Due to the phenomenal population growth in Williamson County, the county will need to re-draw the lines for the four county commisioners, justice of the peace and constable precincts in 2011. On Tuesday, the commissioners court hired Beirne, Maynard, and Parsons, a law firm who specializes in a variety of areas of law including election law, to assist the county in following federal law during the process. Two of the lawyers for the firm, who according to their website, http://www.bmpllp.com, have offices in Austin, Houston and New Orleans, attended commissioners court. Joe Nixon (R-Houston), who formerly represented a portion of Harris County in District 133 for several terms in the Texas House of Representatives, where he chaired the House Committee on Civil Practices, is a member of the firm and spoke at commissioners court. Trey Trainor is also an attorney with the firm. Mr. Trainor lives in Williamson County and formerly served as general counsel to the Texas Secretary of State, where he was involved in several major cases including LULAC v. Perry, a major re-districting case. Mr. Nixon and Mr. Trainor will be the two atttorneys from the firm that conduct much of the work involved in submitting the maps adopted by the court to the federal Department of Justice for approval, which is required as part of the federal Fair Voting Rights Act legislation.
State law requires that each county commissioner’s precinct be comprised of approximately twenty-five percent of the county’s population, although a ten percent disparity between the largest and smallest precinct is permissable. Given that the county’s population was 249,525 in the 2000 census and that the current estimate is 416,326, which is an increase of 166,801 folks, or close to 70% increase, it is clear that the lines of the precincts will need to be redrawn. We hope to keep communities together as much as possible, and also to use clear geographical boundaries, such as creeks or roads, as boundaries when drawing the lines.I also hope to reunite communities which were split up the last time around. Back in 2001, when the commissioners court drew the current lines, I served on the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District board, which is the largest unincorporated area in the county and where I have lived for over twenty years. I urged the court at that time to not split Brushy Creek into two different commissioners precincts as it split the community, but my request was ignored. Brushy Creek MUD is currently in precincts one and three, as precinct three stretches from the Brushy Creek area all the way north to the Bell County line just north of Jarrell. I hope that we can reunite Brushy Creek into precinct one during the process, as it is fairly clear that precinct one will need to add territory. It is geographically the smallest precinct now, comprising of almost exclusively urban areas, with the exception of the Robinson Ranch and a few other farming areas, and includes portions of Round Rock, Austin, Georgetown, Fern Bluff MUD, Brushy Creek MUD, Teravista and more. Precinct Two is generally the western part of the county including Austin, Cedar Park, Liberty Hill and Leander. Precinct Four currently consists of portions of Round Rock, and all of Hutto, Taylor, Coupland plus more. A map of the current precincts is located at gis.wilco.org/maps/PrecinctMaps/Precinct_wall_Maps.pdf . I realize that many folks will want to have input on these decisions so please feel free to let me know your opinion.
As to re-districiting for state representative districts, the state legislature makes those decisions. In 2001, the county gained District 20, currently represented by Rep. Dan M. Gattis (R-Georgetown). State Representative-Elect Dr. Charles Schwertner will represent the district starting this January. That district includes much of northern Williamson County and all of Milam County. Williamson County is also in District 52, which is currently in the hands of State Representative Diana Maldonado (D-Round Rock), but soon will be represented by Representative-Elect Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock). District 52 is solely within Williamson County and is generally the southern part of the county. However, many folks think that due to the population growth, the county could have two state representative districts solely within the county and a portion of another district after the re-districting process ends.
All of the changes must be made in time for candidates to file for the 2012 primary election. The filing period has generally been from early December to early January with the primary election in early March. This also could change, as last legislative session there was discussion of changing the dates of the primary election and the filing deadline.
(This column consists of my observations and opinions and does not reflect those of any other person or organization.)