Compared to the high-profile redistricting process for congressional districts, the adoption of Montgomery County’s new commissioner precinct map was relatively uncontroversial. At their November 9 meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to approve commissioner precinct boundaries for the next decade.
Just like congressional and state legislative districts, a county’s four commissioner precincts must be adjusted every ten years after the census to account for changes in population. Precincts must be equal in population to ensure equal representation on the commissioner court.
Although Montgomery County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, all of its commissioner precincts have grown at roughly the same rate, with Precinct 1 growing slightly less and Precinct 4 growing slightly more. As a result, the new map looks almost identical to the old map, with only one minor change.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Robert Walker and Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts reportedly met to decide which voting box or boxes would be moved in order to bring the precincts back to parity. In the end, they decided to move Voting Box 2 in southeastern Conroe from Precinct 4 to Precinct 1. Box 2 arguably should have been in Precinct 1 all along, since almost all of Conroe is in Precinct 1.
However, not only does moving Box 2 into Precinct 1 make sense from a representation standpoint, it also helps Metts politically.
First elected in 2018 after successfully challenging then-incumbent Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark, Metts is nearing the end of his first term as commissioner. During his 2018 campaign, Metts’ strongest areas of support were along the I-59 corridor in the far eastern and southern voting boxes in Precinct 4. Metts performed much more poorly on the western and northern side of his precinct, including Box 2, which was one of his weakest boxes.
In the 2018 Republican Primary, Box 2 was carried by the incumbent, Clark, who received 45.15% of the vote. Despite getting the most votes precinct-wide, Metts finished dead last in Voting Box 2 with only 24.25%, behind perennial candidate Bob Bagley who came in second with 30.60%.
Metts is up for re-election next year. By giving Box 2 to Walker, who is not up for re-election until 2024 (and who will likely be a more appealing candidate in that box anyways), Metts can rid himself of one of his weaker precincts, strengthening his position going into 2022.
But while Metts emerges from redistricting in a stronger position, having managed to shed an unfavorable voting box, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley’s precinct will remain the same, including several voting boxes that have caused him trouble in past elections.
Riley has very deeps roots in Old Magnolia, and is able to drive impressive turnout (and wide margins) in the more rural, western part of his precinct. But while Riley is loved in Magnolia, he is perhaps equally hated in the small but not insignificant part of The Woodlands in Precinct 2. He has also performed relatively poorly in the newly developed, more suburban areas along FM 1488 and Fish Creek Thoroughfare.
First elected in 2014 to replace his old boss, Craig Doyal, the dynamics of Precinct 2 politics have remained the same. Riley is strong in the west and weak in the east, with the area in between being a battle ground. The trend continued when Greg Parker unsuccessfully challenged Riley in 2018. In the primary, a majority of voters actually voted against Riley, forcing the race into a runoff. However, in the runoff, Riley’s base in Old Magnolia turned out again, while The Woodlands did not.
Riley could have significantly strengthened his position electorally by ceding the enclave of The Woodlands in his precinct to Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, who represents most of The Woodlands. He could have then picked up rural precincts in the northwest part of the county from Walker. It would have entailed more significant changes to the map, but most political observers expected more significant changes. The fact that he didn’t attempt to shed any boxes in The Woodlands is surprising to many.
Precinct 2 remaining the same could set Riley up for a repeat of 2018. A primary challenger to Riley has already announced, Jennifer Eckhart. Metts will also have at least one opponent, Matt Gray. More are expected to announce.
All commissioners serve four year terms. Precincts 1 and 3 elect their commissioners in presidential election years, while Precincts 2 and 4, along with the county judge, who is elected countywide, are elected in the midterms.
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