Fort Bend County Pct. 1 Commissioner Vincent Morales and Harris County Pct. 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle discussed the effects of recent redistricting on their representative counties at a Dec. 16 meeting hosted by the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce.
Fort Bend County Pct 1. Commissioner 1 Vincent Morales and Harris County Pct.4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle discussed the effects of recent redistricting on their respective counties at a Dec. 16 meeting hosted by the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The city of Rosenberg now has three commissioners representing it, where it had one. The county seat is no longer in precinct one (but) that’s always been from the beginning of the county’s existence,” Morales said regarding Fort Bend’s new map which goes into effect on Jan. 1.
On the other side of the Harris-Fort Bend border, Cagle said he and fellow Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey are suing Harris County after their precincts were effectively switched during the redistricting process. The basis of the lawsuit, he said, is that the redistricting effectively disenfranchise more than a million voters who should have had the opportunity to vote for a new commissioner but won’t after the new map was adopted.
To facilitate ongoing operations while the lawsuit against the county is considered, Cagle said Ramsey had coined the term “Precinct 7” wherein the two commissioners’ staffs are working together to assist constituents as seamlessly as possible. He added that his office’s Community Assistance Department, which can be reached at 832-927-4444, was working to support residents of both precincts.
Cagle said the map, which to a large extent switch the regions he and Ramsey are responsible for, was adopted at least in part to make it more challenging for him and Ramsey to get reelected. Additionally, it places their historical office locations in the other commissioner’s territory, further complicating what he felt was gerrymandering at the county level.
While changes are necessary to balance precinct populations after each decennial U.S. Census, Cagle said the Democrats on the court had intended the change to “greenfield” him out of office. He explained that greenfielding is a process in which someone who has established good performance in one political region is changed to another they are not established in, like a farmer moving his operation from a worked field to a field that has lain fallow.
Cagle said the partisan effort by the county’s Democratic commissioners and County Judge Lina Hidalgo was politically motivated and intentional.
Just before the vote adopting the map, Hidalgo had told Ramsey and Cagle, “I think, despite your concerns, that ‘Ellis Three’ is the better map, because I am concerned that your party is on a race to the bottom to literally not be able to pay for lifesaving services when you’re rejecting a tax cut – Cut! – so that you can defund the hospital district by $17 million in the middle of a pandemic.”
Ellis Three was the third map submitted by Harris County Pct. 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and was approved by the court in a partisan vote.
Cagle said the change was similar to the film “Freaky Friday” in the abruptness of the switch.
“That happened to Commissioner Tom Ramsey and I,” Cagle said. “We were in commissioners court on Thursday, there was this map that had gone out the day before, and then – boom – the next day, that night, Judge Hidalgo signed the order, and the next day, we were in each other’s body.”
Next steps in the lawsuit include a hearing held on Dec. 17 and follow-up court dates that Cagle, an attorney and former judge, said he expects will eventually make it to the Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court.
New maps adopted by the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court on Nov. 5 in a 3-2 vote along party lines removed Katy, Fulshear and the majority of Cinco Ranch from the county’s third precinct and placed them in precinct one. To a degree, that switched the regions Morales and Pct. 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers represent on the court, Morales said.
“I will tell you that there’s a lot of folks that, based on my track record, they’re sad that they’re losing the commissioner that they voted for,” Morales said. “And I will tell you that 80% of the constituents who voted for the commissioner of their choice have been displaced.”
Morales said one of the biggest impacts in the county has been the switching of constables’ regions and justices of the peace. JP One, Place One and Place Two will be switched to the new Precinct One, Morales said, which will remove Judge Kelly Crow from Precinct three. Morales said the Cinco Ranch area will still be within Constable Chad Norvell’s patrol area, though other constables in the county will have new regions to learn.
Office moves and other changes such as signage at parks and other county assets will be expensive after the redistricting, Morales said.
“So far, commissioner’s court had to approve $100,000 just for the initial relocation of offices, rebranding, stationary, etcetera,” Morales said. “We’re not done. … I predict that we will probably be in the neighborhood – by the time we have to do all the build-out for (offices), buy the time we have to finish up modifying other offices, I would venture to say we’ll probably get close to the million and a half mark, is what it’s costing us as taxpayers.”
Morales said he and fellow Republican commissioner Andy Meyers were not going to sue the county over the redistricting at this time, though his comments did not rule it out. He added that he is still committed to serving the county.
“We feel like we’re here to serve. We’re going to serve you all. We’re here to serve Fort Bend County and we’re just doing our job right now,” Morales said at the close of his speech.
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