Wednesday, December 14, 2011

D'oh!!! Commissioner's Court Colossal Confusion Part 1

In a forehead-smacking "D'oh!" of a unanimous vote on Monday, all five members of Commissioner's Court appear to have made a blunder worthy of inclusion in the next episode of the Simpsons.

As soon as they figure out what they did that is.

On Monday Commissioner's Court weighed in on the redistricting issue. Yes, you read that correctly, they weighed in on the issue, AFTER the maps had already made their way all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States and SCOTUS has halted the implementation of the maps. Redistricting has been going on for more than a year by the way.

This piece from ABC 7 by reporter Darren Hunt gives you some background on the move by Commissioner's Court. Although the story has one MAJOR error in it. The error in the report is this particular part of the story, "The big concern is the interim maps cut Fort Bliss completely out of El Paso's 16th congressional district, making it part of San Antonio's 23rd congressional district, which isn't sitting well with commissioners court."

And later in a voice-over portion of the package Hunt says, "...County Judge Veronica Escobar was the most opposed, pointing out that Fort Bliss would be completely lost to the San Antonio District"

The problem is that those statements aren't accurate. In fact, they aren't even close.

According to the maps, almost all of Fort Bliss is in the 16th Congressional District.

In fact, I think Commissioner's Court might have been looking at the wrong map when they were researching this decision.

I should point out that technically speaking Fort Bliss is not, nor ever has been entirely in the 16th District of Texas. In fact, its impossible for it to ever be completely on one district because most of the land that is property of Fort Bliss is actually not even in the state of Texas.

Its in New Mexico. Which isn't unique by the way. Fort Campbell, Kentucky is only partially in the state of Kentucky. Most of it is in Tennesee.

But when people say Fort Bliss, they generally mean main post, Biggs Field, East Fort Bliss, and the Hospital.

The maps that were thrown out by the SCOTUS are the ones that Escobar and Commissioner's Court are so upset about. As you can see in this court document, the maps that were drawn by a three-judge Republican panel that were ultimately suspended by SCOTUS are identified as C220. Here is the document:

Order on Interim Congressional Plan 11-26-11 (1)

So here is a screen shot of the map that shows the 16th district in pink and the 23rd in green so you can get a general sense of the area I am talking about.

Here is a closer view of the general area of Fort Bliss. In this map there is roughly a triangle area that consists of Montana Avenue as the base, Loop 375 (Purple Heart) as the right side and the 54/Railroad Drive as the other side. That is roughly the area of Fort Bliss.

This is a closer view. In this view of the map, if you look to the left of the "16" you will see a road that runs north and south. That is Airport Road and that connects to Fred Wilson up at the north end. You can clearly see US 54 further left. Everything in that box is the garrison or main post. East of the intersection of Fred Wilson and Airport is Biggs Field. To the right of the "16" is the Airport. North of the Airport is the new growth area of Fort Bliss which is pretty much complete.:

And here is a google map of Fort Bliss:

As you can see, almost all of Fort Bliss is within the 16th District. As far as I can see, there is only a small brigade-size area that is outside of the 16th District and is in the 23rd. You can't actually see it on the map because it is so new, but if you know the area then you know that north of the intersection of the Spur 601 and Loop 375, to the east of 375 is small portion of Fort Bliss. That is the only part of Fort Bliss that appears to be outside of the 16th District.

Here is a look of that area, although the area is so new there isn't anything to really show, but it gives a general idea of the area.

Unless this isn't the right map, Commissioner's Court really messed up.


I am writing a follow-up piece with potential implications.

But here are some quick facts to straighten some things out.

#1 - El Paso County has been represented by more than one Congressional District for years.

#2 - According to the last census, the 16th District of Texas as about 68,000 more people in the district that it should have, which is why the lines have to be redrawn in order to comply with the Constitution. That number of people that were previously in the 16th district need to be taken out no matter what. So they are either going to be cut from the northeast and westside, or the lower valley.

#3 - The maps drawn by the legislature cut out 68,000 people from the eastside of the county, which was mostly from the Lower Valley. Commissioner's Court did not object or weigh-in.

#4 - The maps drawn by the Republican legislature were found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

#5 - 5 Texas Democratic Congressman filed a lawsuit against the legislative maps because of the violation.

#6 - The maps drawn by the Court to bring the state in compliance with the Voting Rights Act were drawn by a 3 judge panel that consisted of 2 Republicans and 1 Democrat.

#7 - The maps drawn by the Court gave minorities an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice in additional districts.

Now its no secret that County Judge Veronica Escobar is a close political ally to Beto O'Rourke, who just happens to be running for Congress in the 16th District against Congressman Silvestre Reyes. Escobar was adamant that the effort by the court to change the map had nothing to do with helping O'Rourke's campaign get a more favorable map.

She also clearly stated that if the map was redrawn to keep Fort Bliss in the 16th District, with or without the  Northeast and Westside, she would be supportive of the map.

More on my conversation with her and Congressman Reyes on this issue in the next piece.

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