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Commissioners approve amended redistricting plan

Tuesday, August 09, 2011
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A controversial new redistricting plan has been approved for Harris County but not without some serious opposition and even a lawsuit. Hispanic community leaders say the new boundaries take away their voice and they're taking the county to court over it.

The hearing Tuesday morning lasted about an hour. It was the fifth and final public hearing on the redistricting issue. The court passed the amended map, which puts two voting precincts on the north edge of Kingwood back in Precinct 4 and moves Precinct 5 voting precincts in the Aldine area from Precinct 1 to Precinct 2.

The map that passed was largely supported by leaders in the black community but several Hispanic leaders who spoke out Tuesday are supporting a different map that would drastically re-draw the precincts. The plan they supported is called the "Guerra-Jara" plan. The bottom line is that these two factions of Harris County's community are thirsty for representation at the county level.

Members of the city's Hispanic community said they felt their voice diminish ever since Commissioner Sylvia Garcia lost her bid for re-election last fall. Now they say they want those maps to provide an opportunity for voters to elect a Hispanic county commissioner -- something they don't feel happened on Tuesday.

As a longtime Precinct 2 resident, Elisa Gonzalez says it frustrates her that no Latinos are on county commissioners court.

"What frustrates me is the fact that we don't have representation," Gonzalez said.

So Gonzalez and a number of other concerned residents went to commissioners court. They pushed for an alternative redistricting map. Gonzalez says that map would dramatically increase Hispanic voting strength but would draw some current commissioners out of their district.

In a map pushed by Latino leaders, Commissioner Jerry Eversole's home would be in Precinct 2, not the precinct he currently represents.

Eversole says the map just doesn't make any sense.

"There's a state law that says I have to live in my district, are you aware of that?" he asked Gonzalez.

"No, sir I'm not, but if that changes things for you, well then so be it," she replied.

But members of the city's African-American community also came out in force. They said they are perfectly happy with the redistricting map that commissioners were voting on because it protects the voting rights of africans americans in Precinct 1.

"I am definitely in support of A-1 revised," redistricting supporter Bruce Austin said.

KTRK political analyst Dr. Richard Murray says redistricting county lines is harder than it was 10 years ago because of the population boom, as well as the shift in where people are living.

"We're seeing a significant division of opinion today. The African-American community is very interesting in preserving Precinct 1, which has been a historic opportunity district for them for 30 years," said Dr. Murray. "Obviously, the Hispanic is much more concerned about the Precinct 2 which for eight years had a Hispanic commissioner now represented by an Anglo. Unfortunately, in politics there are simply disagreements and sometimes these fall along racially ethic lines and you are seeing some of that today."

After hours of discussion, commissioners did pass the redistricting map that they originally presented, which means for the Latino community a lawsuit filed just last week will continue.

"I know the legal team felt it was necessary to continue on with the lawsuit, and I think folks anticipated the county is still going to pass whatever they wanted to pass," Houston City Councilman James Rodriguez said.

Hispanic leaders, which included Rodriguez, just filed a lawsuit last week. It will continue through the court system. Meanwhile, the county's new redistricting map heads to the department of justice for pre-clearance.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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