Is there or isn’t there a Latino opportunity precinct in the new Commissioners Court map?

Many Latinos say No.

“This map is an insult to the Latino community,” State Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, said at a public hearing Wednesday night. “The proposed map is full of the Christmas turkey.”

Gallegos called on Commissioner El Franco Lee, in whose Precinct 1 the hearing was held, to help him alter the proposed lines to protect Latino power in Precinct 2. Democrat Sylvia Garcia — who has helped Gallegos organize opposition to the map – held the Precinct 2 commissioner seat until she was ousted by Republican Jack Morman in last November’s election.

The proposed map, needing to add voters to Lee’s and Morman’s precincts to make the four districts roughly equal in population, gives Morman a bloc of reliably conservative voters in the northeast part of the county.

“The Latino community represents 40 percent of the population of Harris County, the Latino community represents 80 percent of the growth (in the last decade), yet the proposed map eliminates the only Latino precinct that we have,” said Rey Guerra of the Greater Houston Civic Coalition.


The goals of adding Hispanics to Precinct 2 and bolstering the black population in Precinct 1 can be accomplished at the same time, said political consultant and blogger Greg Wythe, of Outreach Strategists. Wythe said his own research and alternative maps being drafted by Latino leaders meet both aims.

“The argument that Precinct 1 can only be (changed) up to a certain point is very easily proven not to be true,” Wythe said.

Good to see Greg, who has been attending these hearings, get recognized as an expert. The key point that he has been raising is that while the new map may have more Latinos in Precinct 2 than the 2001 map did, it will have fewer than it did in 2010, and that this qualifies as retrogression. Other experts agree with that interpretation:

“In general, the racial data that is most relevant is the most recent Census data,” said Nathaniel Persily, an expert on the Voting Rights Act and a professor at Columbia Law School. “You look at the effect of the redistricting plan on minority voting power and say, ‘How much voting power do they have right now, and how does the proposed plan diminish it?’ ”

This question will ultimately be settled by people who know an infinite amount about the law than I do. What I know is numbers, but I don’t think you have to be a math whiz to realize that adding a bunch of folks from Kingwood into Precinct 2 will make it harder for anyone to give a competitive challenge to Jack Morman. What this map does is take a precinct that was already Republican-leaning and add more Republicans to it. Sylvia Garcia won this precinct in 2002 not because it was drawn to elect a Democrat. She won it despite the fact that it wasn’t. Don’t believe me, believe the numbers:

2002 Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 62,934 52.8 Kirk 59,478 49.5 Sanchez 59,808 48.8 Sharp 61,562 51.3 Watson 57,404 48.2 Bernsen 55,100 48.9 2006 Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia (*) 68,375 100.0 Radnofsky 42,251 42.2 Bell 36,487 49.6 Alvarado 45,077 45.0 Gilbert 47,745 48.4 Hathcox 46,136 46.9 Moody 50,515 51.7 2010 Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 63,841 49.1 White 65,462 50.3 Chavez-T 54,879 43.1 Radnofsky 52,335 40.7 Gilbert 55,055 43.8 Weems 55,331 44.4 Sharp 56,418 44.6

Garcia was unopposed in 2006, so her numbers were inflated a bit by that. Chris Bell, of course, was in that weird multi-candidate race for Governor. All percentages above are straight D-versus-R, which is why Bell’s is higher than you’d otherwise expect. Only John Sharp in 2002, Bill Moody in 2006, and Bill White in 2010 carried it for the Democrats. (Margaret Mirabal, Democratic candidate for State Supreme Court in 2002, also carried Precinct 2 and actually received 42 more votes than Garcia. I don’t currently have data for non-state candidates, but it’s likely a couple of them also carried it, with Jim Sharp in 2006 being the most likely to have done so.) Point being, Precinct 2 was not Democratic leaning.

The difference between 2002 and 2010 largely boils down to this: There were about 10,000 more votes cast in Precinct 2 in 2010 than in 2002. Democratic candidates got about 3,000 votes less, Republicans got about 13,000 votes more. In fact, Johnny Isbell got 56,278 votes in 2002 (there was also a Libertarian candidate that year), while Morman got 66,148 last year. They both underperformed – the average Republican statewide candidate got around 60,000 votes in Precinct 2 in 2002, while the average Republican statewide candidate got about 70,000 votes in 2010. Sylvia Garcia drew votes away from each of them. That’s how she won, in reasonable comfort, in 2002, and nearly hung on despite a Cat 5 hurricane blowing against her, in 2010.

The question, then, is who are these voters that chose Sylvia Garcia but for the most part not other Democrats? We can’t know that with absolute certainty, but here’s a hypothesis for you: Latino Republicans. Latinos vote Republican in the 30 to 40% range, and there are plenty of Latino voters in Precinct 2; that’s what this fight is all about, after all. Given a choice between a well known Latina like Sylvia Garcia and a good ol’ boy like former Pasadena Mayor Isbell or no-name teabagger like Morman, I think it’s highly plausible that many of them might have gone with the former. If that’s the case, then the question of whether Latinos living in Precinct 2 would have the ability to elect the candidate of their choice, at least in a non-tsunami year, has an obvious answer of No, they do not. From there, what to do with the map should follow logically. We’ll see if Commissioners Court is persuaded by this or not. Rey Guerra has more.

(PS – Mirabal in 2002 ran against Republican Steven Wayne Smith, who had defeated the Perry-appointed Xavier Rodriguez in the Republican primary. Think she might have gotten some of the same crossover votes as Garcia in that election?)

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3 Responses to Is there or isn’t there a Latino opportunity precinct in the new Commissioners Court map?

  1. landslide says:

    SRG did get a lot of crossover voters in 2002, she consistently out-perfomed the top of the ticket in the Clear Lake area of Pct 2, sometimes by 5-10 pct points. Can’t say whether those were Latino R’s living in that area or not, but much of that area is in the city limits of Houston so they might have been more familiar. Also, there is a history of animosity in that area among the various municipalities, so Isbell’s history as Pasadena Mayor might have hurt him some there.

  2. landslide says:

    Oh, and the fact that Isbell switched parties to run for commissioner did not endear him to those R’s in the Bay Area. Several referred to him as a RINO.

  3. landslide says:

    Isbell also made some enemies as Mayor of Pasadena over the years, regardless of party, so that also worked against him. That, and Garcia out-spent him as well.

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