
Several caucus members said yes; but a few said no.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, successfully challenged former Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, a year ago for the top spot by telling fellow caucus members that she would not tell them, or even lead them, in a certain direction. Rather, she would let the caucus come to its own decisions, and then push those with the Senate, governor and public.
But Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said that such a bottom-up style didn’t work well in redistricting once the legislative process started Oct. 3.
“We could stand more leadership, less collaboration,” he told his caucus.
As far as the House is concerned, it would have been better if leadership had brought several maps to the caucus, and basically said pick one of these three.
“Direction can be a good thing.” And the 58-member caucus – a management challenge, especially with various folks and groups going off in different directions.
It was “going too far in unstructured collaboration,” he said.
Lockhart and House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, got sideways at one point when Dee (who is seen as part of the Clark group that opposed Lockhart’s speakership race) called a caucus during hours of down-time/map-drawing to give an update to some caucus members while Lockhart was in her office on other business.
Lockhart apparently didn’t like Dee calling a caucus without her approval or knowledge. But that scrap was worked out later.
What may be a holdover of the House Republicans’ stumbling over redistricting (some members wouldn’t classify the internal struggling as stumbling) is the outside observance that the House majority caucus is not working well together.
“We are dysfunctional in times of crisis,” says one House Republican. “That’s because we may be too big for our own good.”
Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, hinted at what some see as just stubbornness when he joked during the open caucus that he has become the unofficial head of the “no caucus” within the larger body.
That is, Dougall and some of his cohorts were just saying “no” to proposed congressional redistricting plans, harming efforts to reach some caucus position on the new four-seat map.
“We (in the Senate) know that the House (GOP caucus) has a harder time reaching consensus over there,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, told UtahPolicy. “So we try to give them some slack and time.”
But is it a question of time for a decision to bubble up from the House GOP ranks, or a question of flawed leadership style – or worse – divided leadership?