Although neither Ellis nor county Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) have offered much public comment on the map to represent a population of 4.7 million, some Republicans are crying foul.
“This is the most corrupt plan I’ve ever seen in my 45 years of doing work in Harris County,” Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) said in a fiery interview with radio host Michael Berry this morning.
Ellis proposes to move approximately 500,000 residents out of precinct three; currently a “red” district that elected Ramsey commissioner with more than 52.4 percent of the vote in 2020. Under the Ellis configuration, a progressive candidate will be more likely to win that seat in 2024, giving Democrats a 4 to 1 supermajority on the court.
“With that fourth vote they will now be able to raise your taxes every year to the max,” said Ramsey. “Believe me, had we not shown up this year with a ‘two-by-four,’ otherwise known as you’ve got to have four people there, they would have raised taxes this year, but we of course cut taxes.”
Two years ago, commissioners Steve Radack (R-Pct. 3) and Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) thwarted Hidalgo’s proposed maximum 8 percent allowed tax increase by denying quorum for a commissioners’ court vote. This year the threat of Republicans denying quorum forced the court’s Democrats to compromise and agree to a cut in the total property tax rate.
Four members of the court are also necessary to terminate the county’s elections administrator.
The Ellis map also strengthens Democrat control of Precinct 2, where Adrian Garcia (D) eked out a narrow 1 percent victory in 2018.
Cagle and Ramsey are also warning that the Ellis map would push most of the unincorporated portions of the county into precinct four.
Under the current boundaries, Ramsey’s Precinct 3 maintains approximately 32 percent of the unincorporated areas, and Cagle’s Precinct 4 maintains 42 percent.
Under Ellis’ plan, Precinct 4 will be responsible for approximately 80 percent of the unincorporated areas and include both the most western and most eastern parts of the county which are about 67 miles apart. Ellis’ Precinct 1 will enjoy increased overlap with the City of Houston and city-provided services, while capturing more portions of Humble and Atascocita.
“The objective is to create as much chaos as possible because they cannot stand the fact that precincts three and four function very well,” said Ramsey. “We take care of our roads, we take care of our parks, we address drainage issues, and this drives them crazy.”
Former county Judge Ed Emmett has noted that if the unincorporated portions of Harris County were a city, it would be the second-largest in the state and the fifth most populous in the United States. Without any city governments in these areas, residents depend on the county for services.
After Hidalgo won a surprise victory over Emmett in 2018 however, budget allocations shifted from using need-based funding formulas to dividing funds equally among the four commissioners’ precincts. For example, now instead of allocating road funds according to the total number of county road miles, each precinct gets 25 percent of the total funding for roads.
In response to Ramsey’s criticism of his map, Ellis told FOX 26, “Any maps that I vote for will be fair and designed to provide better representation for all Harris County residents. Has Commissioner Ramsey complained about the radical partisan racially discriminatory gerrymandering his Republican colleagues just rammed through the state legislature?”
Texas Republicans recently adjusted proposed congressional and state House maps to accommodate pleas from Reps Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Houston) and Al Green (D-Houston) and state Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood).
Although Democrats Hidalgo, Ellis, and Garcia have provided little comment on the proposed map, Ramsey and Cagle are urging residents to show up in person for the public hearing scheduled for Thursday, October 21 at 4 p.m.
“If you believe you should have safe, secure, service, if you believe that communities of interest should be kept together, and if you believe that the geographical territory of a precinct should make sense, we ask that you participate and make your voice heard,” Cagle implored in a video message to residents.
In his interview with Berry, Ramsey did not limit his comments to redistricting but brought up ongoing questions about the mysterious African Art collection Ellis arranged to have housed in county-owned property at an estimated cost of more than $280,000 to taxpayers.
“It’s clear to anybody that a criminal activity has occurred, and this is the corrupt politician that now wants to corrupt the entire county and how it functions,” said Ramsey.
Ramsey also warned that there would be coming revelations about Garcia’s activities.
“I am not going to be silent on [Ellis’] artwork, I’m not going to be silent on Adrian Garcia and the schemes he has going on the East side; we going to learn all about that,” Ramsey told Berry.
“This isn’t about Tom Ramsey; this is about taking care of people.”
Both Ramsey and Cagle have proposed alternate maps that they say would provide more adequate representation and balance services for residents in both the incorporated and unincorporated portions of the county. All proposed maps can be viewed online.
Residents must sign up to speak virtually at the public hearing by 2 p.m. Thursday at the commissioners’ court website or may attend in person at 4 p.m.
Hidalgo has not yet notified the public as to when commissioners will vote on the proposed maps. A vote could be as early as next Tuesday but may also be scheduled for later next week.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.