For months it has been widely expected that Texas’ 8th Congressional District, based in the suburbs north of Houston, probably would come out of the redistricting process looking substantially different. The proposed maps have now been released, and if they are approved, voters in Montgomery County could be in for some pretty big changes.
State lawmakers are required to redraw the political maps every ten years after the census to account to shifts and changes in population. Rural areas are shrinking as a percentage of the state’s population, while the burgeoning suburbs around Houston, Dallas, and Austin continue to explode, requiring district boundaries to be moved to keep them at roughly the same population. Texas will also be gaining two additional districts as a result of population growth that lawmakers need to fit into the map.
The retirement of the 8th District’s longtime Congressman, Kevin Brady (R-TX), presented mapmakers in GOP leadership with the perfect opportunity to strip-mine the orphaned district for its dense Republican votes.
For decades, CD-08 has largely been a Montgomery County district, anchored in Brady’s hometown of The Woodlands, sprawling northward up I-45 to encompass several small rural counties. Not only is Montgomery County the largest county in the current CD-08, it accounts for 68% of the district’s population under the current configuration.
However, Montgomery County’s influence stands to drastically decrease if the new plans are adopted by the Texas Legislature.
The proposed map that has been released to the public cuts straight through the heart of Montgomery County, dividing it in two between a newly reconfigured CD-08 and Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s 2nd District based in north Harris County.
CD-08 2.0 would include the Conroe, Magnolia, Montgomery, and Willis areas of Montgomery County, as well as San Jacinto County and New Waverly in Walker County. CD-08 would lose most of its northern counties, but would pick up Polk County. But most significantly, CD-08 would pick up a broad swath of western Harris County.
Montgomery County would only constitute 37% of the population for the new CD-08, while the majority of the district’s population would be drawn from Harris County (51%), spelling the end of Montgomery County’s dominance in the 8th District.
The other half of Montgomery County being shunted into District 2 wouldn’t fare much better. The proposed map would take The Woodlands and East Montgomery County out of CD-08 and place them in Crenshaw’s district along with Spring, Humble, and Kingwood in Harris County. Montgomery County would comprise only 44% of the population in the new CD-02, while Harris County would account for the other 56%.
Thus Montgomery County, which has the highest Republican voting percentage of all the state’s large counties, and is arguably the most important GOP county in Texas, would find itself underrepresented, not constituting a majority in any district. To add insult to injury, the proposed gerrymander is entirely unnecessary.
Crenshaw doesn’t need Montgomery County. His current CD-02 is already an R+9 district. He won re-election handily in the 2020 general election with 55.6% of the vote. However, apparently that’s not enough for him. The new map would make CD-02 an R+30 district, giving Crenshaw an impregnable deep red stronghold for which he wouldn’t have to bother campaigning in the general. Montgomery County is merely collateral damage in Republican leadership’s incumbent protection strategy.
By shifting Crenshaw’s district north into Montgomery County, mapmakers made room to tuck the brand new CD-38 (one of the two seats Texas gained after the census) into western Harris County, creating a safe red district for which former CD-07 candidate and Crenshaw ally Wesley Hunt promptly announced his candidacy.
As for the new CD-08, it could not have been better tailored for Republican leadership’s handpicked candidate, Morgan Luttrell. Luttrell is a Willis boy with deep ties to northern Montgomery County. He attended and now teaches at Sam Houston State University in Walker County and currently lives in Magnolia. Rather than the candidate running for the district, a district is being custom made for a candidate.
Luttrell may need the extra boost. Despite strong fundraising numbers and several high-profile supporters, his campaign has gotten off to a rocky start. He puzzled many by inexplicably cancelling a big event in East Montgomery County a few months ago. Luttrell’s snub of East County now makes a lot more sense: he likely was given inside information that East County would no longer be in his district.
Around the same time, Luttrell’s campaign had a significant staff shake-up, with the departure of campaign manager (and former Brady staffer) Craig Lewellen. Luttrell has since hired William Little, a political operative based in Harris Count who has also worked for U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). A hire which hints that perhaps Luttrell knew CD-08 was going to become a Harris-based district.
Finally, the map gives Luttrell a huge break by deliberately shutting out the person who could potentially have been his strongest opposition for the open seat: State Rep. Steve Toth (R-Conroe). Toth has widely been rumored to be interested in running for CD-08, however, the new map would make that very difficult. Toth’s state House District 15 would be entirely in Crenshaw’s congressional district. In fact, the congressional district lines in many areas correspond with HD-15’s boundaries precisely, making it blatantly obvious that “the powers that be” want to keep Toth from running against Luttrell for the open CD-08.
Another CD-08 candidate who stands to lose from the new maps is retired Navy JAG Attorney Jonathan Hullihan. Although Hullihan’s current residence would still be in the new CD-08, he grew up in East Montgomery County, and would essentially lose his home base to Crenshaw under the new plan.
Although congressional district maps are ostensibly drawn by the state legislature, and the current proposal was sponsored by Texas Senate Redistricting Chair, State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), sources have told the Texas Citizen Journal that the congressional map was actually drafted by U.S. House GOP leadership. The map was reportedly presented to all Republican incumbents for their approval before it was made public.
Obviously the incumbents did give the proposal their approval, as they seem poised to emerge as the big winners from the redistricting process. However, their win will come at the expense of Texas’ most important red county. Montgomery County’s voice will be diminished and its communities divided and diluted as ambitious politicians sacrifice the interests of the people on the alter of power and political gain.
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