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What’s wrong with Bill Betzen’s 2011 Redistricting Map? Well…not a lot

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By Shawn Williams

So up until recently I’ve followed the redistricting conversation from the fringes.  I know…shame on me.  But I have had a chance to take a very serious look at the map that will be presented to Mayor Mike Rawlings next week.  I’ve got to tell you, there are some good things about this map (referred to as Map 16) but it’s not my favorite.

Map 16 – Selected by Redistricting Commission to be presented to the Mayor

Most everyone agreed that there needs to be some major changes to the currently gerrymandered Dallas City Council map.  Just off the top of my head I’d list the ridiculously long track of District 8, four representatives in Southeast Dallas and West Dallas to Mountain Creek components of District 3 as personal complaints.

Current City Council District Map

I think chief among the concerns would be how Southeast Dallas is represented.  Currently the east/west nature of Southern Dallas council districts (namely 4,5,7 & 8 ) means the eastern half usually gets less attention for their representative.  I always take this opportunity to say Davis, Hill, Caraway and Atkins have done more than their predecessors to address this problem, but it’s still a problem.

Map 16 looks better in Southeast Dallas, but could go even further.  Let me make a point here: it’s important to be sensitive of the racial balance on the council which strangely enough kind of works.  But Dallas is changing, and as the city changes we need to make sure every community is fairly represented.

I feel Bill Betzen’s Map 3 accomplishes all of this much better than Map 16.  Bill is just a concerned citizen who describes himself as a “Middle school teacher with dropout prevention hobby.” His Dallas Redistricting 2011 blog is totally devoted to the subject, where he has documented the process.  There are many more radical changes than the map that will be presented to the mayor.

Map 3 – Originally crafted by Bill Betzen and still in commission inventory

Some of the things I like about Betzen’s map:

  • Ledbetter from Loop 12 to I-35 is in the same district (District 5).  I drive my kids to school that way everyday and the problems at one end are very similar to those at the other.  That stretch would benefit from one council member versus three in Map 16.
  • Betzen’s map makes District 2 a lot tighter.  Something just doesn’t seem right about parts of South Dallas being in the same district as Bachmann Lake.
  • Southern Dallas districts look more like the rest of the districts from a continuity standpoint.
  • According to city staff analysis, Betzen’s map includes 8 minority districts and 2 minority coalition districts.  (Isn’t it funny to see the word “minority” used in a “majority minority” city?) Map 16 includes 8 minority districts and 1 minority
  • Southeast Dallas neighborhoods with similar goals and interests have similar representation.

As Bill lays out on his blog, the response to Map 3 about town has been positive.  Michael Landauer of the Dallas Morning News says Bill Bentzen has the best redistricting plan and the Observer calls Betzen “the Man Who Will (Probably) Draw the New Dallas City Council District Boundaries.”

But other than seeing Southeast Dallas better represented I haven’t heard much push back from the council itself on the way things work now.  When most incumbents are winning 70 plus percent of the vote, why complain?

Map 5

I should probably mention that Map 5 also received extra consideration by the commission.  While I really like what map 5 does with Districts 2 and 7, it still has the east/west components of Districts 5 & 7. Were the District 5 & 7 situation better addressed I could probably live with that one too.

Map 3 is not perfect, and as Betzen could probably attest, is not presented as his original vision.  District 7 extends farther north than some are probably comfortable with though the demographics remain similar.  The same could be said about District 1 minus the demographics part.

Some of the changes proposed by Betzen and for that matter part of Map 16 as well, will be difficult at first.  New alliances and partnerships will need to be formed for the news council districts to function effectively.

I fully expect there to be some folks that I well respect to call and tell me why Map 16 is the way to go.  But I think Bill Betzen’s Map 3 keeps Dallas communities whole while ensuring the interests of minority communities are fairly represented.  That’s what government should be about and that’s what citizens should demand.

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