Tag Archive for: Redistricting

Texas Supreme Court Denies Petition for Mandamus in Harris County Redistricting Lawsuit

On January 6, the Texas Supreme Court denied the petition for mandamus in the first of two lawsuits over the Harris County Ellis-3 redistricting plan. The Ellis-3 plan completely flipped Precincts 3 and 4 while altering the boundaries of both. The likely end result will be a 4-1 Democratic supermajority in the next election. A supermajority would let commissioners shift flood-bond funds around at will.

Mandamus is a judicial order commanding another court or person to perform a specific duty. In this case, Commissioners Cagle, Ramsey and their supporters requested the court to order Lina Hidalgo to stop the Ellis-3 Plan from moving forward.

File photo of Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis who is at the center of this controversy.

Central Issue At Stake

The central issue in the case was whether 1.1 million people had their voting rights denied or delayed by the Ellis-3 plan. The Texas Supreme Court recognized the inevitable problem of preserving (or minimizing disruption to) voting rights in staggered elections when redistricting.

“To be abundantly clear, by denying the petition today, we do not dispute that the constitutional issue Relators raise is a serious question that warrants this Court’s full consideration when properly presented. We do not prejudge the outcome.“

Basis for Denial

However, in denying the writ of mandamus, the judges cited:

  • A delay in filing the initial appeal after the District Court dismissed the suit. Filing for the election had already begun. The judges said, “Avoidable delays, in particular, may be fatal to the courts’ ability to proceed at all.”
  • The need to describe “with precision how any relief will affect that election and the larger structure of our state’s election machinery.” And “…a party who asks a court to take action that could disrupt the election calendar after the election process has begun has the duty to explain the practical consequences…”

Regarding the second point, the Justices wrote, “Relators claim to be in possession of an alternative map that lawfully redraws precincts without excluding any voter from consecutive county-commissioner elections. This map was not presented to the commissioners court, the district court, the Respondents, or this Court, and it is unclear how this map could become law.”

Justices Blacklock and Young wrote in delivering the opinion of the Texas Supreme Court that, “Expedition and precision in requesting relief help ensure that courts can never be converted, willingly or otherwise, into a partisan tool for one side or the other. Those requirements reduce the incentives for partisan adversaries to lie in wait with lawsuits that create chaos. To be clear, we do not charge Relators here with any such intention. We simply note that the rules are demanding because such conduct would otherwise go undeterred.”

Sets No Blanket Precedent

“We emphasize that our inability to address the merits of this petition on the eve of the election—because of the timing and nature-of-relief problems discussed above does not by any means establish that there is never any judicial relief that could be given,” said the ruling.

The Justices then spent several pages exploring questions about how judicial interference would affect the machinery of an election already in progress. “To be abundantly clear, by denying the petition today, we do not dispute that the constitutional issue Relators raise is a serious question that warrants this Court’s full consideration when properly presented.” The Justices just didn’t feel there were enough specifics in this case to let them do so.

Not a Summary Judgement

Significantly, the Texas Supreme Court said, “We deny the petition for writ of mandamus, but we do not do so lightly or summarily. Our decision implies no endorsement, affirmation, or other view of the redrawn map of precincts challenged here. Nor do we suggest that mandamus would never be an appropriate vehicle to resolve this question or ones like it. Our narrow holding is that this mandamus petition, under the circumstances we describe below, cannot go forward under settled precedents that sharply limit judicial authority to intervene in ongoing elections.”

Second Lawsuit Still Pending in Lower Court

A second lawsuit by former commissioner Steve Radack is still pending in the Harris County 190th Civil Court. That suit alleges the Ellis-3 plan should be invalidated because it was sprung on people at the last minute without sufficient public notice. The Texas Open Meetings Act demands a minimum of 72 hours notice.

But the Ellis-3 plan was posted online only minutes before the meeting in which the plan was approved. In that meeting, 94 members of the public signed up to speak. Not one of them mentioned the Ellis-3 plan. The first mention of Ellis-3 in the transcript is when commissioners started debating plans.

For the complete text of the Supreme Court ruling, click here.

For the official transcript of the meeting in which Commissioners approved the Ellis-3 Plan, click here.

