Mario Gallegos and Rodney Ellis Spar over Redistricting, and It Gets Ugly

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An attempt to move the downtown George R. Brown Convention Center into Sen. Mario Gallegos's senate district caused a minor skirmish between Gallegos and his longtime Democratic colleague Sen. Rodney Ellis.

Emotions during redistricting always run high, but especially so when members are given less than 24 hours to negotiate swaps and trades with colleagues in a proposed state Senate district map.

Gallegos, vice chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, has wanted to shift the University of Houston main campus and the convention center into his own Senate District 13 6. He settled on an amendment to move the convention center only, saying it kept his district contiguous along the Gulf Freeway without shifting significant minority population between his and Ellis's districts.

Too bad Ellis never signed onto the agreement. You probably know you've done wrong when your colleague rushes into the hearing room and starts alluding to lawmakers' expanded rights to carry concealed handguns this session.

"I may need a licensed handgun and a pen," said Ellis, who only showed up after Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) picked up the phone to call him for his opinion in the middle of the vote. "With friends like this, a fellow can't do much worse."

Gallegos, in his defense, described the amendment as a simple choice to keep the land within the downtown management district he created whole. Ellis said moving forward without his consent showed disrespect of a colleague.

"From my 21 years here, that's about the most blatant power grab that I have ever seen," said Ellis, noting that he was involved with the expansion of the convention center on Houston City Council before Gallegos was ever elected to office. "I would just encourage members to give this colleague the same courtesy you would expect yourselves. You just don't let a colleague come in and grab something out of your district that has just about as many people in it as does my household."

Gallegos, jarred by Ellis's comments, said everyone had to settle for giving up land they wanted during redistricting. He, for instance, was less than happy to give up the Heights to Sen. John Whitmire under the new proposed map.

Gallegos's amendment passed the committee before Ellis arrived. Rebuked and knowing his colleagues on the committee would almost certainly reverse their vote in light of Ellis's protests, Gallegos pulled down his amendment and said he would bring it up on the Senate floor when the map is voted on this week.

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