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Representation in Richmond

One of the smaller elections going on right now has some important questions to answer.

Every time Tres Davis drives over the cracks in the streets of North Richmond, he remembers why he’s fighting for change.

There are few sidewalks or streetlights in the historically black neighborhood. Residents live in crumbling, piecemeal homes or aging trailers.

The Brazos River encloses North Richmond on three sides. On the fourth side is a railroad track. When a train comes by – as one does every 18 minutes – there isn’t a convenient way out of the neighborhood.

Davis’ campaign for an open city commissioner’s seat – and to expand the local elected board and change how members are elected – illustrates a broader quest across Texas for greater minority representation in once-rural towns that are now fast-growing suburbs, where whites are now in the minority but continue their hold on political power.

At 55 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white and 17 percent African-American, Richmond not only fits that mold, but serves as the seat of government in Fort Bend County, one of the fastest-growing and most-diverse counties in the United States.

“The fact that Fort Bend County and Richmond in particular are diversifying so quickly demonstrates the need for racial inclusion for groups who historically haven’t had as much say,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

Davis, who is African-American, figures his election to an open city commissioner’s seat would immediately increase minority representation. He is seeking to fill the seat vacated by a white commissioner who recently died. That would give Richmond an African-American and a Hispanic on its two-member commission, along with a white mayor and city manager.

Davis also is backing two propositions that aim to make the city’s elected board more inclusive and responsive to the needs of low-income minority residents.

Proposition 1 would increase the number of city commissioners from two to four. Proposition 2 would have city commissioners elected from single-member districts, instead of at large.

Read the whole thing, it’s quite interesting. It should be clear that it’s harder for a city government to be representative of a diverse population when there are only three elected positions, especially when one of those positions was held by the same person for 63 (!) years. One can argue the merits of single-member districts versus at-large representation, but if this story is accurate, then Tres Davis’ North Richmond neighborhood has been getting the short end of the stick for a long time, and a likely reason for that is that no one in Richmond government has been from there. Having more city commissioners – as the story notes, Richmond is the only city in Texas with a city manager form of government and a council/commission that has only two members – would present an opportunity to alleviate that. Unless there’s something I’m missing here, I’d back Richmond’s Prop 1, and would likely support its Prop 2 as well.

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  1. Mainstream says:

    The disadvantages of expanding a city council in a small town include increased costs for staff and travel and communications.

    The problem with district seats for a minority politician is that the candidate must live in the district he seeks to represent. Many of the politicians in Houston who represent low income, mostly minority neighborhoods do not really live among their constituents.

    Cumulative voting is a better means of achieving diversity, and allows representation of other diverse religious, social, and demographic groups who are not residentially segregated in the same way that racial or ethnic groups may be. A youth candidate, or Sierra club, or religious conservative candidate might do better through a cumulative voting process.

  2. Joel says:

    i agree, mainstream. the move in austin to geographical representation on the city council has already proven a travesty. the chief minority that got more representation out of that deal are the suburban republicans.

    cumulative voting would have been a better solution, but most people aren’t familiar with it. you might want to explain. basically, i take you to mean if there are eight seats up for election, everyone gets eight votes, but you can cast those votes for as many or as few candidates as you like, and you can cast more than vote for any given candidate, as part of your eight.


  3. Joel says:

    more than *one* vote for any given candidate.