It’s not clear how or if the Supreme Court of Texas ruling on the Cagle/Ramsey suit will affect any ruling in the Radack suit. Delays were a central issue in denying mandamus. And the Radack suit was filed six weeks AFTER the Cagle/Ramsey suit.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/7/22

1592 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Former Commissioner Radack Files Second Redistricting Lawsuit; Hidalgo Responds to First

Former Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack filed a redistricting lawsuit on New Years Eve last week. This lawsuit comes hot on the heels of a previous lawsuit by Commissioners Jack Cagle, Tom Ramsey and their supporters. That lawsuit is now in the Texas Supreme Court. Here’s an overview of where both cases stand. The fate of flood mitigation in Harris County could hang in the balance.

File photo from 2021 of Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis whose redistricting plan sparked two lawsuits.

Radack Lawsuit Alleges Lack of Sufficient Public Notice

The Radack lawsuit alleges that County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia passed a redistricting plan without providing sufficient public notice.

Radack claims that constitutes a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA). TOMA requires that members of the public must have 72 hours notice of provisions being considered, but the Ellis-3 redistricting plan was posted on the day of the meeting in which it was approved. The public had virtually no advance notice of the plan, and thus, no opportunity to comment on it. People first learned of the plan when Ellis rolled it out in the meeting during which he, Garcia and Hidalgo approved it.

The lawsuit further alleges that:

  • Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia planned the surprise in advance.
  • Their plan makes it impossible for Jack Cagle to get re-elected.
  • It will give Democrats a 4-1 supermajority.
  • Failure to timely post notice of the plan invalidates the vote on it.
  • In violating TOMA, Lina Hidalgo overstepped her authority and therefore does not enjoy governmental immunity.

A supermajority would give Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia the power to shift flood-bond dollars around at will.

Radack filed his lawsuit on December 31st. The county clerk posted it on her website on Monday, January 3rd. The case landed in the 190th Court where Judge Beau Miller presides.

Hidalgo, Ellis and Christian Menafee, the County Attorney, issued public denials on Tuesday’s evening news. However, they have not yet filed a formal response to Radack’s lawsuit with the court.

Hidalgo Files Response to Cagle/Ramsey Suit Pending in Supreme Court

Commissioners Jack Cagle, Tom Ramsey and their supporters filed the first lawsuit. It is currently before the Texas Supreme Court. Their complaint focused on denial of voting rights for more than a million people. Judge Dedra Davis of the 270th District Court dismissed that lawsuit without explanation. The plaintiffs then directly filed for a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court. Plaintiffs did not have time to go through the normal appeal process.

In that case, Hidalgo filed a 185-page response on December 30th to the plaintiffs’ charges. Hidalgo contends that:

  • The county did not violate voting rights because when you redistrict precincts with staggered terms, voting rights for some will always be delayed but not permanently denied.
  • The court has no way to evaluate whether Harris County went “way beyond” what was necessary to redistrict
  • Plaintiffs took too long to seek relief.

For the full text of Hidalgo’s response, click here.

Plaintiffs in this case also filed a request for an expedited ruling. To affect the next election without delaying it, a ruling would reportedly have to come sometime in January.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/5/2022

1590 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Emergency Petition Filed with Texas Supreme Court to Stop Ellis-3 Redistricting Plan

On 12/23/21, a group of petitioners trying to stop implementation of the Ellis-3 redistricting plan for Harris County took their case to the Texas Supreme Court.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, Precinct 3 commissioner Tom Ramsey and their supporters filed their original lawsuit in District Court last November. They claimed the Ellis-3 redistricting plan was unconstitutional. They say it disenfranchised 1.1 million people of their right to vote for the commissioner of their choice in next year’s county election.

District Court Judge Brittanye Morris denied the plaintiffs a temporary restraining order on November 29. Judge Dedra Davis dismissed the entire case on Wednesday, December 22. Neither explained why.

Goal of Petition for Writ of Mandamus

Then on Thursday, December 23, 2021, Cagle, Ramsey and their supporters filed an emergency petition for a “writ of mandamus” with the Texas Supreme Court.

The petition, if granted, would compel Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia “to cease implementation of the illegal and unconstitutional Ellis 3 Plan for the upcoming election cycle” and pay all costs of the suit.

A writ of mandamus is literally a judicial command. It orders an official to perform a statutory duty.

The legal combatants: Cagle and Ramsey on the left, Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis on the right, listen to people testifying at the 12/14/2021 Commissioners Court meeting about changing flood-bond priorities for third time in 2.5 years.

