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Chron overview of the Pasadena redistricting referendum

The Chron covers the most important ballot item in Harris County that isn’t the two countywide propositions, the charter amendment in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council

The charter change would replace two of Pasadena’s eight single-member City Council districts with seats elected citywide. But a citizens committee that reviewed the proposed change rejected it, 11-1.

Four council members from the older, predominantly Hispanic north end oppose the restructuring. They note that the U.S. Justice Department rejected this exact plan as potentially discriminatory, but now the pre-clearance requirement has been voided and opened the door for reconsideration.

“We are standing our ground against the change,” said Cody Wheeler, one of two Hispanics on the council.

Opponents contend Proposition One is a “power grab” by the mayor, who was first elected to the council four decades ago and has served off and on ever since. They say the mayor doesn’t like the changes that he’s seeing in Harris County’s second-largest city, population 150,000, that once gained fame for its refineries and Gilley’s bar as featured in “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta and Debra Winger.

[…]

With emotions running high, an unusually large number have already gone to the polls.

Harris County’s election office reported that 2,164 residents had voted as of Monday, either in person or by mail, with four more days of early voting still to go. City officials say that tally is high for an off election year, amounting to almost half the votes cast in the last Pasadena mayoral election.

Wheeler believes that opponents have been effective in getting voters to the polls, saying preliminary analysis shows 60 percent of the early voting is coming from his side of the city.

In the past, Wheeler said that the issue is “about democracy and this mayor not getting the council he wanted and now trying to change the rules.”

See here, here, here, and here. It’s nigh impossible to look at this as anything but a power grab by Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, who pushed the issue against the recommendation of the citizens’ committee and who cast the tiebreaking vote in favor of putting it on the ballot. I certainly hope that it gets defeated at the ballot box because that would be the cleanest way to deal with it, but if it passes you can be sure there will be litigation.

Mayor Johnny Isbell and four council members from the more conservative southern side of town argue that the charter change would provide each citizen with more representation. They say each voter would then be able to elect three council members, instead of just one, to represent them.

Someone might want to explain to Mayor Isbell what a candidate of choice is. Look at it this way: Suppose Mayor Parker were to propose a similar idea for Houston, where Districts F and I got dismantled, with F mostly being put into District G and I mostly being annexed by District E, and two more At Large members were added. Do you think the voters of the former F and I would consider themselves to have “more representation” under that plan? Or do you think they’d wind up with three new Council members that didn’t live near them and who paid them little attention because they have a lot of children and non-citizens and they don’t vote all that much anyway? I know what outcome I’d expect, and I’d expect the same in Pasadena. I hope there are enough voters in Pasadena who see it this way, too. BOR has more.

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One Comment

  1. Mainstream says:

    There is nothing inherently wrong with a system of representation which includes some at-large seats and some district seats, and as the City of Houston experience has shown, much to commend the blended system. Council members like Costello would have a difficult time winning in his current district, but succeeds at large. I believe Sue Lovell was in District D, in which she would have been unlikely to win, but succeeded at large. The only Hispanic candidates advantaged by a district scheme are those who happen to live in a majority Hispanic district, so if you are a Hispanic in Kingwood or Clear Lake you have to move back into the traditionally Hispanic neighborhoods to succeed. Indeed we see this already, with many of the black candidates running in B or D moving into temporary addresses to run, and the same is true all over the city with candidates who move residence or claim residence in order to run in a better political district than the one they actually live in. (And at a more global level, candidates like Hall, Mosbacher, Christie, Dadoush, Hoang who at some point have “moved” into the city proper to run citywide or for city office.)

    The greater danger to Hispanic empowerment in Pasadena will be the precise way in which new, larger districts are constructed. There is a way to construct them which will preserve Hispanic political power, and ways to draw the lines which would gut them.

    I don’t accept your premise about a restructuring which would dissolve F or I into G or E respectively. So long as we have “one person, one vote” rules, this just does not work mathematically. If Houston went from 11 back down to 9 districts the new districts would not be G plus all of F, but instead G plus about 21% of F. The bulk of F would have to be reassigned to another district, and given the geography of the city, the impact of the remaining voters on an adjacent district would be substantial.

    A final point. Pasadena Hispanic voters might have substantial influence on the at-large victors, contrary to current speculation. When the new District E was constructed in Houston by the City of Houston in the early 1990s, I expected that Kingwood would never have a city council member, based on the fact that the Clear Lake end of the district is about twice or three times the population of the small and distant Kingwood bit. But in fact voters in Kingwood and candidates from Kingwood have dominated the district. Robb Todd and Joe Roach from southeast Houston have been replaced at the council table by Sullivan, Wiseman, Martin from Kingwood. So a united and determined minority group can wield substantial political power in the right circumstances.