A Fourth Seat in Congress
||Provo Daily Herald (UT)
||Wednesday, November 23, 2005
One of the most bitter pills Utah has had to swallow in recent years was losing its chance for a fourth seat in Congress to North Carolina.
Utah was cheated when the Supreme Court rejected arguments that some 11,000 Utahns serving LDS missions abroad should be counted in the Census, and that the Census Bureau played fast and loose with how it counted people in North Carolina.
But we may not have to wait until the next Census to get what is rightfully ours. A bill in Congress would award Utah its fourth seat as soon as 2006. Federal legislation sponsored by a Virginia Republican, Rep. Tom Davis, would grant the District of Columbia the right to vote in the House. Currently, the district has a single non-voting representative in Congress, which means roughly 572,059 Americans in that city are without a voice in the formation of law.
Clearly, a vote from the District of Columbia could be expected to aid Democrats, which might give Republicans pause. There are currently 231 Republicans to 202 Democrats in the lower house, with one independent and one vacancy.
The sugar that Davis proposes to help the medicine go down is the granting of an additional seat to the state next in line for one -- which happens to be Utah.
Utah's new representative would serve at-large, or statewide, until 2012, when the Legislature would redraw district lines. Initially, this might mean that Utah would send another Democrat to Washington, since Salt Lake County would weigh heavily as a voting bloc. And it's reasonable to assume that another Democrat would tend to vote in the direction of his party. So the net effect of Davis's deal could be an initial gain of two Democrat votes in the House.
The bill does not address the question whether LDS missionaries overseas should be counted the same as military personnel; it simply grants the additional representation in Congress for Utah. And that's fine with us.
Seats in the House of Representatives are awarded based on a state's population -- currently one for every 646,952 residents. Unfortunately, thanks to faulty Census policies and unfavorable court decisions, Utah doesn't carry the weight it should. Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Cannon and Jim Matheson may be doing a good job, but there are simply not enough of them to represent a state our size.
While a fourth representative won't suddenly turn Utah into a congressional powerhouse, the extra seat would give the state a bit more clout. We would have another delegate who understands Utah and the West and can bring our concerns into the national debate.
While the initial effect of Davis's deal might help Democrats in lawmaking, Republicans should note that the extra seat for Utah would help the Republican Party in the 2008 presidential election. With an extra representative, Utah would have six votes in the Electoral College, the total number of its senators and representatives.
Since there will be no incumbent in the White House for the 2008 presidential election, the field will be wide open for both parties. Utah's extra electoral vote could make a difference, especially in a very close race.
It's hard to argue convincingly that the people of the District of Columbia don't deserve a vote in Congress. The district has emerged as a major American city, far different from early romantic visions that projected a Greek forum with people strolling around in togas, debating politics amid marble pillars. The district today is a true metropolis, with all the promise and problems of other cities. And its people deserve a voice. Without it, they should not be taxed (remember the old saying?).
Utah is the exact opposite of the District of Columbia in many respects -- white, conservative, low crime. But the two share an injustice when it comes to Congressional representation. The district's residents should get a vote, and Utah's LDS missionaries should be counted in its population.
Perhaps Davis has threaded a political needle, giving each a victory while preserving the balance between national political factions.