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Second Council district map emerges as critics pan ICRC’s first effort

Thursday, October 24, 2013 by Michael Kanin

A preliminary map drawn by the members of Austin‘s charter election-born Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is now not the only proposed single-member district Council outline drawing criticism. A map dubbed by its architects as a “Compact District Map” emerged over the past week and quickly drew fire from the group behind the election-day passage of both the geographically-based new Council and the commission tasked with creating it.


In an email blast to its supporters, Austinites for Geographic Representation, slammed the compact map and those its members think are the compact map’s creators. “There appears to be an effort by political consultant, David Butts, who feverishly worked to defeat 10-1, to push through district maps favorable to his self-interest,” it reads. “In typical Butts arrogance, we are being told that he is doing this while recruiting candidates to run in those districts.”


The email, signed by Peck Young and Linda Curtis, urges 10-1 partisans to show up at Saturday’s meeting of the ICRC to “tell (that body) how you feel about folks who are attempting to undermine fair and equal districts in Austin,” the email continues.


In a Wednesday interview with In Fact Daily, Butts adamantly denied involvement in drawing the maps, saying that Lorraine Atherton was the author. “I had nothing to do with it. ANC (Austin Neighborhoods Council) asked me to tell them what I thought of it and that’s the extent of my involvement,” he said. Atherton lives in the Zilker Neighborhood and is a member of ANC.


In addition, Butts said he has not tried to recruit any candidates.


Butts and AGR’s Young have an extended personal political history as consultants sometimes representing opposing candidates. Young is no longer a paid consultant but has volunteered his time to AGR. He is Director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College.


Asked his opinion of the current ICRC map, Butts opined that it is good for far South and Southwest Austin but “awful” for near South, Central, North and West Austin. “But as far as being involved in” drawing the compact map, “it’s just fiction,” he continued.


Butts added that believes AGR made the accusation to get their supporters stirred up so they will be more likely to attend ICRC hearings.


One of the Atherton map’s major features is a split of ICRC’s proposed District 9,  which extends from South Austin north through the city’s core and slightly east to include the Mueller development. Under the Atherton proposal, the central district would be split at Lady Bird Lake.


Near South Austin advocates have been deeply critical of the ICRC map’s drawing of the central district. In an email to In Fact Daily, newly elected Barton Hill’s Neighborhood Association President Tom Nuckols made two points about the ICRC map. “First, Austin’s population is about 40 percent south of the river and about 60 percent north of the river, so it’s logical to have six districts located mostly north of the river and four districts located mostly south of the river,” he wrote. The compact map does just that. “However, ICRC’s preliminary is problematic because it squeezes 4.5 districts south of the river and 5.5 districts north of the river. The district with large populations both north and south of the river is ICRC #9.”


As for the second point, Nuckols wrote that, “because of the demographics, it’s generally recognized that there must be two Hispanic districts south of the river. These are #2 and #3 on both the ICRC preliminary and the (Compact) map. However, you’ll note the big difference between the ICRC preliminary and (this) map is that the latter creates the two Hispanic districts south of the river, but has only two other additional districts south of the river, (compact) #5 and #8. In contrast, the ICRC preliminary creates two Hispanic districts south of the river, but then tries to also squeeze in three other districts south of the river; to wit, ICRC #8, #9, and #5.”


Nuckols also offered this comment about another of the ICRC’s districts. “I’m a political science major,” he wrote. “When I first saw ICRC #7 my immediate reaction was ‘it looks like the original gerrymander.’”


Atherton’s map also attempts to remedy the District 7 problem by decoupling North Austin from Central West Austin.

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