Yesterday, Austin's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission completed their map of 10 City Council Districts that will be in place for the 2014 elections, and they did so by unanimous vote. You can view a .pdf of the map here. The Commission will meet one last time on Monday, November 25 to certify the map.
The map has changed only slightly from the most recent iteration, and this Final Map is the result of almost six months of hard work by the Commission. Anyone who attended the commission's meetings saw a group of Austinites dedicated to their task, all genuinely attempting to balance interests. The Commission took to heart not only the desires of Constitutionally protected minorities (though this consideration obviously merited extra weight) but also the public testimonies out of other communities, ranging from neighborhoods to students.
Now, Austin will have a generally fair map of city council districts until the next census. Not everyone will be happy, but that's the nature of politics. And after the 2014 elections, City Hall will look much different than it does today.
Below the fold, I look into the numbers and predict what this map means for Austin politics!First, the headline: There are seven liberal districts and three competitive ones.
I used the 2012 presidential election results to determine competitiveness. Liberal seats are those that Barack Obama won with well over 60% of the vote. To define competitive districts, I simply wanted single-digit margins between Obama and Romney. That's a generous definition of competitiveness, but remember that City Council candidates don't have party identifications on the ballot. And municipal policy coalitions can be very different from state or even national groups. Consequently, City Council elections will be more fluid than others.
Under those parameters, Seats 6, 8, and 10, the three most western districts, are the competitive seats. District 6 is northwest and includes all of Austin that is in Williamson County. District 8 is southwest and includes most of the Hays County portion of Austin. And District 10 is in between. District 6 is the only seat won by Mitt Romney in 2012.
When the current redistricting plan was debated over a year ago, Democratic opponents complained that a 10-seat council might elect – gasp! – as many as three Republicans. While that can happen with this map, it's just as likely that every Republican City Council candidate will lose in 2014. Only one district gave Romney a victory last year, and Democrats won state house districts with similar numbers across the state! And besides, some competitive elections are probably a good thing.
There are four minority opportunity districts – three Hispanic and one African-American.
The Redistricting Commission drew its maps with an outward-in strategy. They focused on making minority opportunity districts as good as possible for compliance with the Voting Rights Act before they drew the other seats. Notably, despite major changes between a September draft map and the final version, these four districts look almost the same.
Districts 2, 3, and 4 are the Hispanic Opportunity Districts. 2 and 3 are in southeast Austin while 4 is north-central. District 1 is the African-American Opportunity Seat, and it's northeast.
Keep in mind that opportunity means just that — opportunity. The demographics of the districts give a good shot for Hispanics and African-Americans to get elected in these districts. But if there aren't good candidates or if people don't show up to vote, that can change.
Of note, there is no Asian-American Opportunity District. That's because it would have been impossible to create one. That said, Districts 6 and 9 have the highest Asian-American populations.
The current council resides mostly in District 9.
With the exceptions of Lee Leffingwell and Mike Martinez, who each live nearby, every current member of City Council resides in District 9, according to voter registration records. That includes both Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley, the only two Council Members eligible to run for reelection.
That means there will be a lot of excitement still in Central Austin if both Tovo and Riley decide they want another term. But more importantly, that's good news for the rest of Austin, which will finally get a fairer shake in deciding the fate of the city.
So, when do the races start?
There's already at least one candidate who has announced his candidacy for City Council: staunch Republican Jay Wiley, who resides in District 6.
I imagine more candidate announcements will trickle in over the next few months, but there's plenty of time with the election almost a full year away. The filing period is not until the summer. So, with the House District 50 runoff and Democratic primaries being the nearest game in town, except City Council campaigns to sit in the back seat until March.
But right after we know who our next County Judge will be (I mean, Democratic nominee for County Judge), all the local politicos will focus on Council. And if nothing else, it will be something quite different.
There are a few quick caveats on some of the analysis above. First, the demographic data has not yet been released by the Commission as of this writing, but this map is so close Final Draft that the demographic numbers for that map can be used as an effective gauge. Second, because many voting precincts are split into multiple districts or are not wholly within the City of Austin, I was only able to manage approximations when viewing electoral data.
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