Redistricting Draws Battle Lines

Houston lawmakers are about to tackle what could be one of the most contentious and complicated issues of the year — redistricting. And although the process hasn't yet begun — turf wars and disagreements are already popping up. Laurie Johnson reports.

There are two different kinds of redistricting that will take place in Houston this year. One is congressional redistricting which is conducted by state lawmakers during the legislative session in Austin. The other is City of Houston redistricting, which the mayor and councilmembers hash out among themselves. The latest census numbers indicate Houston will add two new council districts. But that means all the council districts will need to be redrawn.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says there is the possibility,  however slight, that an incumbent councilmember could be drawn out of his or her district.

"For district councilmembers, your districts are going to change significantly. It will be a process that — there may be bruised feelings on either side. Let's all take a deep breath and kind of try and check our emotions as we go through this process."

The mayor's admonition to keep emotions in check came after a tiff between Councilmembers Wanda Adams and Mike Sullivan regarding an email exchange. It was a sidebar issue that had little to do with the actual plan for redistricting — but is perhaps an indicator of how difficult and delicate the process will be.

Councilmember Jolanda Jones reminded her colleagues that redistricting is intended to give citizens equal representation.

"I believe that this redistricting thing will probably be, if not the most important thing that I vote on, will certainly be one of the most important things and it has implications that will go well beyond us. You hear a lot of talk about redistricting and the gerrymandering and I would respectfully submit to you that when you redistrict, if you don't do it right, you can exclude a whole bunch of people."

Jones is one of five at-large councilmembers who represent the entire city and won't be affected by redistricting.

The city will hold a series of town hall meetings, starting in late March, to hear public input on the issue. Council will vote on new districts some time in May. The new plan must be approved by the Department of Justice and finalized no later than three months before election day on November 8th.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...