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Lubbock County Judge Speaks On Area Redistricting Efforts

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Rob Avila
Texas Tech Public Media

While the Republican-led Texas legislature recently passed new congressional, legislative, and state board of education districts, in Lubbock, redistricting is still underway. Local officials are finalizing redistricting efforts this month with the goal of passing redrawn districts by November 8. Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish recently joined Texas Tech Public Media to talk about what changes to the county boundaries residents may expect to see.

The last time districts were redrawn was in 2011. What has the latest census data shown in Lubbock County that calls for redistricting?

Every 10 years we do a census in the United States that is constitutionally required. And with that census, it’s about what do with that information. In Lubbock County, we have four Commissioner precincts, each one of those four are divided up based on population, among other things. By population, we divide those Lubbock County into four as-equal precincts as we can.

Well, over the last 10 years, those precincts have become very unequal.

In terms of this population inequality, looking at this year’s census data, which districts are most in need of redrawing?

They’re all being redrawn to a very small degree, but I'll tell you, precinct one grew the most. Compared to the other districts, it was almost 25 percent larger than it was 10 years ago. Precinct two was down almost 11 percent. Precinct three was down right at about 17 percent. And precinct four, its population kind of remained the same percentage-wise as it did 10 years ago.

So, we had to do some pretty major adjustments, taking population out of precinct one, putting into precinct two and precinct three, and making sure that all four of our precincts balance. By law we have to keep them balanced within 10% of each other. So, you can have a 10% variance between the biggest county or the biggest precinct and the smallest precinct, and as long as we're able to keep it within that, we should be okay legally with the Justice Department.

The county, city and school boards are working together with the same consultants on redistricting. How exactly does this work and what makes them similar enough to work together with the same consultant?

Well, technically, we're not working together, Each one of these governmental entities work independently. Since we all have to use the same data, it saves a little money to hire the same consultant, the same legal firm to help us with that. So, we went out for competitive bid, we were able to find a consultant, legal team that we really trusted, and entered into a contract.

So rather than us paying $10,000, we were able to split the costs between the three entities, saving the taxpayers quite a bit of money

Since census data came late this year in August, the process seems a bit hurried. Are there any worries there might not be enough time for citizen input? Are there any current opportunities for citizens to comment on the redistricting process?

We will be meeting Friday the 29 at 9 a.m. It's an opportunity for anyone to come down to the county courthouse and make any kind of comments they want about this. And on November 8, people will still have an opportunity to come in and talk to us about this.

The other thing that we did is invite the public to submit their own plan.

If you have an idea, as you look at the census numbers, how these four county commissioner precincts ought to be drawn, submit that plan to us will be honored to look at it. We just ask that you plan for the whole county, and not just one precinct. Because if you move lines for one, it affects the others.

You have quite a bit of experience with redistricting, including working as a legislative aide during the well-known 2003 redistricting session. To give our audience some context on the process, can you describe what redistricting is like on the state level compared to what you're working on here at the local level?

I've got to see the process at the State level, the city level, the county level. I love redistricting. Redistricting is part art. It's part science. And the thing about redistricting is, it’s not just about numbers. You have to look at all kinds of data. When you take the census, they're asking you, What's your ethnicity? What's the average age of your household?

You look at neighborhoods, and you find that people tend to live in areas where they have a lot of common things involved, whether it be race, whether it be economic status. You've got really, really rich neighborhoods, and you've got really, really poor neighborhoods, and you've got predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, predominantly African American neighborhoods. So we call those communities of interests, or neighborhoods of interest. You want to make sure that any redistricting that you do does not divide up those communities of interest.

It gives you an opportunity, I think, in redistricting to actually look at who we are, what we want to be. Who do we want to elect as our representatives at all levels? It all begins with the redistricting process, so for me, this is vital.

You know, we hear at the state level, how contentious it is—and it is, it's a highly political process. For me the process is the ability to look at ourselves and consider who we are and who we are becoming and who we want to be for the next 10 years.

I want to come back to in Lubbock County, for our four precincts, it has not been contentious. All four of our commissioners have reviewed these plans. And we're in agreement that this is the best thing that we can do for Lubbock County going forward.

This interview has been edited for time and clarity.

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Rob Avila, J.D, is a reporter at Texas Tech Public Media. You can follow him on social media @Robavila_TTUPM.