SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah congressman Rob Bishop abruptly quit the Independent Redistricting Commission, blasting it as favoring urban areas of over rural areas in creating new boundaries for congressional districts.
Bishop, sporting a hoodie, shorts and sandals, said on Monday he believed the congressional boundaries should have a mix of urban and rural areas. He based it on his years in congress, pointing to the impact public lands have on rural areas over urban areas of Utah.
He also suggested that the commission was being used to favor Democrats in boundary drawing.
"If there’s a minority party with 30% of the vote, it should tell them that three-fourths of the state is not agreeing with them and they should change their method somewhere," he said. "Instead there are groups out there that want this commission to do it for them."
Bishop, who is a partisan appointment to the voter-approved commission, proceeded to criticize the make up of the commission.
"I respect each of you as an individual. But I’m sorry as a group we suck. And part of that is simply the way this has been organized. This is a metro-centric group. When five of the seven are from the Wasatch Front, three of the five, the majority are from Salt Lake County, we see things in a different way," he said, adding: "It’s frustrating and for me I can’t take this anymore. I’m going to make things easy for you. I’m going to resign now."
Bishop proceeded to pack up and thank his colleagues, who at times chuckled.
"But it’s been fun," he said, before adding: "Actually, it hasn’t been."
After he left, former Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham asked the commission's legal counsel how they should proceed with a member leaving. The lawyer replied that he believed they could proceed. Former Sen. Lyle Hillyard, said he believed that when he voted for maps, he did it to present the legislature with options.
Despite Bishop's spectacular exit, the commission ultimately approved maps to submit to the Utah State Legislature's Redistricting Committee. While voters approved the creation of an independent redistricting commission in 2018, it remains the legislature that has the final say.
Commissioners have finalized three congressional maps to submit to the legislature and with that, the total package of 12 maps is complete 🥳All 12 maps will be posted on our website at a later time.— Utah Independent Redistricting Commission (@UtahRedistrict) October 26, 2021
In a statement, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who appointed Bishop to the panel, criticized the independent commission.
"I share his frustrations with how the commission has conducted its business. His decision to step down at this point in the process is further evidence that the duly elected representatives of the people are best suited to redraw district boundaries, as the courts have repeatedly affirmed," Speaker Wilson said. "As we expect to receive and review maps from the commission in just over a week, I do not intend to appoint a replacement."
Reacting to the Speaker's statement, Katie Matheson of the liberal-leaning policy group Alliance for a Better Utah, posted on Twitter that the independent commission was doing its job.
Better Boundaries, which sponsored Proposition 4 (the independent redistricting commission ballot initiative), said in a statement that it remained encouraged by the work the commission was doing.
"We are disappointed to hear of Commissioner Rob Bishop's resignation from Utah’s Independent Redistricting Commission. The Commission, which was passed by voters in 2018, renegotiated by lawmakers and signed into law by Governor Herbert in 2020 is required to uphold a certain set of standards and criteria," said Better Boundaries Executive Director Katie Wright. "Moving forward, we are encouraged by the work of the remaining six commissioners to suggest objective and qualified maps to the state legislative redistricting committee through this fair and transparent process."