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Which Way Will Harris County Precinct 3 Turn In 2020?

Republican Commissioner Steve Radack is retiring, and the demographics of western Harris County have changed dramatically over his three decades in office.

Andrew Schneider/Houston Public Media
Office of Harris County Commissioner Precinct 3 Steve Radack


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If you live in western Harris County, chances are you're in County Precinct 3. That would mean your commissioner is Steve Radack, who’s been on the ballot every election for the past 32 years. But now, Radack isn’t running, and the big question is: will another Republican succeed him?

Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett served alongside Radack for nearly 12 years. "All the precincts have changed, but Precinct 3 probably has changed the most demographically just because of the way redistricting has been done over the years," Emmett said. Over that time, Precinct 3 grew to more than 1 million people. "So it has, it's a very diverse precinct now, and I think that that will come into play."

Just how much, and to whose advantage, is another matter. "A lot of the communities, various minority communities, really don't fall along party lines. They want to see solid improvements in their daily life," Emmett said. "And so I think if you're talking about the Indo-American community, the Pakistani community, the Vietnamese community, those are all heavily represented in Precinct 3, and I think they will be really the determining factor on which way that precinct goes."

If that's the case, it'd be decidedly different from what's happening just over the county line from Precinct 3 in Fort Bend County. There, one of the most diverse counties in the nation has broken heavily for Democrats in recent elections. Republican strategist Jessica Colón said, despite its diversity, "Precinct 3 is still a Republican-leaning precinct. I believe Trump won Precinct 3 in 2016 despite losing Harris County overall, and I think that's very indicative of where the heart and soul of Precinct 3 still remains."

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Precinct 3 isn't quite where Fort Bend County is yet, according to Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. But it's getting there. "Maybe the best way to think about this is when Steve Radack was first elected, that district was overwhelmingly Anglo and of course it was overwhelmingly Republican. That's changed," Stein said.

Anglos are still a majority, but they only make up about 53% of the precinct. "They're an aging population, so if you look at the period 2016 to 2018 to 2020, what you see is a slow exiting of an older, whiter, and Republican electorate," Stein said – "exiting" being a euphemism for older voters dying off.

David Mincberg, a former Harris County Democratic Party chairman, sees all that as working in his party's favor. "This is an area that has been staunchly Republican," Mincberg said. "But the trend is such that it's moving to very competitive, and a number of Democratic officeholders have fared quite well in this area of town in the most recent elections."

Bob Stein agrees. As evidence, he pointed to the 2018 election, when Democrat Lizzie Fletcher flipped the Texas 7th Congressional District, which overlaps Precinct 3. "In 2018, 17% of the electorate was under 25 years of age," Stein said. "Their share of the vote cast was 21%. They propelled candidates like Fletcher."

Still, Ed Emmett is convinced there's one thing that could matter as much as, or more than, demographics. And that's issues. "I do think it's all really going to come down to who the voters think can deliver on infrastructure and flood mitigation. You've got to remember, a lot of that precinct got flooded in Harvey. They're still concerned about that," Emmett said.

It's an open question whom that will benefit – the Republican primary candidates, who all served through Harvey, or the Democratic candidates who did not. The primaries to select candidates for Harris County commissioner Precinct 3 will take place on March 3. The Republican candidates include Spring Valley Village Mayor Tom Ramsey, former West University Place mayor Susan Sample and former Houston City Council member Brenda Stardig. The Democratic candidates include former Houston mayoral chief of staff Michael Moore, former state judge Morris Overstreet and former state representative Kristi Thibaut, as well as Diana Martinez Alexander, Zaher Eisa and Erik "Beto" Hassan.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media's business reporter, covering the oil...

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