In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the Harris County Commissioners Court adopted a new precinct map proposed by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Oct. 28. During a heated two weeks of meetings …
In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the Harris County Commissioners Court adopted a new precinct map proposed by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Oct. 28. During a heated two weeks of meetings allowing for public input and debate involving county residents, commissioners and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, several maps were proposed with the one that was finally adopted placing the Harris County portion of the city of Katy in Precinct 4, against the wishes of Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey.
“I think the process – at this point – is corrupt. Corrupt in the sense that there’s a map that’s been generated, referred to as Commissioner Ellis’s Map (One), a week ago,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey during an Oct. 21 special meeting of the commissioners court. “Clearly – clearly – it is obvious to everyone that’s the map preferred by the majority of the court.”
Ramsey referred to Ellis’s initial proposal which would have had Precinct 4 stretch from Katy, north to Highway 290 then east to encompass Tomball, Spring and Crosby, then south again to Baytown. Ramsey expressed concerns that not only would the proposed map compress Precinct 3 but would also expand Precinct 4 to encompass too many square miles for Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle and his staff to maintain from a roads, parks and services standpoint. Additionally, both Republican commissioners expressed concern that the initial proposal from Ellis would take two majority-Republican precincts and make them lean Democratic or make races in those precincts tighter.
In response, Ellis – a Democrat – said he had used software to develop an initial plan and had not intended to gerrymander the precincts, but rather to even out the populations of the districts in such a way as required by law after census results are released. Additionally, he said his initial plan would even out populations in the county’s four precincts after growth in the county had brought its population to about 4.7 million people.
In subsequent meetings, commissioners lessened partisan rhetoric as they debated adjustments to proposed maps from all four of them which came about as a result of public testimony and efforts to compromise between court members. All four commissioners indicated that they felt it was important to keep what they called communities of interest such as school districts, municipal utility districts, cities, villages and historically recognized neighborhoods under individual precincts rather than splitting them. This included keeping drainage tributaries such as Buffalo Bayou and Barker and Addicks reservoirs under one commissioner’s authority.
For much of the debate, County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat, listened and observed. However, she did point out that she agreed with assertions made by Ellis and Garcia that proposed maps needed to correct what they asserted was gerrymandering of precincts after the 2000 and 2010 censuses. She also indicated a partisan reason for her vote in favor of Ellis’s third map which was adopted Oct. 28, referring to an earlier disagreement along party lines this year when Ramsey and Cagle threatened to break quorum unless taxes were not cut more than proposed by Democrats.
“I think, despite your concerns, that ‘Ellis Three’ is the better map, because I am concerned that your party is on a race to the bottom to literally not be able to pay for lifesaving services when you’re rejecting a tax cut – Cut! – so that you can defund the hospital district by $17 million in the middle of a pandemic,” Hidalgo said.