Elements of Petition

The 47-page petition petition for a writ of mandamus to the Texas Supreme Court begins by recapping the basis for the original lawsuit.

  • The 2020 census revealed population changes among districts that required redistricting.
  • It was possible to comply with the “one man, one vote” rule by transferring 4% of the county’s population.
  • But Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia chose a plan that moved 48% and overstepped their authority.
  • That plan will deprive 1.1 million people of their right to vote for commissioner in the next election and likely tip the result from Republican to Democrat in one precinct, creating a 4-1 supermajority for Democrats.

The petition then recites more facts in the case, elements of the redistricting plan, legal precedents, issues and arguments.

The petition basically restates elements of the original District Court petition. However, for the Texas Supreme Court, it also lists precedents for writs of mandamus. Those were not an element of the original case.

Writs of mandamus compel lower court judges or government officials to perform the duties of their job. In this case, the petition was targeted at three local officials – Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia.

Request to Expedite Petition

The petitioners also filed a 4-page request to expedite the case, citing the nearness of the next election.

The urgency explains why Cagle, Ramsey and their supporters skipped the normal intermediate step of filing an appeal. Because of the need to print ballots early in the year, time was simply not available. A writ of mandamus represents the only legal remedy they have available at this point.

Tik tok. Tik tok.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/24/2021

1578 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Redistricting Lawsuit Dismissed by Ellis-Backed Judge

A lawsuit by Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and their supporters that sought to overturn a redistricting plan devised by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has been dismissed by an Ellis-backed judge, Dedra Davis.

How Ellis-3 Redistricting plan affects Lake Houston Area
In the Ellis-3 Redistricting plan, almost all of the Lake Houston Area including Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Huffman and Crosby will change from Precinct 4 to Precinct 3. Tom Ramsey will remain the Commissioner of Precinct 3, and will not be up for re-election in 2022.

Details of Redistricting Plan

The Ellis redistricting plan swapped the numbers of Precincts 3 and 4. It also redrew the boundaries of Precincts 3 and 4 so that Ramsey’s home and Cagle’s home changed precincts. The Ellis plan has two immediate effects.

  • It forces Cagle and Ramsey, both Republicans, to run in each others’ precincts because commissioners must live in the precincts they represent.
  • The number swap will deny voters in the new precinct 3 the right to vote for commissioner in the next election. That’s because only even-numbered precincts will vote in the next election cycle for commissioners. So the Lake Houston Area will not be able to vote for commissioners next year as it normally would have.

In addition, the plan redraws boundaries of the new Precinct 4 so that it becomes more Democratic. That jeopardizes Cagle’s chances of re-election and could shift the balance of power in Commissioners Court. Four Democrats could create a super-majority, enabling them to raise taxes at will.

A supermajority could also have far reaching consequences for flood mitigation by enabling Democrats to shift funds between watersheds as Adrian Garcia already tried to do.

TRO Denied, Then Lawsuit Dismissed on Plea to Jurisdiction

The plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to block preparations for redistricting until the lawsuit could be resolved.

Judge Brittanye Morris (acting as an ancillary judge for Davis) denied the TRO on November 29 without explanation.

Hidalgo then filed a Plea to the Jurisdiction on December 13. In it, she pled that:

  • Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the claims
  • She enjoyed sovereign (governmental) immunity
  • Plaintiffs did not plead a constitutionally valid claim
  • She was acting within her powers.

Yesterday, December 22, 2021, Judge Dedra Davis of the 270th District Court upheld Hidalgo’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the lawsuit.

Judge Davis, who was supported in her election bid by Rodney Ellis, a key player in this drama, did not recuse herself. Nor did she cite any reasons for dismissing the case in her terse ruling.

Rodney Ellis and Judge Dedra Davis
Rodney Ellis and Judge Dedra Davis during her election bid.

Stage Set for Appeal

A spokesperson for Commissioner Jack Cagle’s office responded that the plaintiffs intend to file an appeal. However, because of the holidays, no other details were immediately available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/23/2021

1577 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Will Redistricting Affect Flood-Mitigation Priorities?

The recent redistricting of Harris County precincts could not have been more disruptive. More than half the county’s residents changed both precincts and commissioners. Can you say, “Tossed Salad”? It will take some time to work this out. In the meantime, “Many are asking how will new precinct boundaries affect flood-mitigation priorities?”

