As you probably know, the City of El Paso is in the throes of redrawing district boundaries. The City Charter demands that the boundaries be redrawn after every decennial census to keep the districts fairly evenly populated.
A number of maps have been submitted to the Districting Commission for consideration. Some have been submitted by the Commissioners themselves, and some have been submitted by the public. (You can see all of the proposed maps here, where you can zoom in and recognize the boundaries.)
Personally, I like Commissioner Map #2, submitted by the Chair of the Districting Commission Martin Bartlett. I put that map up there as the featured image of this post. As you can see, all of the districts in the map have pretty straight boundaries, indicative of a lack of gerrymandering. The only aberration on this map is that District 8 straddles the mountain, grouping some of Northeast El Paso with Rim Road, Kern Place, and the Coronado Country Club.
Slicing El Paso up into districts is a difficult task. Districts should be compact, represent “communities of interest,” and they have to be contiguous. No map will be perfect. But District 2 in Commissioner Bartlett’s map groups the neighborhood around El Paso High with Manhattan Heights and includes the south side from downtown to Ascarate Park. Since 1980, when there were only 6 districts, previous iterations have linked the Segundo Barrio with the El Paso Country Club and the Willows. Do you imagine that the residents of the Segundo Barrio ever had a voice on City Council?
Likewise, the Mission Valley will get their own district in Mr. Bartlett’s map. In previous districting maps, the valley was split into chunks, and rolled into districts whose primary constituency was north of the freeway.
There are other good maps that may be considered, some of which are very similar to Commissioner Bartlett’s map.
The Districting Commission has been meeting about once every two weeks since September 16, 2021. They’ve been working diligently. Unfortunately, the Districting Commission is only an advisory committee. They don’t get to make the final decision. They’ll only recommend a few preliminary maps to City Council.
And City Council can choose any of the Districting Commission’s recommendations, or they can modify those recommendations, or they can throw all the recommendations out the window and come up with their own map.
And the word on the street is that City Council will not consider any map that draws a current City Representative out of their district.
(If City Council actually made that decision, they must have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act to do so, because that vote never appeared on a public agenda.)
The sad truth is that despite all the work the Districting Commission put into their assignment, the members of City Council still have the final call. They’ll still get to pick their constituents, and the only tool the public can employ to stop them is public shame.
And so far, our elected officials have shown they are incapable of shame.
The Districting Commission is receiving public comment on the proposed maps till March 23. You can find out how to address the Commission regarding your map preferences at their agenda for the March 16 meeting here. Or you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.