A first look at SBOE redistricting
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I am referring here to the map drawn by redistricting chairman Burt Solomons. The districts are much more compact and contiguous than they are on the 2001 map. There are some substantial changes. District 9, represented by Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant) was shifted north and east, so that he no longer faces a the prospect of a challenge from former SBOE chairman Don McLeroy, whom Ratliff defeated in 2010. The new district has a number of counties that Ratliff’s father represented when he served as a state senator and later as lieutenant governor, which will benefit the younger Ratliff. Current SBOE chair Gail Lowe (R-Lampassas) is facing a confirmation battle in the Senate. Even if she wins it, she will find herself with a very different district. Her old (that is, current) district has a lot of rural counties. The district had the profile of a PAC-MAN icon gobbling up the Tarrant County suburbs on the west side of the Metroplex, all the way north to the Red River. While Lowe retains most of her rural base, she has added three fast-growing suburban counties (Collin, Rockwall, Kaufman). The addition of the big Dallas suburbs changes the nature of the district. It is more suburban than rural. If Lowe gets a challenge from far away Collin County, she would have a tough race on her hands. The entire western half of the state has but two districts, unchanged from the current map. One starts in the Panhandle and runs south to I-20; the other originates in El Paso and runs between I-10 and the Rio Grande all the way to I-35. These districts will not affect the politics of the board. District 5 has changed. Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) loses the southern half of Bexar, which becomes part of District 3, which will be represented by newly elected board member Michael Soto (D-San Antonio), which goes south to the Rio Grande. Mercer picks up southern Travis County, which is more Republican-friendly than the south side of Bexar. Another new SBOE member, Marsha Farney R-Georgetown), will inherit a much more user friendly district than the current map provides–a sprawling district that connects Round Rock on the west and Sugar Land on the east. The new version centers on I-35 and runs from Austin to Waco. Two other districts could be impacted by the new map. One is District 8. which includes The Woodlands, in the north Harris County metro area. The incumbent is Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), a member of the conservative bloc. The new version of the district includes Brazos County–the home county of Don McLeroy, the former SBOE chair who lost to Ratliff and wants to run again. If both Cargill and McLeroy choose to run, they would face each other. The new District 7 seat runs along the coast, from Jefferson County into east Harris County and down to Brazoria County. This district is the stronghold of the leader of the conservatives, Don Bradley (R-Beaumont). Some of the lines of the district have been changed in northeast Harris, but it is hard to assess the political consequences.