We’ve already seen how Commissioner Adrian Garcia tried to divert flood bond money from an area he was giving up in the redistricting process to one he was inheriting. That got voted down, but…

Priorities Already Altered Multiple Times in Past

We’ve also seen how Democrats re-ordered flood-bond priorities in 2019, shifted money from other budgets to accelerate projects in poor watersheds, and are suggesting another flood bond with new priorities based on so-called racial equity.

Officially, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) does not allocate flood-bond mitigation money by precinct. They allocate it by watershed and project – with the most money going to the most heavily flood-damaged areas.

But those who watch Commissioners Court regularly know that Commissioners control HCFCD priorities, and no project moves forward without their approval.

Lake Houston Dam Example

All this raises the question, “How will the re-alignment of Commissioner’s precincts re-align flood-mitigation priorities?”

For instance, the Lake Houston Dam was half in Precinct 1 and half in Precinct 2 both controlled by Democrats. But P2 Commissioner Garcia has given that area up. The east side of the dam will now be in Precinct 3 now controlled by Republican Tom Ramsey. Ramsey will now also control virtually all the homes around the lake with the exception of a small area in Summerwood. The flood bond allocated $20 million to help support expansion of the flood gates on Lake Houston (Project CI-028). How solid is that commitment now that Democrats have given up most of the area?

Across the county, from Cypress Creek to Armand Bayou, people have dozens of questions like that about projects affecting them. The answers will take time to sort out.

New High-Resolution Precinct Maps Finally Available

Until a few days ago, the lack of resolution and streets in redistricting maps made it difficult to tell exactly where the new precinct boundaries were.

But just last week, the Harris County Attorney posted a new high-resolution map showing new boundaries. The map also shows major streets and voting precincts (in addition to the county precincts).

The biggest changes happened on the north side of the County where Commissioner Adrian Garcia staged a strategic retreat from Republican voters to bolster his re-election chances. Also, Precincts 3 and 4 switched positions. P3 formerly on the west side of the county is now on the north and east sides. And Precinct 4, formerly on the north and east sides is now mostly on the west and north sides.

The plan, designed and approved by Democrats, will force Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey to run for re-election in areas where they are relatively little known – unless they want to move their residences. Commissioner Rodney Ellis carefully drew district boundaries so that Cagle and Ramsey would no longer live in precincts they once represented. And by law, Commissioners must live in the precinct they represent.

Ramsey and Cagle will now have whole new watersheds to learn.

Watershed Boundaries Not Yet Shown on New Precinct Map

Unfortunately, the new high-res precinct map does not show watershed boundaries, although it shouldn’t be hard to create one – for someone with better Photoshop skills than mine!

At the moment, to see how your watershed could be affected, compare two maps side by side.

The latter shows watershed boundaries if you click on the Watershed button in the left-hand column.

Most of the Lake Houston Area including Huffman, Kingwood, Humble (east of Bush Intercontinental Airport), Atascocita, Crosby and Spring will now be in Precinct 3 with Commissioner Tom Ramsey.

New Precincts adopted by Harris County Commissioners Court in 2021. Click link for high res map.

To learn more about redistricting and your new commissioner, visit the landing pages for Harris County Precinct 3 or Harris County Precinct 4.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/15/2021

1539 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Democrats Approve Modified Ellis Redistricting Plan Along Party Lines

In a straight party-line vote, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia approved a modified version of a plan presented weeks ago by Ellis. It contained an even bigger surprise than in Ellis’ original plan. And it takes gerrymandering to a whole new personal level that really strikes home.

The Old Switcheroo

The plan approved on 10/28/2021 creates two safe, predominantly Democratic precincts for Ellis and Garcia while forcing Republicans Cagle and Ramsey to run in each other’s precincts where they are relatively unknown. That will mean Republicans will have to raise and spend more money to compensate for low awareness.

Ellis’ modified plan was posted just hours before today’s special meeting on redistricting. So the public did not really have a chance to review and discuss it. However, that didn’t stop Ellis from bragging about how open and transparent the redistricting process has been.

Clever Gerrymandering of Commissioners’ Homes

County law specifies that precinct commissioners must live in the precincts they represent. Currently Ramsey lives in and represents Precinct 3; Cagle lives in and represents Precinct 4. So Ellis carefully gerrymandered the boundaries of the new Precinct 3 to include Cagle’s home and the new Precinct 4 to include Ramsey’s.

