Harris County residents offered their take Thursday on proposals to redraw district lines for the four precincts that comprise the county.
Maps are redrawn following the decennial census, with population sizes generally even among the four precincts, as required by Texas law.
A public comment hearing on redistricting spanned four hours Thursday, with many of the comments focused on a proposal submitted by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. Ellis’ proposal drew ire from Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, the two Republicans on the Democratically-controlled body.
Both said of Ellis’ proposal was political gerrymandering by Democrats who were eager to maintain – and grow – their political majority in Commissioners Court by corralling conservatives into a horseshoe-shaped Precinct 4.
Tonya Brooks, who currently lives within Precinct 3, told commissioners she was worried about the fairness of how Commissioner Ellis’ lines were drawn.
“I’m worried about gerrymandering in such a way that you get an all-democratic commission,” Brooks said.
Mark Gollby, another resident of Precinct 3, agreed.
“This is about distributing the voters and the voter classifications that they want to quiet down,” Gollby said.
Commissioner Cagle said Ellis’ proposed redrawing of Precinct 4 would result in the closure of parks and prove a challenge to maintaining services.
Linda Dougall, who is a resident in Precinct 4, said that’s what brought her out.
“I’m really concerned about ambulances because we are already limited on our ambulance services as it is,” Dougall said.
Following three hours of comments, Commissioner Ellis addressed the concerns, accusing his Republican cohorts of fearmongering.
“What I did is what the people of this county are saying,” Ellis said, pointing to meetings he said commissioners held across all four districts. Ellis said his proposal isn’t final and reflects the specific needs of each precinct.
“It’s a starting point and I close with this. Instead of just sitting back throwing bricks, I did something because the clock is ticking,” Ellis said.
Not every speaker spoke against Commissioner Ellis’ proposal.
Anusheh Siddique spoke on behalf of a map called Unity. It was drawn by a collation of community organizations, including Emgage Texas, Mi Familia Vota, and Houston in Action. The map is similar to Commissioner Ellis’ proposal but has several variations. Siddique said their focus was to draw lines with an emphasis on geographic, environmental, and cultural similarities.
“Our idea is when you bring people together based upon infrastructure, based upon culture, based on socioeconomic needs, you actually create a system that is more representative,” Siddique said.
Commissioners did not vote on any proposed map during Thursday’s meeting. While they will have to decide on a map, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia noted that he had not submitted a proposal and would do so.
Thursday’s meeting concluded with the acknowledgment that the conversation would continue at the next scheduled Commissioners meeting on Oct. 26.