Citizens object to Pct. 2 Redistricting Map

Betty Michalsky of Highlands speaks

PCT. 2, PASADENA– Harris County held the first of four public meetings last Monday night, so that citizens could voice their opinions on the new redistricting boundaries proposed for adoption by the county commissioners.
The meeting was hosted by Pct. 2 Commissioner Jack Morman, but the meeting was conducted by Doug Ray and Gene Locke from the law firm of Andrews Kurth LLP, Harris County Asst. Attorney Terry O’Rourke, and Professor Richard Murray of the University of Houston.
On display were maps depicting current and projected boundaries for the County precincts. Handouts and a slide show also reviewed legal criteria for the redistricting effort, as well as goals that the County Commissioners had set for the work.

As explained by Locke and Murray, the maps had to adjust for a 20% increase in Harris County population from year 2000 to 2010, according to the census. The problem was that most of the growth was in Precincts 3 and 4 to the west, but voting law requires all precincts to be relatively equal in size, within 10% of each other. Other important requirements were that minorities must not be discriminated against, and the 14th Amendment provision prohibiting race-predominant decision making must be observed.
The resultant map takes territory from Precinct 1 and adds it to Precinct 2, while on the western edge Precincts 3 and 4 give up voting precincts to Precint 1 to make up the difference.
The resulting proposed plan, labeled A-1, shows equal sized precincts, within 5% of each other. However, the public speakers had several concerns and objections they voiced.
The first speaker was State Senator Mario Gallegos, a veteran lawmaker familiar with drawing voting districts. He strongly objected to this map, saying it did not respect or preserve Hispanic communities and diluted the “Minority Opportunity” district that was originally the intent of Precinct 2 when drawn in year 2000.
He also questioned whether the boundaries respected the Department of Justice’s criteria for a compact district. He said the configuration was highly “gerrymandered” and would not survive a court challenge for this and other reasons. However, he urged the authorities to work on a revised map, and not let the courts decide for the voters.
Precinct 2 boundaries have been extended to include Kingwood, Atascocita, Huffman, Crosby, and areas in the Aldine district. This took voting precincts from Jerry Eversole’s Pct. 4, and El Franco Lee’s Pct. 1.
About 300 persons attended the two hour meeting, and when asked for comments, about 40 people spoke for up to the allowed three minutes.
Although there were some supporters of the map boundaries, most of the comments were against it.
A number of persons from the Highlands area were present for the comment session, including Betty Michalsky, Carl Cooper, and several more from McNair and Barrett. Michalsky’s concern was how the realignment might affect the Pct. 2 budget and whether ongoing programs would lose some of their funding or not.
Some of the objections to the map were because although the Hispanic population held a 57% majority in Pct. 2, the voting age population was only 52%, low enough that the Precinct might lose its “minority opportunity” status. The other major objection was that the combining of voting precincts from Kingwood to Clear Lake did not create a required “compact” district, and also combined voters with dissimilar interest and lifestyles.
The meeting was a requirement to meet federal voting rights laws, according to Locke. There will be three other meetings this week, one in each precinct. Scheduled for Precinct 1 is a meeting at 7 pm on Wednesday, July 27 at the Cavalcade office. Pct. 4’s meeting is Friday, July 29 at 6 pm at the Mangum-Howell Center, and Pct. 3’s meeting is Monday, August 1 at 4:30 pm at the Sosa Community Center. After the meetings, Commissioners will decide to modify or adopt the maps.