That means both Republicans would have to move their homes in order to represent their current districts.

Hidalgo Calls It Payback for Not Raising Taxes

Judge Lina Hidalgo supported the last minute entry in the redistricting sweepstakes. When Cagle questioned why, she said it was payback for Republican’s walking out and blocking a tax increase earlier this year. A tax increase must be approved by a 4-1 supermajority. So when Cagle and Ramsey walked out of the meeting, Democrats did not have the votes they needed.

The map below will now define the new precinct boundaries. The other major change: Garcia’s Precinct 2 loses the heavily Republican far northeast portion of the county. That will shore up his re-election chances. Last time, he won by just 2,000 votes and his seat was widely regarded as the most vulnerable in this election, given the old precinct boundaries.

The redistricting map adopted today by Harris County. Lines represent old boundaries. Colors represent new boundaries. Ellis switched the numbers 3 and 4.

What This Will Mean

Unless Republicans can win both Precincts 3 and 4, Democrats will have a supermajority after the next election. That would basically give Democrats the power to raise taxes at will. It would also let them override the will of voters. For instance, they could shift flood-bond money between watersheds and cancel flood-bond projects, as they tried to do last Tuesday.

Cities and counties without healthy checks and balances can devolve into blatant political corruption. The next election could determine the tenor of politics in Harris County for decades to come.

The next Harris County election will be the primary in May.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/28/2021

1521 Days after Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Ellis Wants You To Address Commissioner’s Court on Redistricting

After 100 people objected to Commissioner Rodney Ellis redistricting plan at last Thursday’s Commissioner’s Court, the following day he placed item #336 on the Emergency Agenda for this Tuesday’s meeting.

The item says, “Request by the Commissioner of Precinct 1 to receive public input regarding Harris County Commissioners Court redistricting plans, and consider and possibly adopt an order approving a new district/precinct plan for Harris County Commissioners Court, including any amendments thereto.”

An Invitation from Rodney Ellis to You

So it should come as no surprise that Mr. Ellis sent out the following message today. I’m reprinting it verbatim below and will add a few observations at the end.

But the important thing is that Mr. Ellis wants you to sign up to comment during Commissioner’s Court on his plan, so the world can hear what you think of it.

Ellis’ Letter

Dear Friends,

Every decade, after each U.S. census, states, cities and counties engage in a process called redistricting, where they adjust the boundaries of their governing districts to reflect changes in population growth and other factors.

For the last six weeks, Harris County has held public meetings across the county to hear your thoughts. 

Based on what we learned, and in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, we’re proposing new boundaries for county commissioner districts that are reflected in the map posted here [his]. Our plan seeks to keep communities of interest together and brings together areas that have been split apart for years.

For too long this county has been intentionally divided by precinct boundaries that deny people the opportunity to elect representation that accurately reflects the views of the majority of our communities. 

“The boundaries proposed cease that continued suppression, and allows (sic) the voices and views of the people to be reflected by those who represent them.”

Rodney Ellis

In Harris County, we’re committed to a fair and transparent process. That’s why we held public meetings across the county and why we are taking public comment now on the proposed maps.

You will hear some of my colleagues complain – and complain loudly. Sadly, they are more concerned about preserving their political power and getting headlines than they are about getting better representation for you. 

You can provide YOUR feedback on the proposed maps in person or virtually. Public hearings on the adoption of a redistricting map in Harris County will be held on Tuesday, October 26 and Thursday, October 28. You MUST complete this form in order to testify.

For questions or assistance with the Appearance Request Form, please contact CommissionersCourt@hctx.net or 713-274-1111. If you cannot attend, you can still let your voice be heard by submitting your written comments to CommissionersCourt@hctx.net.

Redistricting will impact the direction of this county for years to come. We will continue to fight for you to have the fair representation that everyone in Harris County deserves.

For more information on the Harris County redistricting process, you can visit the Harris County Attorney Office’s redistricting page.


Rodney Ellis

Rehak Comments

I have five comments.

