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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Voters show up to study Precinct One map, support Commissioner Davis
Wednesday, July 6, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano
Voters from Travis County’s Precinct One packed the newly-opened Richard E. Scott building in East Austin to support Commissioner Ron Davis, and review proposed redistricting maps last week.
Each of the county’s Commissioners have held meetings to discuss redistricting with their precincts. The Precinct One meeting on Thursday was the most heavily attended by far, with people such as NAACP President Nelson Linder, Webberville Mayor Hector Gonzales, and fellow Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt in attendance.
The newly-drawn Precinct One will most likely include Pflugerville, a place where many former East Austin African-American community members have moved in recent years. But the tone of the crowd was dissatisfied with the new districts, most vocally about the proposed exclusion of voting districts 101 and 106.
George Korbel, a San Antonio attorney who has been hired by the county as a consultant, made the point early on in the meeting that “redistricting isn’t only logical sense, there are sometimes real feelings in geography.” This certainly is the case with voting precincts 101 and 106, which have lost black population in recent years, but remain historically significant to Austin’s African American Community.
“There were blacks, free blacks, living in that area prior to Austin even being incorporated as a city. Some of my ancestors were those people,” said Precinct One resident Eleanor Thompson. “I am very concerned, from a historical point, that we keep that, and for the historical significance of that area, that we keep it together in what is really perceived as the precinct that African-Americans can be elected in.”
Though not included among the officially released maps, political consultant Alfred Stanley presented maps that he had drawn, both of which included 101 and 106 in Precinct One. He explained to the crowd that he drew the maps as a response to the released maps, not at the behest of Davis. Of the options presented at the meeting, Stanley’s maps were most popular with the crowd.
“I prefer the Stanley map… I like what I saw, just like everybody else,” Davis told In Fact Daily, who declined further comment on the matter and instead encouraged his constituents to show up on the July 12 meeting of the Commissioner’s Court. “I’ll let the people do my talking. Mr. Davis doesn’t talk much these days,” said Davis.
Indeed, there was enthusiastic support for the “Stanley Maps,” from almost all in attendance.
Dr. Charles Graham, a rancher who has lived in District 106 since 1957 made his opinion of Davis, and the redistricting options clear, “He has been absolutely one of the finest commissioners that God has ever put on earth. And Ray Charles would know that map two (of the Stanley Maps) would be the best map for us.”
Many in attendance bristled at the notion of working so hard to factor race into precincts in the first place, calling it segregation at worst, unnecessary at best.
“People are empowered by working with each other here in Travis County,” said Stanley. “And if that’s true of Travis County as a whole, more or less, it is tremendously true of Precinct One. In Ron’s reelection in 2004, we saw strong support from Anglos, Hispanics, African-Americans coming together to make their choice… People in Travis County come together, and that phenomenon is most common in Precinct One, because this is the most diverse area of Travis County.”
Though the redistricting process focuses heavily on maintaining consistent racial distributions, allowances can be made for historically significant areas.
“I think, at the end of the day, we all have to collaborate on a map that’s fair. Everybody’s got to give to get and get to give, so we’ll keep working on it,” said Eckhardt, to In Fact Daily.
The meeting was Eckhardt’s first exposure to the Stanley maps, and required a closer look by the commissioner, who commented on the work that has already gone into the officially released maps.
“A lot of things have already been worked out that were very contentious. Like Pflugerville, for instance, I’m giving up my other entire municipality was kind of a big …deal, but, like I said it’s to save the larger cause. I’m not pitching a fit about it,” said Eckhardt. “I’m being a team player about it, and that’s all that I will say.”
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