Taxation without representation spurred American colonists in 1773 to dump tea in Boston Harbor as a protest against taxes imposed by the British House of Commons. Citizens there had no elected representatives in that body looking out for their interests, so why should it be able to force a tax on them?
The Boston Tea Party went down in history, of course, as one of the greatest political protests ever and set the stage for the American Revolution.
Well, it’s time Somervell County starting dumping some symbolic tea in the river at “Texas on the Potomac,” also known as Austin, and planning its own revolution.
Education cuts and congressional redistricting have drawn the Texas Legislature back into a special session. (See the related story on the front page.) And after having spent a day in Austin last week watching the redistricting scenario unfold at the capitol, all I can say is, “Citizens, to the river!” Dump that tea they want us to drink into the Colorado.
Our so-called representatives want to take our tax money on one hand and deny us true representation — what the Lege likes the ability to elect a "candidate of choice” — on the other. They want our tax money from the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant to help with the jam they’ve gotten themselves into on the state budget and to try to squeeze more dollars out of our school district, which over the years has sent more than half of $1 billion to the state under the “Robin Hood” school finance plan. Then they turn around and try to stick Somervell County in a congressional district with Midland-Odessa.
Midland! And Odessa, San Angelo, Sweetwater, and Brownwood. West Texas, in other words.
Don't get me wrong, I like West Texas, but I don’t consider Somervell County to be in that region. We may be more like, to borrow a phrase from Will Rogers, near where the West begins and the East peters out.
What the chances that Glen Rose will ever elect a representative from here in such a district? The current rep, Mike Conaway, is from Midland. Somervell County is low on the political totem pole as far as voting power goes.
I covered congressional redistricting for another Texas newspaper during a special session of the Lege in 1981. I have never witnessed so much political manipulation, back-room deals and gerrymandering - manipulating geographic boundaries to give a political party more power or protect incumbents.
The colorful term comes from a Massachusetts governor, Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 signed a bill redistricting that state to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party, as it was called back then.One of the districts in Boston resembled a salamander — hence, “Gerry’s ‘mander.”
Hmmm. Look at the map running with the news story on this Web site about the latest House redistricting plan. The Salamander District crawls again across West Texas - only this time it looks like it was built by a kid with Legos instead of lawyers with computers.
It’s bad enough being in a sprawling congressional district, the 17th, currently represented by Republican Bill Flores, that stretches from southern Tarrant County to Bryan. But at least a familiar river, the Brazos, runs through the district. And one could argue there are “communities of interest” between Somervell, Johnson, McLennan and other counties in that district.
I can’t find much, however, that runs through the 11th Congressional District except for Interstate 20. And we're more than an hour away from that highway and many hours away from the farflung counties on the New Mexico border. In fact, I can’t find much justification for crossing regions and lumping Somervell and Hood counties in that district at all.
Maybe legislators need a history lesson. The 98th Meridian, which the revered Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb determined was the dividing line between the East and Western United States, runs just west of here. You cross the invisible line driving west on U.S. Highway 67 between here and Stephenville. Past the 98th Meridian, according to Webb, everything changed - climate, agriculture, even social institutions. It’s really where the West begins.
One wonders what exactly went through the minds of the folks who came up with this new redistricting map since one of the criteria for drawing districts is to preserve “communities of interest.” Other than conservative political leanings, what exactly would our “communities of interest” be with those other areas to the west?
Well, let's see. Palo Pinto County had wildfires. So did we. The Brazos does run through that county. Our lauded hometown writer, John Graves, canoed there. I can see some commonalities with Palo Pinto.
Travel a bit farther west, though. Sweetwater has a rattlesnake roundup. Somervell County certainly has rattlesnakes, although we don’t typically round ‘em up and eat ‘em. Except for maybe Randy Mac.
The Brownwood Bulletin prints the Glen Rose Reporter. Tommy Davis, the businessman who's been trying to set up a rock-crushing operation on Chalk Mountain, is from Brownwood.
Connections with Midland-Odessa, though, are a stretch. Oil? Naw, we’ve got the Barnett Shale. That’s natural gas.
My family almost moved to Odessa when I was a kid because of the oil industry. When my father broke the news that he had a good job offer from an oilfield equipment company and we were moving from Corpus Christi to the Permian Basin, we all cried. For the sake of family harmony, he turned down the job and we stayed in South Texas.
Some of our Glen Rose graduates go on to San Angelo State University. Like a handful. Again, not much in common there.
Can anybody else come up with common interests with our prospective voting buddies in our proposed new congressional district?
Of course, this is all early in the game. It's highly likely the redistricting map will be redrawn again. And Burt Solomons, the chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said last week he doesn't know much for certain as a lawyer, but he knows without a doubt the map will change.
It became clear from the time I spent listening to all the comments in the public hearing that the big redistricting battles will be fought between the most populous areas - San Antonio, Austin, the Rio Grade Valley, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth - with the biggest concentrations of Hispanics, who are responsible for the majority of the state’s population growth.
So where does that leave a tiny county like Somervell?
On the tip of a salamander’s tongue if we don’t make our voices heard early on in the process.
Call your elected representatives and ask them to please do their jobs and look out for the citizens of Somervell County. The contacts are listed below:
State Sen. Brian Birdwell, District 22
512-463-0122 (capitol office)
254-772-6225 (district office in Waco)
Rep. Sid Miller, District 59
512-463-0628 (capitol office)
254-968-3535 (district office in Stephenville)
Rep. Burt Solomons, District 65 (Chair of House Redistricting Committee)
512-463-0478 (capitol office)
972-394-3904 (district office in Carrollton)
Tell them that unless that salamander starts crawling off in a different direction, we’re going to be brewing some iced tea in the Colorado.