  1. Denies representation? How does he think Adrian Garcia, Lina Hidalgo and he got elected?
  2. Communities of interest intentionally divided? A third of the comments last week must have pointed that out as a flaw in HIS map.
  3. The boundaries in Ellis’ map would cease suppression? During the last presidential campaign Harris County voted 55.9% Democrat and 42.7% Republican. Democrats currently hold 60% of the voting power on Commissioners Court and Ellis’ map would make that 80%. And in the last meeting, Ellis asked to see a map with 100% Democratic precincts! With 80% of the vote, Democrats would have a super-majority and could raise taxes without Republican consent.
  4. Allows voices and views of people to be reflected by those who represent them? Let’s hear from the people of Cedar Bayou about how they like Adrian Garcia trying to shift $191 million of flood bond money to another area – immediately before redistricting.
  5. Fair and transparent process? Why don’t we know where Garcia wants to shift the money? The vote on that is tomorrow, right before they take up redistricting!

Please sign up to talk Tuesday. If you can’t, please email CommissionersCourt@hctx.net.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/25/2021

1518 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

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

1515 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Redistricting Countdown: What You Can Do to Help Stop Partisan Gerrymandering

Below, is a message about gerrymandering reprinted verbatim from Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. It discusses a redistricting proposal that will be considered in a special meeting of Commissioner’s Court tomorrow afternoon at 4 PM. In addition to the issues I discussed yesterday, it addresses:

  • Creation of a supermajority as it relates to…
  • The ability to push through tax increases
  • Responsiveness to citizen requests
  • Potential loss of services and programs in Precinct 4
  • What you can do to help prevent partisan gerrymandering

But first, here are three maps:

  • Current boundaries
  • Areas that lean Republican or Democratic
  • Proposed new precinct boundaries

Together they show how gerrymandering will increase partisan advantage.

Current Precinct Map for Harris County, TX
Lines indicate present precinct boundaries. Red = Precincts voting predominantly Republican; Blue = Precincts voting predominantly Democratic.
Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan
Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan. Lines represent old boundaries. Colors represent new boundaries.

Mentally overlay political preferences in Map 2 and the the colored precinct of proposed precincts in Map 3. You can see how Ellis’ proposed redistricting plan would create three predominantly Democratic-leaning precincts by gerrymandering. It would also create one huge Republican-leaning precinct. Currently, we have an even split. With that, here’s a…

Message from Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle

With redistricting season in full swing, the full weight of ugly partisan gerrymandering has now descended upon Harris County. County Commissioner Rodney Ellis has proposed a redistricting map that is frankly absurd. 

This map [#3 above] attempts to wedge as many residents of unincorporated Harris County as possible into our precinct – Precinct 4. The rest of those residents, including many of you, would be spread out among the three other precincts, weakening your voting strength and your representation.

This proposed map is a bizarre jigsaw puzzle that looks like a crooked table. It leaves Precinct 4 stretching from Baytown over the top of Houston into Katy without even touching the county’s core. At present, Precinct 4 borders only one county. Under this proposal, it would border FIVE. Commissioner Tom Ramsey’s precinct area would be shrunk to nearly half its current size.

What does all this mean for you?

  1. It may mean higher property taxes. If the court majority is successful in passing this plan, they may achieve a new 4-1 supermajority that would allow them the votes needed to pass the tax increases twice denied them when I joined with commissioners Ramsey and Steve Radack to deny them the necessary quorum.
  2. For some of you, it will mean being redistricted into a new precinct, thus losing the representation and responsiveness you’ve come to expect from Precinct 4.
  3. Fewer services and programs. With one precinct responsible for the vast majority of unincorporated Harris County’s roads and parks, but provided with only one-fourth the funding, the precinct may have to make some difficult choices about which services to provide. Unincorporated residents clearly face being underserved.
  4. It could also mean the court’s new supermajority would be able to deny Precinct 4 the future funding needed to pay for the transportation and other needs such a vast precinct would require.

Citizens across our entire country have been extremely vocal about their opposition to overtly partisan gerrymandering, but this map ignores those voices. In fact, in a hasty attempt to force this plan through as quickly and quietly as possible, the court majority has scheduled a hasty public hearing for Thursday, and they may force a vote on the issue at Commissioners Court as early as next week.

I am urging you to review this proposal and make your voices heard on this crucial issue. If you wish to express your opinion, you may contact my office at 832-927-4444 or at cadir@hcp4.net. You may also reach out to:

You may also register to speak in person or virtually at the specially called meeting of Commissioners Court at 4 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 21.

