Gerrymandered Salt Lake County is Utah Republican Party's New Gulag | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Gerrymandered Salt Lake County is Utah Republican Party's New Gulag 

Private Eye

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Most readers of this space know I grew up in Bingham Canyon, my home bordered on both sides by rail lines exiting the giant Kennecott Copper Mine just up the way. Those rail lines were used to transport the ore taken from the mine out to Magna where it was crushed, refined and smelted into the copper wires that transport electricity to the computer on which you are likely reading this column right now.

There were no computers back then, of course, and, therefore, it was a much happier time. We kids would play all day along those rail lines, or what remained of them. The line behind our house was the old Bingham and Garfield Railway. It wasn't in service when I was a kid, but the rails were used to park old engines and ore cars on. They all just sat there in a row and were perfectly suited for kids to crawl all over and jump off from.

We were always breaking things in Bingham Canyon and had an ideal inspiration for that in Kennecott Copper itself, which was forever in earnest purchasing homes and businesses in the canyon in order to tear them down to make room for the ever-expanding copper mine pit. There was destruction everywhere.

One day where a house stood, the next day, you'd find not only a pile of rubble but also be told that your best buddy had moved to the valley. I learned early on not to get too attached to things.

We were always at play in that rubble. It was good times, really, outside of the frequent flat tires on our bikes. When a house was suddenly vacated, we kids went into action and started pulling at floorboards and breaking windows.

I don't think there was a kid under 10 years old who didn't have at least one major cut from broken glass or at least one tetanus shot to prevent the possible infection from stepping on a rusty nail. I had several of both. Then, in time, the city of Bingham was gone.

You look up there now, up into the Oquirrh Mountains, it's hard to imagine that Bingham was once the third most populous city in Utah behind Salt Lake City and Ogden. That was quite the accomplishment for a city that only had one main street up the canyon itself, but which had many spurs and side canyons that held communities of miners, mostly foreign born. It was blue-collar working class, through and through, and solidly Democrat.

A few years ago, former-Salt Lake County Mayor and Democrat Ben McAdams was in attendance when a historic Bingham Canyon monument was moved to Copperton Park. An old grade school friend of mine, Scott Crump, was there as well.

Crump is basically the unofficial-yet-official historian of all things Copperton and the old Bingham High School. Crump's family was salt of the earth, too, hailing originally from Lark, just a couple of hill ridges south of Copperton. Crump and I had lots in common except for our political leanings. I'm pretty danged sure he's been a rock-solid Republican his whole life.

He and I and McAdams were yakking for a minute when I told Mayor Ben that it was too bad that Bingham's Democrats were now scattered across the valley, lest he or any other Democrat would be a shoo-in for any kind of political seat. Crump laughed and said, "Yeah, in those days you could put all the Republicans in Bingham inside a phone booth." Yes! The good old days. That is exactly as it should be!

But it isn't. My whole life I've watched the citizens of Democratic enclaves being physically displaced, as in Bingham. It happened to the north, at what was formerly Garfield, Utah, then also in Magna to a fair degree.

All of those towns were filled with citizens derived from the blue-collar working classes. It wasn't mining, but the communities of culture and color in Salt Lake City were also scattered about—the Blacks, Greeks and Italians, and especially the Japanese who lost their community core in the area of what became the original Salt Palace.

It was never lost on local Republican politicians that such disenfranchisement is good for them, since most of those being moved about were Democrats. Although political bodies aren't being bulldozed away as much as in decades prior, a more sinister mode of quelling Utah's Democratic voices remains, full of arrogance and foul play: gerrymandering.

I've written before that my own kids—fourth-generation Utahns—can never become Utah public servants so long as they remain Democrats and don't sell their souls. This past election saw all four of Utah's congressional seats won by Republicans—each of them swiping over 60% of the votes in their carved-out districts.

No Democrat will ever win in those unfairly doctored districts. "If you can't move 'em, cheat 'em," is the new anti-Democrat mantra in the Beehive State. It's what former Congressman Rob Bishop wanted when he led the charge to toss away the publicly mandated and fair redistricting map options. He effectively said at the time that Utah needed to send folks to D.C. who would vote with one voice. Why?

Before they tore down my grade school, our teachers taught us to fear and loathe communist Russia. What goes around comes around. It doesn't matter if the face on the poster wears a menacing mustache or a conniving grin, the outcome is the same: One-party rule.

It's pretty clear that political repression has evolved and that Utah—so far—is just nicer at it than its Russian mentors. Because really, Salt Lake County—bursting with voiceless Democrats—is just a gulag with Walmarts and nice scenery.

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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