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Travis Commissioners begin horse trading over new redistricting maps

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Let the horse trading begin.

 

The Travis County Commissioners Court waded into their redistricting process on Tuesday. Though court members made a point of not approving any of the maps they saw, two important changes were immediately apparent.

 

Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt appears set to lose Pflugerville and gain a handful of heavily Republican boxes from Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber’s jurisdiction. On top of that delicate situation, the court will have to find a way to add 10,000 voters to Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez’ electorate.

 

Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis – who stands to lose sections of his jurisdiction to Gomez as he gains Pflugerville from Eckhardt – drew a line at two precincts in the eastern portion of his jurisdiction. “(That area) has a significant black population – that’s Austin Colony and all those other folks,” he said. “If you really look at it, there are lots of black folks that reside (there).”

 

County redistricting consultant George Korbel presented the court with three potential maps. Each variation of the commissioners’ new districts contained a handful of variations. However, the general theme of Korbel’s work featured the same basic changes.

 

According to figures provided by Korbel, each of Travis’ four commissioners’ precincts is currently short in population with the exception of Huber’s Precinct 3. However, Gomez’ Precinct 4 is the only district that is under populated significantly enough to need some sort of correction.

 

Precinct 1 is shy of nearly 12,000 voters, Precinct 2 is light by roughly 5,700, and Precinct 4 lacks 26,144. Meanwhile, Pct. 3 is heavy by over 43,000 voters. Korbel’s figures put the ideal Travis district at just over 256,000.

 

The figures are based on data collected from the 2010 census.

 

Much concern seems to be placed on preserving African-American votes in Precinct 1. The current composition of voters in the county shows that only 12 percent of the eligible population in Davis‘ district is African-American. Just over 40 percent of the area is Hispanic. 

 

Davis was particularly worried about the loss of portions of precincts 101 and 106 to Gomez. Precinct 101 holds nearly 11,000 voters, roughly 24 percent of which are African-American. Just over 61 percent of Precinct 101 is Hispanic. Twenty-eight percent of the district has registered to vote.

 

Precinct 106 contains fewer than 4,000 voters, 42 percent of whom are white. The African-American population of the district is only 7 percent, while just under half of the population is Hispanic. Roughly 18 percent of the district is registered to vote.

 

Discussions became heated as Eckhardt challenged Davis‘ hard stance. “We all have to give a little to get a little,” she said.

 

Eckhardt was also concerned about one of the variations of the districts that she might pick up. “Those are fairly painful for me from a purely political standpoint,” she said. “Those are some seriously Republican boxes.”

 

Korbel tried to smooth things over. “I’ve represented a lot of people in a lot of redistricting and I’ve drawn an awful lot of plans,” he said. “I’ve never had one where everybody didn’t eventually agree.”

 

Davis didn’t bite. “You’ll never get me to agree … I’ll tell you that right now,” he said about the two eastern districts.

 

The maps will be presented to Travis County residents at events beginning next week. Public input will be collected and returned to the court. The eventual redistricting decision remains up to the commissioners, although their decision could be challenged in a lawsuit.

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