Redistricting Drama Thickens: Ellis Requests New Map To Make All Four Precincts Democratic

At a special redistricting meeting that lasted four and a half hours Thursday night, approximately 100 people spoke out against Rodney Ellis’ redistricting plan. Only two people endorsed Ellis’ Plan and a third liked an element of it. An exact count of those who spoke for or against is difficult because the video/audio feed went down for several speakers precisely as the Harris County Republican Chair got up to speak. At the end of the meeting, no map emerged as a clear redistricting winner. But Commissioner Ellis requested the county’s redistricting mapmaker to come up with a map that created four Democratic precincts “just to see what it looks like.”

To this observer, Ellis’ request came across as a not-so-subtle threat designed to discourage the withering protests against his plan that would have created a mere 3-1 democratic majority.

He clearly hopes to make Harris County a second Big D in the state of Texas.

Meeting Gets Off to Slow Start

The hastily called and poorly organized meeting took almost an hour to get started. During the meeting, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Adrian Garcia claimed they had nothing to do with Ellis’ proposed map and had not submitted their own recommended maps.

One hundred people signed up to speak either in person or online. Twenty-two came from Precinct 4; most speakers had exactly one minute to address the court and dozens were cut off in mid-sentence. However, those who brought slides, maps or props, such as League of Women Voters and Houston in Action, received more time.

Persistent Themes by Public Commenters

Members of the public commented about several persistent fears they had re: the Ellis Plan. They felt:

  • Communities of interest, such as Asian-Americans would be severed.
  • Working relationships with commissioners would be destroyed.
  • Service request response time would suffer.
  • A Democratic supermajority would enable tax increases and reckless spending.
  • Senior centers such as Bayland would be disrupted.
  • It would have a negative impact on parks and recreation.
  • Drastic change is not needed
  • Doubling Precinct 4’s size would be setting it up to fail.
  • The gerrymandering is a “power grab”.
  • Citizens want Democrats and Republicans to work together.
  • The plan will have unintended consequences.
  • Ellis’ Map doesn’t come close to meeting the criteria for redistricting unanimously approved by Commissioners.
  • Commissioners should be re-elected based on the service they provide, not by gerrymandering.
  • The process behind the plan lacks transparency.
  • It’s an act of self-preservation.

Desire Not to Split Up Communities

A recurring theme among the many speakers was a desire not to have communities split up. Under the Ellis Plan, the City of Humble would have been split into two precincts. Representatives from Aldine and Barret Station also expressed wishes to have one commissioner.

Houston City Council Member Amy Peck spoke against Ellis proposed map along with former Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack.

Challenger for County Judge Seat Speaks Against Ellis Plan

Martina Lemond Dixon who will challenge Lina Hidalgo in the next election also spoke against the Ellis Plan. Dixon felt it would be “dangerous” during the next disaster. She said Ellis’ plan would put a majority of unincorporated Harris County in one precinct “for the sole purpose of political power.”

Dixon also said that if the Ellis map is “adopted by a majority of this court, you will have voted to abandon the majority of voters in unincorporated Harris County. The recommended map won’t stop the current crime wave. It won’t get traffic moving. And it won’t keep the water out of our homes. It will only ensure that these problems persist.”

At the end of her one minute speech, Hidalgo told Dixon “I look forward to a spirited contest.”

Concern about Diminished Support for Community Resources

Another persistent threat among many speakers was a concern about how Ellis’ map would diminish support for community centers and parks in many areas.

Many speakers from Bayland Community Center lined up against Ellis’ proposed map. The center, along with dozens of other resources, would have been crammed into Precinct 4, without increasing the Precinct 4 budget to operate and maintain them.

Precinct 3 Commission Ramsey, who would have seen the size of his precinct cut in half by Ellis, stated that he would lose 29 parks and community centers along with 5,000 miles of roads. Ramsey pointed out that Precincts are not like Congressional Districts. Precincts do more than represent people; they actually provide services that support quality of life.

“Corrupt” and “Chaotic”

Ramsey would lose 450,000 constituents under the Ellis Plan. Ramsey called the plan “corrupt and chaotic.”

Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia bristled at that suggestion. He said that if Ramsey persisted in using that word, three fingers would be accusing him of the same thing from the other side of the table. The “three” referred to Democrats Hidalgo, Garcia, and Ellis. It seemed like a childish, schoolyard act of bullying.

But Ramsey did not back down.

Cagle Lists Numerous Concerns

Commissioner Cagle said that his overall concern was to protect his constituents. He claimed his proposed map was the closest to the status quo while still meeting constitutional and other legal requirements.

The Cagle proposal made minor “tweaks” to precinct boundaries rather than major changes. It respected population changes and diversity, but didn’t divide cities. It also kept voting locations intact and provided sufficient voting locations, unlike the Ellis Plan, which would have given Republicans fewer voting locations.

Cagle also claimed that Ellis Plan significantly changed the demographics of precincts and did not respect diversity, a claim echoed by many from the public.

Commissioner Cagle feared that adding 2000 miles of roads, 29 parks and 450,000 people to his district without making provisions for additional funding would disrupt emergency and other services. In that regard, he had a staffer drive from one end of the Precinct 4 boundaries proposed by Ellis to the other end. It took more than 5 hours – longer than it takes to get to Dallas.

In the end, Cagle called the Ellis Plan “not practical.”

Said Cagle, “We serve the people in real time, we are NOT just policy makers.”

Jack Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner

Ellis Calls for Quick Resolution

After several people complained about having neither the time, nor the data, to analyze proposed maps, Commissioner Ellis said, “We need to put this baby to bed.” Then he asked for a map that would make all four precincts Democratic and suggested Commissioners Court should vote on the map(s) next Tuesday.

Redistricting is not on the Court agenda that was posted this morning for next Tuesday. But it could still be added via a supplemental agenda posted at the end of the day on Friday.

Three Leading Maps Now in Contention

Below are maps produced by three commissioners as of 2:30 PM Friday, October 22, 2021.

Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan
Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan. Lines represent existing boundaries. Colors represent proposed boundaries.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle’s recommended plan.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey did not make recommendations beyond his own precinct’s boundaries.

Additional maps proposed by citizens and groups and other information can be found on the county attorney’s redistricting website. Here are the redistricting criteria that commissioners unanimously approved on July 20, 2021.

Meeting Adjourned with No Action Taken

Lina Hidalgo adjourned the meeting at 8:25 p.m. with NO ACTION TAKEN. A vote on a new redistricting map has yet to be scheduled.  

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/22/21

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