Monday, 04 April 2011 16:17

Louisiana Redistricting In House And Senate Is More Of The Same

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Christopher TidmoreThe March Special Legislative session to redistrict the boundaries of 105 House, 35 Senate, and 6 Congressional seats closed its second week with the GOP and the Black Caucuses managing to increase the number of legislative districts gerrymandered to be sympathetic to electing members of each.  
       Yet, the real story of the 2011 Special Session is that neither side got all that it wanted, ensuring the continued survival of many White Democratic districts—especially in the State House and most particularly in New Orleans.

        Often redistricting in Louisiana involves two factors, incumbency protection and a tacit cooperation between the Black Caucus and the Republicans to create more African-American majority seats.   Removing minority voters correspondingly usually renders White GOP seats.
        The astonishing fact of this Special Session so far is how a Republican Speaker of the House has, for the most part, resisted this trend, protecting many White Democratic incumbents.  In fact, he faced off against some of his closest allies in his own party.
        Case in point.   On Tuesday, the Jefferson House delegation launched an effort to expand three Jefferson GOP House seats into Orleans Parish.  Under Tucker’s plan, only one Representative would cross parish lines on the East Bank.   Rep. Nick Lorusso would see his Lakeview seat drawn into Bucktown, pretty much around the precincts of the home of fellow GOP Rep. John LaBruzzo.  The remainder of LaBruzzo’s district in Old Metairie would be mostly given to Cameron Henry.  Meanwhile, Henry would lose the four Orleans Riverbend precincts and most of Central Metairie North of Lafrenere Park that he currently represents to other Jeff Reps.  
        The plan meant that two Republicans districts would become one, ensuring an interparty fight in the Fall.   Led by Jefferson Rep. Tony Ligi and Henry, the Republican House delegation proposed drawing three GOP seats into Uptown.
       Under Tucker’s Map, Uptown and Downtown remained relatively unbalkanized.   Thanks to retiring Reps. Walker Hines and Juan LaFonta, Tucker drew a map that essentially preserved three separate Democratic seats, held by whites, Neil Abramson, Walt Leger and Helena Moreno.
        In the latest Tucker plan, those three representatives each would have single districts that combine to span the Mississippi River crescent south of Lakeview and Gentilly. "We're still going to have 19 districts on the south shore" of Lake Pontchartrain, with 20 members wanting another term, Tucker explained.
         Led by Metairie GOP Rep. Tony Ligi, the Jefferson delegation attempted, to restore Henry’s precincts in Riverbend and drastically expand their number, draw LaBruzzo a seat that does from Bucktown almost to Tulane University, and carve out a district for Lorusso that would go from Lakeview to the Zoo.  
       The attempt would have put White majority legislative seats together, and would have had little impact on the African-American majorities of other Orleans Black held districts.   Had Tucker strongly supported the measure, it would have passed.   Instead, despite having Governor Jindal’s support, it failed 47-49.   Just two votes.
      Correspondingly, Tucker supported the Black Caucus in increasing the number of African-American majority seats in the House from 27 to 29.  He helped block the effort to create a 30th seat, though.   
       The Black Caucus wanted another majority-minority seat carved out in the Shreveport Area.   As Caucus member Rep. Patricia Smith noted the state was 32% African-American.  “Having 30 seats is not unreasonable,” in the 105 member House of Representatives, she explained.
       Critics, like Demographer Elliot Stonecipher, observed that the state’s Black population had barely increased at all, growing by just over 500 people, flat-lining in population terms.   As such an increase in two seats for Black majorities of over 62% more than met the requirements under the Voting Rights Act.   Threats of a court challenge would not stand.
        Tucker had the problem that under African-American Democratic Rep. Rick Gallot’s amendment, the new Black Majority seat would have consequently drawn together two Republicans. Rep. Alan Seabaugh would have to face fellow Republican Richie Burford under the revised HB1 plan.
        However, not as well noted, the new African-American seat would have caused two White Democrats just south of Shreveport also to face one another.   
         There was a plan on the table where Tucker could have pleased the Black Caucus and his own GOP members.   The proposal would have gerrymandered one of the Republican members down into another White Democratic seat, preserving a GOP member while ending the careers of two White Democrats.  
       Tucker rejected the idea, and backed Seabaugh’s original argument that Caddo Parish was 50% White and 50% Black, and therefore deserved three Caucasian seats and three African-American seats.   Gallot’s amendment was stripped from Tucker’s HB1 on the House floor.
        The curious fact was that Tucker was not alone.   Just as the leadership in the lower chamber avoided a wholesale massacre of its White Democratic members, the State Senate could have done the same.  It did not.  
      Senators avoided the opportunity to draw vastly more Black Super Majority seats, thereby also creating lilywhite GOP seats.   Instead, the Upper House opted to simply increase the Black Majority by one, from 10 to 11 seats, out of 35.   The result preserved several Democratic held seats by Whites, who depend on African-American minorities in their districts to beat their Republican opponents.
        LSU Shreveport Political Scientist Jeffery Sadow expressed his astonishment at the choice, made by a chamber with a Republican majority.  Noting that it all may be “part of a deal to allow the favorable House and Congressional maps to go through”, he went on, “Perhaps so, but it was unnecessary. Simply, Senate Republicans had more than enough numbers – 23 to 16 after all the recent special elections and party switches essentially reversing those numbers – to impose something less unfavorable. And while some of the recent switchers could be less reliable on important issues to the legislative party, redistricting should not be one of them – why assist the very organization you just cut ties with?”
Who Remains in Orleans and Jefferson

