The new precinct boundaries passed by Harris County Commissioner’s Court are the most recent example of how politics no longer attempt to maintain even a veneer of fairness or concern for the public good. These new boundaries are a blatant attempt to ensure Democratic control.
Every ten years we take a census to—in the most basic terms—find out where people live. Since political boundaries within states are determined by population density, it’s important to know where people live and in what proportion. When the population shifts, representatives are redistributed to maintain—in theory—equal representation. The census was designed to ensure that as the population shifts so too does representation.
What was handed down by the Commissioner’s Court has nothing to do with population shifts. The lines are drawn around partisan boundaries to strengthen Democratic control and weaken Republican control. What’s worse, they flipped two of the precincts. Precinct 3 now represents the north side of the county and Precinct 4 now represents the west side of the county. Why do this? People in the old Precinct 4 know their Commissioner which gives him a decisive political advantage. By moving him to an all new geography, the Democrats have undermined his incumbent advantage. They have done so not to make the playing field more even or the precinct more representative, but to hopefully get him unseated by a Democrat. The same logic holds for the Precinct 3 Commissioner.
Imagine if Greg Abbot was made the Governor of New Mexico and the Governor of Oklahoma was the new Texas Governor because Dallas was made part of Oklahoma. This is, essentially, what the Democrats have done in Harris County.
There will be managerial fall out as well. By flipping Precincts 3 and 4 the new Commissioners will oversee all new work crews, employees, equipment and locations. They will have to learn the operations and culture of their new precinct. This disruption will have ripple effects throughout both precincts. The Democratic majority on the Commissioner’s Court have disregarded operational and cultural realities and the resulting disruption this could have on those who serve the precincts and the services offered.
Adequate and fair representation are fundamental tenets of good government. When matters of representation are manipulated for political gain the government has ceased serving the people and has catered only to partisan interests which undermines trust in government. The idea of reapportioning representation based upon population shifts helps us approximate the principle of one person, one vote. But when used in this manner, that noble purpose is disregarded.
Henry Clay wrote, “Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.” There is no benefit realized under this plan for the people. The interest and will of the people have been disregarded. If the people want different County Commissioners or County Judge, they can vote. The people expressed their opposition numerous times before the Commissioner’s Court and their concerns fell on deaf ears.
This blatant abuse of power will likely backfire against the Democratic Party. While the Democrats may pick up a seat on Commissioner’s Court, the Party will likely lose county wide seats due to the frustration they have provoked. Thomas Paine warned that a governing body “accountable to nobody ought not be trusted by anybody.” The Democrats on Harris County Commissioner’s Court have the responsibility to represent Harris County not just their own partisan interests. If Republicans and Independents are paying attention to this blatant abuse of power, the Democrats will likely lose county wide seats in 2022 due to the distrust they have engendered.
Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA is an educator, author and community advocate. He is currently running for Harris County Treasurer. He has authored five peer-reviewed books and articles and more than 100 articles on public policy in outlets such as Huffington Post, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor and Houston Chronicle.