The bitter, partisan fight over redistricting has come to Fort Bend County.
After weeks of the debate, the Fort Bend County commissioners court late last week voted to approve a new precinct map along party lines, with County Judge KP George and Democratic commissioners Grady Prestage and Ken DeMerchant voting in favor, with Republican commissioners Vincent Morales and Andy Meyers opposed.
“We listened to the concerns of the public over these past several weeks and the desire for more equitable representation,” George said. “The map I presented best represents the county and is reflective of the growth and changes in our community. This is historic, we set out to achieve proportional, fair and equitable for all Fort Bend County residents. The approved map is the consensus of all voices and brings everyone together.”
In the days since Friday’s vote, however, the reaction has been far from unanimously positive.
“I oppose this map on behalf of the overwhelming majority of the proposed Precinct 4 residents who would have to drive past the Katy annex in order to drive another 30 miles round trip to reach precinct offices in Richmond,” Morales said ahead of the vote.
The new maps will shift Precinct 1, which is held by Morales, from extending all the way from Katy down to the southern edge of the county into a largely Katy-centric precinct, according to documents sent to the Fort Bend Star. Prestage’s Precinct 2, meanwhile, will move from being concentrated in largely the northeast part of the county to taking most of the land along the eastern side of Fort Bend County.
Meyers’ Precinct 3, which is currently based in Katy, will shift to the Sugar Land and Missouri City areas. And DeMerchant’s Precinct 4 will move from Sugar Land and Missouri City out toward Richmond and Rosenberg.
Like the state of Texas, Fort Bend commissioners must conduct redistricting once every 10 years based on the latest census numbers. And Fort Bend County, more so than many places across the state and country, has seen its population explode over the last 10 years.
Between 2015 and 2020, the county’s population increased from about 715,260 up to 839,706 residents, according to one analysis by HireAHelper.
Some residents, include some self-identified democrats, spoke during several meetings dedicated to redistricting and criticized efforts for diluting minority voters across several precincts.
And Republicans slammed the approved map for being explicitly partisan.
“Fort Bend County Judge KP George silenced half of Fort Bend County today by passing a new commissioners’ precinct map that changes the commissioners court from two republicans and two democrats to three democrats and one republican,” wrote Trever Nehls, the brother of U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls.
Trever Nehls, a former Fort Bend County constable who lost to Eric Fagan last year in the election for county sheriff, has announced he is running against George in next year’s race for county judge.
The conversation about the new precinct maps in many ways mirrors the talk about the state’s redistricting process, which was undertaken by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature and reportedly sought to eliminate or dilute districts that have historically voted for democrats.
State Rep. Todd Hunter, a Republican from Corpus Christi who chaired the House redistricting committee, defended their work, arguing it’s in line with goals and state law, while almost explicitly acknowledging its partisan nature.
“The Senate indicated that it complies with applicable law; in the constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the requirement to equalize populations based on the 2020 Census,” Hunter said in a Houston Public Media article. “Keeping political subdivisions together, keeping communities of interest together, preserving the course of existing districts, creating geographically compact districts, directly partisan considerations and protecting incumbents.”
Redistricting in Texas has long been the subject of severe political controversy and lawsuits because, unlike some states, the process here is partisan.