        With the passage of both House and Senate Bills last week, Orleans will only lose two African-American majority House seats, and one Senator.    Ninth Ward Rep. Charmaine Marchand Stiaes will face the newly elected Wesley Bishop.   
      Tucker maintained that the coming conflict between Stiaes and Bishop "can't be fixed" as of now. Stiaes and Bishop have each observed in past constituent forums that they prefer to be grouped together to maintain at least two House seats based east of the Industrial Canal. Further changes, Bishop noted, would simply transfer him into a district with Rep. Austin Badon.
         The retirement of Juan LaFonta allowed for the elimination of the other.   Based on post-Katrina African-American losses, the City could have come off far worse in this redistricting cycle.
        Only one African-American Senate district was canabalized, pushing J.P.. Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis into the same seat.   The proposed district includes most of eastern New Orleans, parts of Gentilly, part of Chalmette and sections of the west bank in Orleans and Jefferson.
        While geographically diverse, it would create a seat that is 58.5% Black, maximizing African-American representation to ensure a Black Senator.   But, the lines of the District are not without its critics, both Black and White.
         At a hearing in Baton Rouge, Beverly Wright, of New Orleans East and representing African-American Women of Purpose and Power, says she has something in common with Republican activist Mike Bayham, of Chalmette, representing St. Bernard Parish government. Both escewed the idea of sharing the same Senatoral district.
      They each complained to the State Senate committee overseeing redistricting that the contours of new district divided their respective communities.   The constituents would become disadvantaged minorities with little in common with their Senator.
      "Drowned by Katrina, polluted by BP, we don't need to be eviscerated by politics," argued Bayham. "If you split us, we are not going to have two senators, we'll have none."  Beverly Wright made common cause believe that African-Americans in Eastwood would have the same problem having their voice heard in a district that stretches all the way to Hollygrove and the East Jeff line as Whites in Chalmette and Arabi.  
         A little of more geographically contained, Ed Murray would end up with a district that runs along the Lake, from the Jeff Parish line through Lakeview and Gentilly to New Orleans East.   
       His seat would be 62.7% African-American, up considerably from his current numbers.    Karen Carter Peterson, on the other hand, would see a bare Black majority.  
         Her new seat would goes from Downtown through Mid-City into Old Jefferson’s African-American precincts in Shresbury.    It has 26,838 White voters versus 36598 Black, or 39% to 53% breakdown.    
           Carter Peterson is used to representing seats with near Black minorities.  Her old House seat had become nearly a White majority seat by the time she was promoted to the Senate, yet Carter Peterson won with confortable majorities time and again.
         Still, that low a number of African-American concentrated voters brought criticism on the West Bank.   On Black majority seat was considered insufficient in its African-American concentration.   Usually, below 56%, seats like this tend to elect White Democrats.  
         Carter Peterson, though, seemed statisfied with the result.  Some of the early models showed her losing her district.    Instead, the Senate opted to draw the seat of Republican Julie Quinn out of existence, canablizing much of her Orleans precincts into Carter Peterson’s new district.   A sliver of Uptown and Quinn’s Old Metairie and Bucktown precincts were transferred into Conrad Appel’s Senate District.
        Carter Peterson can console herself that her seat is overwhelmingly Democratic, with 63% registration.   The GOP numbers just 11% of the District’s electorate.  

Outside the New Orleans Southshore

      State Reps. Chris Roy, D-Alexandria, and James Armes, D-Leesville will also face one another. Speaker Tucker did drop a proposal for Roy to face fellow Democrat and Rapides Parish Rep. Herbert Dixon of Alexandria.
       Of the new African-American seats, one is located in East Baton Rouge, a new minority district in the north central area; another is in Livingston and a third based in Livingston that includes parts of Ascension, St. John and St. James parishes.
       Other new House districts would be located in Acadiana, Tangipahoa, and St. Tammany. The Acadiana district is another of the new minority districts
      Besides Baton Rouge and Acadiana new minority districts are created in Shreveport, the River Region, West Jefferson, in the Natchitoches-DeSoto-Sabine area, and in Ouachita.    The West Jefferson seat drew some ire, as was referenced earlier, as White Democrat Robert Billiot holds the seat, and with less than 60% majorities, he is likely to remain.  
     One of the perceived heroes of the session, Rep. Rick Nowlin, R-Natchitoches, was cheered in the House. His seat was protected under the original House plan, but it affected eight districts surrounding his area. Some are held by Democrats.
         After much give-and-take, Nowlin stepped forward with a compromise. He volunteered to run in a newly created minority district.
        “The end result is it helps all the districts,” Nowlin told the House. And he added that he would go back home and tell all of his friends, black and white, that “we’re together.”
        Rep. Chris Roy, D-Alexandria, one of those affected, called Nowlin a “true statesman” for offering the compromise.
     As Jim Bean of the Lake Charles American Press noted, two Southwest Louisiana legislators benefiting from the compromise are Reps. James Armes, D-Leesville, and Frank Howard, R-Many.
         Next Week: Congressional Redistricting or How New Orleans will end up in a district with rural Donaldsonville and North Louisiana seats might stretch to Acadiana and the Florida Parishes—all so there is no I-20 East-West North LA seat that is 42% African-American--and could elect a Democrat.

Christopher Tidmore is on the radio from 7-8 AM on WSLA 1560 AM, Mon-Fri, online at


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