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Toby Wilburn, left, and Craig Houghton \(photos courtesy of Democratic Party chair John Archer recalled. It wasn’t so much that the new map split his community in two that bothered Wilburn, it was that they had removed the very boxes he was counting on to get reelected. After only a couple of years in office, everybody else in the precinct hated his guts. The problem was the roads. In rural counties, a commissioner’s chief duty is keeping the roads in good condition. He spends most of his time not at the courthouse, but in the county barn, where his paving equipment resides and his men receive their orders. By all accounts,Wilburn’s machinery spent too much time in the barn and not enough on the roads. More development around Dayton has meant more traffic, and maintenance on what used to be farm roads did not keep pace with the growth. Roads were particularly bad in the low-lying areas along the river, where periodic floods had taken their toll. Potholes and decaying shoulders were causing accidents. In some of the new subdivisions, conditions had gotten so bad that homeowners were getting organized. In June, a demonstration in front of the courthouse made the front page of the local weekly, The Vindicator. Most ominously, a resident of one of the new subdivisions filed suit against the county for lack of maintenance. People blamed Wilburn, and not without reason. “Toby just didn’t have a plan,” Archer said. One of his first moves was to repave the road in front of his barn. Wilburn did a good job on itmaybe too good. “It was a nice road. Asphalted. While we’ve got roads that school buses are driving down to pick up kids that are pretty dangerous roads,” Archer said. From the beginning, Wilburn was convinced that the other commissioners had it out for him. “He never really seemed to fit in at court:’ County Auditor Harold Seay said. Dayton has long been considered a stepchild at the commissioner’s court, which has been slow to recognize the growth in the area. Yet when citizens threatened a lawsuit, the other commissioners offered to bring their equipment and men to help Wilburn out. But Wilburn wasn’t interested, Archer said. “He said ‘Get out:” When the first redistricting plan came back from Austin, Wilburn’s suspicions were confirmed. The plan called for removing from the precinct a sizeable chunk of the only people whose roads Wilburn had no responsibility for fixing: city drivers, whose roads were maintained by city crews. “Those are the people he counted on to get him reelected because all the others were mad at him,” Archer explained. The new map would have sealed his doom. Several county observers speculate that this is what drove Wilburn to allegedly bug the courthouse: His job was on the line, and he needed to know who was with him, and who was against him on the commissioner’s court. In addition to his alleged covert operations, Wilburn struck back with a redistricting plan of his own. He told Archer, the resident census expert, that he needed a plan that kept his urban boxes intact, but that sloughed off instead some of his trouble spots, especially the river areas, to precinct one. Archer complied as best he could, delivering the plan to Wilburn about three days before the commissioner was arrested. “The FBI probably got a good picture of me dropping it off,” Archer said. Neither plan was particularly well received by the commissioner’s court, nor by the public, which voiced its disapproval earlier this summer in two rowdy public hearings \(one held in the the road issue featured heavily. Dayton area residents were adamantly opposed to having their community split between two commissioners, which they felt would only further exacerbate their road problems. Before long, the maps started multiplying. Toby Wilburn is still technically the commissioner in precinct four, but he has been stripped of his duties under an order issued by the U.S.Attorney in Beaumont.Thus, after a long hot summer of acrimony, precinct four will have no say in the final vote on redistricting. At the same time, ominous developments in the statewide redistricting process have left the area feeling particularly adrift. The prevailing statewide plan calls for Liberty County to be removed from its current house district, meaning popular Democrat Zeb Zbranek, who is from one of the area’s oldest families, may no longer represent the county. \(Though Zbranek says he intends to run next time around for whatever district Liberty County winds observers predicting the defeat of Liberty County Senator David Bernsen, whose new district contains fewer reliable Democratic voters. “Title your article: ‘No Representative, No Senator, and No Commissioner,” one local observer joked. Feelings are running so hot about the plan’s many changes in southeast Texas that Republican Attorney General John Cornyn, one of the principal architects of the plan, had to cancel a scheduled speaking engagement in Beaumont for fear of angry hecklers. Democracy may be in limbo in Liberty County, but the roads at least are improving. Dayton area rancher Lester Wisegarber has filled in as Wilburn’s replacement at the county barn. By all accounts, he has done an outstanding job on the roads in the short time he has served. And in an apparent effort to settle the pending lawsuit \(and forestall ing a major investment in precinct four road repair.That’s all anybody ever wanted, according to the soft-spoken Wisegarber, who has said he has no intention of running for commissioner once this is all over. “All the people in precinct four wanted was just to have it a little bit more equal,” he said. 8/17/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5 .1. !MO,