Wharton County shouldn’t lose its state representative in the legislature’s redistricting frenzy, but it may have to share him with a lot more counties.
District 85 currently encompasses from all of Wharton and Jackson County along the southern Fort Bend County including Rosenberg and stretching to near Sugar Land. The new house proposal released by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, adds Fayette, Colorado, Austin and Waller counties and reshapes his area of Fort Bend representation moving it well south of Rosenberg.
An earlier proposal offered up by State Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, actually tried to shift Rep. Phil Stephenson from Wharton County.
“I already told them that ain’t going to happen,” Stephenson told the Leader-News.
Another early plan called for Stephenson to lose Jackson County in exchange for Austin and Waller, possibly encompassing some of Montgomery County.
Stephenson expected to see changes in his Fort Bend County coverage. “Fort Bend County is going to have five representatives. I’ll get 70,000 to 80,000 (constituents). I had 100,000,” he said.
The effort to balance out populations is causing the shifts. It’s either Fort Bend and Wharton counties or I go to all these rural counties,” Stephenson said.
District 85 serves constituents who are divided as 47.7 percent white, 28.6 percent Hispanic, 14.1 percent black and 8.5 percent Asian, according to redistricting data.
The redistricting committee’s vision for a new District 85 keeps about the same numbers, but spreads it across six counties with only 4 percent of Fort Bend County’s population (29,444) included.
Keeping Needville in District 85 was a concern, the area allows Stephenson to keep all Wharton County Junior College District voters, an important point for the former college trustee.
“I have 10 years of voters there. They know who I am,” he said.
Turning the district’s lines north is a concern, although Stephenson said he’s familiar with the region. Matagorda County would have been preferred.
“Everything is about population. Fort Bend has gone nuts (with population growth). It’s got to have five representatives,” Stephenson said, adding it’s a concern as “Fort Bend is really very Democratic.”
The debates will continue with Democrats from El Paso to the northern regions of Texas already crying foul, saying the proposed lines dilute minority and Democratic strongholds.
“The Democrats created this. They and their buddies left for 46 days,” Stephenson said blaming the rising number of special sessions on the lack of progress earlier.
“That’s embarrassing. You’d think the people of Texas would be yelling,” Stephenson said.
Now, the Redistricting Committee is taking testimony, largely electronic filings or video calls.
Although a veteran statesman, Stephenson is not a member of the redistricting committee. Instead, he’s an active witness, listening to the debate.
“I’m going to vote (on the lines of the redistricting proposal). I want to hear what the citizens have to say,” Stephenson said.
House Bill 1 covers all state representatives’ districts, so there’s a good chance some lines may change, possibly before the third special session ends.
Redistricting will set the lines for the upcoming March primaries – assuming an agreement can be reached in time for the election to be held on time March 1. If not, the 2022 primary may not be held until April 5 or even May 24.
Delays in the 2011 redistricting process pushed Texas’ 2012 primaries back to May.
Regardless of the timing, Stephenson says he intends to be there.
“I’m going to be here unless they vote me out,” he said.
Stephenson stands on two platforms – extending sales tax to professional services and using those dollars to fund schools, and using life insurance policies to bolster the state pension funds – and isn’t giving up.