Commissioners hear update on federal, state, county redistricting
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Texas Legislature has begun the redistricting process for United States Congressional Districts, State Representative Districts and State Senate Districts and released initial draft maps showing the newly proposed districts last week.
Coryell County is currently in U.S. Congressional District 25, with Rep. Roger Williams as the representative.
District 25 currently extends from south of Fort Worth down to south and west of Austin, encompassing Johnson County, Hill County, Bosque County, Somervell County, part of Erath County, Hamilton County, Coryell County, a small part of Bell County, Lampasas County, Burnet County, part of Travis County, and part of Hays County.
At the State Level, Coryell County is currently part of Senate District 24, with State Sen. Dawn Buckingham as the state senator, and House District 59, with State Rep. Shelby Slawson as the state representative.
Under the draft map released this past week, Coryell County would be absorbed into U.S. Congressional District 31, joining Bell County, Burnet County, Hamilton County, Williamson County and Bosque County, under Rep. John Carter.
A chunk of Bell County, including nearly all of Killeen and a portion Harker Heights, would fall under U.S. Congressional District 11, which would also include Lampasas County and would extend into west Texas, stopping at Ector County, just one county from the Texas-New Mexico border.
The proposed State Representative District map shows Coryell County remaining in District 59, which has been revamped to encompass Coryell County, Hamilton County, Erath County and Hood County, under Rep. Slawson.
The proposed State Senate District map shows Coryell County remaining in State Senate District 24, with Bell County, Lampasas County, Burnet County, Llano County, Gillespie County, Kerr County, Bandera County, Medina County and part of Atascosa County. The changes for District 24 include the loss of Hamilton County, Comanche County, Mills County, San Saba County, Brown County, Callahan County and part of Taylor County. Sen. Buckingham is not running for re-election due to choosing to run for Land Commissioner instead, so it is undecided currently who will be representing this district.
Coryell County is also part of State Board of Education District 14 currently. Under the proposed map, Coryell County would remain in District 14, but the district would lose Lampasas County to District 10, with Bell County.
The draft maps have been approved out of both the House and Senate Committees and then headed to their respective chambers for a vote. The Texas Senate approved the map on Monday evening and then sent the maps to the House for approval. After the House is done with the maps, they will make their way to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law. These maps can be found by visiting https://redistricting.capitol.texas.gov/.
Commissioners discuss county precinct redistricting
As the Texas Legislature focuses on the redistricting statewide, the counties must focus on their own redistricting efforts regarding the precincts.
The Coryell County Commissioners heard from Mike Morrison, a professor of Law at Baylor University who has represented the Texas Secretary of State’s office during the statewide redistricting litigation, and was hired by the Lt. Governor of Texas to serve as Legal Advisor to the Senate Jurisprudence Committee in preparing and conducting Congressional Redistricting during three special legislative sessions from July through October 2003, again in 2011 and by the Texas House Redistricting committee in 2013.
Morrison explained the “rules of redistricting” and that the “prime directive” of redistricting is to balance the population. Redistricting must avoid plans that result in both over representation and under representation.
Coryell County is currently divided into four precincts for Justices of the Peace, Constables and County Commissioners. Copperas Cove is currently in Precincts 1 and 2, with a majority of the east side of Cove represented by Precinct 2 and the west side represented by Precinct 1, for both Commissioners and Constables.
Kyle Matthews is the Commissioner for Precinct 1, while Daren Moore is the Commissioner for Precinct 2. Guy Beveridge and Shawn Camp are the Constables for Precinct 1 and 2, while John Guinn and Bill Price are the Justices of the Peace for the Precinct 1 and Precinct 2.
Morrison explained what “cracking” and “packing” are in relation to redistricting. If Coryell County had a large concentration of minority residents that could control a Commissioners’ precinct, and the county split it in half to make it so that minority concentration could no longer control, effectively diluting that group’s vote, that is defined as “cracking.” If there was a concentration of a population spread enough to control two but the county changes it to only have one Commissioner, that would be called “packing”. Both are in violation of the Voting Rights Act, Morrison said.
“I don’t see either as a possibility in Coryell County, just based upon the population distribution,” Morrison added. “That hasn’t been in the past and I don’t see it as one now.”
Morrison also mentioned that redistricting efforts should consider protecting the core of existing precincts and protecting incumbencies.
“Both of those sound a lot like we’re here to protect you, and that’s not what they mean. For keeping and pairing two commissioners or two J.P.s or two constables in the same precinct, that has nothing to do with you guys,” Morrison told the Commissioners. “It’s to protect the choices of the people who sent you here. There are people in this county that chose you to represent them. If we pair two of you in this process, we’re denying some of those people the right to be represented by the person they chose.”
Morrison shared some data and proposed ideas for changing the precinct lines with the Commissioners.
If the prison population is factored in, Coryell County has a total population of 83,093 and a racial makeup of 55.62 percent white, 14.15 percent black, 10.4 percent other, 19.84 percent Hispanic and a total minority population of 44.38 percent.
Without the prison population, Coryell County has 75,690 people and a racial makeup of 56.86 percent white, 12.66 percent black, 11.34 percent other, 19.13 percent Hispanic and a total minority population of 43.14 percent.
Precinct 1 has a total population of 21,364. Precinct 2 has a total population of 16,611. Precinct 3 has a total population of 19,938, and Precinct 4 has a total population of 17,777.
The plan that Morrison proposed would shift the population of each precinct to be closer to the ideal number of 18,922.5.
His proposed plan shifted people around the different precincts so that Precinct 1 would have 19,221 people; Precinct 2 would have 18,651 people; Precinct 3 would have 18,534 people; and Precinct 4 would have 19,284 people.
Morrison asked for the Commissioners to study his proposed plan and provide feedback later and said he could even provide more sample maps.
The commissioners also discussed whether it would be wise to intentionally under-populate a specific area to account for population growth, such as in the areas of Copperas Cove that are seeing new subdivisions go up.
County Judge Roger Miller said that he would have never thought Coryell County would be over 80,000 in gross population.
“Even with this plan, Precinct 1 is still at that upper end,” Miller said.
“Well, it’s a good place to live,” joked Commissioner Kyle Matthews. “But I beg to differ on the subdivision or the properties that are being divided. I think you’ll find more growth population wise and like in the Oglesby area where those properties are being developed by homebuilders. You’re talking 85 to 100 homes that are popping up, where in Precinct 1, Harmon Road, some other places out there, the property is being subdivided, but it’s not being subdivided by a builder. Therefore, yes, people are purchasing property but the likelihood of a home popping up right away is less likely than a homebuilder to do.”
Morrison said it was not his advice that the commissioners have a committee to review the plans at this time due to a time pressure from assuming the state will have their plans done in time for the May primary, which would require the election be called by December of this year. An advisory committee would add three to four weeks to the timeline.
He said that the court could however identify a handful of people per precinct to attend a meeting with Morrison and the commissioners to provide feedback in a timely manner.
Morrison said that final changes that the Commissioners decided on wouldn’t go into effect until 2022.
Miller later proposed, and the commissioners agreed, that the commissioners come back for a workshop scheduled for next Tuesday afternoon around 1:30 p.m. to continue discussing the proposed plan and changes to the precincts.