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle

The meeting will be on the ninth floor of the Harris County Administration Building at 1001 Preston in downtown Houston. If you wish to speak to the court on this issue or to watch the proceedings live online, please go to: https://www.hcp4.net/appearances/.


R. Jack Cagle

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/20/21

1513 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Commissioners Will Hold Special Meeting on Redistricting Thursday

There are political changes afoot that could radically affect county services including flood-mitigation, just as the equity prioritization framework did. Perhaps the most important meeting of Harris County Commissioners Court in a decade will take place during rush hour on Thursday afternoon when few people can watch. With only three days of public notice, commissioners will consider redistricting proposals, including one by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis dubbed the “Ellis Plan.” The changes could be profound, long-lasting and far-reaching.

The Ellis Plan being put forward by Democrats would massively shift precinct boundaries to create another Democratic precinct. Democrats now hold a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. That means Ellis’ plan will likely be adopted and create a 4-1 majority.

The plan could also herald massive shifts in county spending, including infrastructure, flood control, community services and more.

Inner city neighborhoods would likely benefit at the expense of outlying unincorporated areas that make up the county’s primary service area. Municipalities, such as the City of Houston are supposed to take care of their own infrastructure and services.

Changes Recommended by Ellis and Democrats

Ellis’ Plan would increase the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court. Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia barely won a hotly contested election last time by only 4,000 votes and is up for re-election next year. Republicans considered his seat the most vulnerable to recapture.

But Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis who won election by a wide margin last time appears to be “giving” part of his surplus to Garcia to shore up Garcia’s re-election chances.

The Ellis Plan also shrinks Republican Tom Ramsey’s Precinct 3 to leave him largely with Democratic voters. The rest of Ramsey’s precinct would go to Republican Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4, which would approximately double in size – and go deeper red – but leave Republicans with one less seat on Commissioners Court.

Thus, even if Judge Lina Hidalgo loses her next election, Democrats would still likely command a majority of Commissioners Court.

This is “packing and cracking” in practice – two time-tested gerrymandering techniques designed to amplify partisan advantage.

Current and Proposed Maps

Here is the current map.

Current precinct boundaries

Below is Ellis’ proposed map.

Black lines show existing precinct boundaries; colors show proposed boundaries. Only commissioners get to vote on the plan, not ordinary citizens.

Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, if you live in the Precinct 4 that Ellis has redrawn, you will be penalized. Developers and homebuilders in outlying areas will also suffer.

That’s because earlier this year, Commissioners Court voted unanimously to distribute Road and Bridge funds equally to each precinct. But if Precinct 4 virtually doubles in geographic size – as it apparently will – that leaves Commissioner Cagle with half the dollars per square mile…in the fastest developing parts of the county.

Cutting Humble in Half

The Ellis Plan would also cut the City of Humble in half. That would make it harder for Humble to coordinate its drainage efforts with the county because Humble would have to work with two county commissioners, not just one. It would also give Cagle responsibility for the flood-prone areas near the San Jacinto River while Ellis would take areas on higher ground that need fewer drainage dollars.

Reaction by Garcia Challenger

John Manlove, former mayor of Pasadena, who has already announced a run against Garcia in Precinct 2, believes that the proposed redistricting loses sight of the county’s core mission – to provide services and infrastructure in unincorporated areas.

Said Manlove, “Under the proposed redistricting plan, Commissioner Cagle’s equal share of the Road and Bridge Fund would have to cover twice as much territory. Cagle’s constituents would, in essence, be underfunded, while those in other precincts would be overfunded relative to Precinct 4.”

It is not yet clear whether the Ellis plan meets constitutional requirements. Nor is it clear whether any of the plans under consideration would survive a legal challenge. Detail in the published maps is insufficient to tell. Nor does the surprise meeting give the public sufficient time to absorb and analyze impacts of the proposed changes.

For More Information

To learn more about the redistricting plans and process, visit the Harris County Attorney’s website.

To review census and voting data compiled for Harris County Commissioner’s Court, click here.

To Attend/View Meeting or Make Public Comment

Members of the public may attend, participate and/or address Commissioners Court in-person or online.

Those who attend the meeting in-person may make comments by signing up to speak in the Commissioners Courtroom before 4 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, 2021, when the meeting begins.

Those who attend virtually may comment by signing up to speak no later than 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, 2021, at https://appearancerequest.harriscountytx.gov/.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/18/2021

1511 Days since Hurricane Harvey