At a time when partisan politics sometimes seems to have replaced constituent service as the very basis of good government, it is perhaps not surprising that the Democrat majority on Harris County Commissioners Court hurriedly redistricted more than 2 million county residents last week without warning and with the clear intent to raise your taxes.
If you are reading this, you are almost certainly one of the victims of these political shenanigans. County Judge Lina Hidalgo and commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia voted Thursday to approve a last-minute proposal by Ellis to redistrict and shift nearly all of Commissioner Tom Ramsey’s Precinct 3 constituents into my Precinct 4 and, conversely, to shift nearly all of my Precinct 4 constituents into Ramsey’s Precinct 3.
The purpose was clear. The 3-2 Democrat court majority moved me into a Democrat-majority district to try to boost their court majority to 4-1, enabling them to raise your property taxes every year. In recent years, state law has allowed me to join with Ramsey or former Commissioner Steve Radack to deny the court the four-person quorum it needed to pass a property tax increase without first presenting it to you for voter approval. If the court majority succeeds in getting rid of me or Ramsey, they will be free to raise your taxes at will. Hence, the last-minute redistricting that swapped your county precincts last week.
Hidalgo openly acknowledged this as her reasoning in court Oct. 25 when she explained her redistricting vote by referring to the property tax cut compromise that Ramsey and I were able to craft this year.
“I know some folks see that discussion and where we landed as a compromise, but I don’t,” she said. “I feel that my hand was forced, because it’s not logical to me why there had to be an even greater tax cut . . . I haven’t forgotten that.”
But the real victims of this petty act of political retribution are the residents of Harris County – all of whom must absorb the unnecessary cost and service disruptions of shifting precincts. My staff and I are working overtime in our brand-new precinct to build and maintain the same tremendous relationships we have had with the churches, schools, social service agencies, utility districts and constituents of our old precinct. Nonetheless, disrupting the lives and pocketbooks of half the county residents over a political disagreement stands as petty and immature.
Many will say that these are simply the typical results of redistricting – the same process we go through every 10 years. But the county’s last redistricting was accomplished with unanimous bipartisan agreement, the result of efforts by both parties to work together to minimize service disruptions to county residents.
Commissioner Ellis also referenced statewide redistricting in Austin in offering his last-minute proposal, implying that Democrat gerrymandering in Harris County was akin to statewide redistricting by the Republican majority in Austin. My answer to him then was the same as it is now – that I am not a state legislator and that I have no vote in Austin. In addition, while state legislators set policy and pass laws for Texas, they – unlike county commissioners – do not provide direct services to constituents in their districts.
County commissioners are responsible for building and maintaining all county roads, bridges, and parks in their precincts. It is the county that unclogs roadside ditches before severe weather threatens, and it is the county that responds with life-saving equipment when that weather turns deadly. County employees design and run the parks programs on which so many of you have to come to depend, and it is our employees who organize the senior trips and programming which so many of you enjoy.
So, to disrupt these services to 2.3 million county residents to exact political retribution is not typical of a redistricting process, and I think we can all see it for what it was.
Rest assured that, as county commissioner for the brave new Precinct 4, in the area formerly known as Precinct 3, my staff and I will continue to provide you and your neighbors with exemplary service. If there is anything we can do for you, the new residents of Precinct 4, please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us at 832-927-4444.
Thank you, and welcome to Precinct 4!
Commissioner R. Jack Cagle