Concerns about fair representation prevalent at Louisiana’s first political redistricting meeting

Monroe community members ask that its local congressional district be redrawn

By: - October 21, 2021 7:00 am

Audience members listen to speaker Jared Evans at Louisiana’s first redistricting meeting on Oct. 20, 2021. (Photo by Rachel Mipro/Louisiana Illuminator)

MONROE, La.  – Northeast Louisiana residents urged lawmakers to redraw political districts in ways that accurately represent populations at Louisiana’s first public meeting on political redistricting held Wednesday. 

“I hope it’s not just a show,” Vee Wright, a Monroe resident, said. “Like you’re going all around the state listening to us and then you’re going to go down to Baton Rouge and draw the maps in a way that mucks everything up.” 

With census data in, the legislature is due to redraw political districts for its congressional members, Louisiana Legislature, state school board and Public Service Commission, in a process that will shape Louisiana’s political landscape for the next ten years. Lawmakers may also redraw the state supreme court districts for the first time since 1997. 

Redistricting has long been a hot button issue in the state, with accusations that political districts have been drawn in ways that suppress minority voters and cement power for dominant political groups. 

Despite making up nearly one-third of the state’s population, Black residents are only represented by one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts and one of the seven state supreme court districts. 

“Louisiana has always been driven by corporate and business interests, rather than interests of citizens and so it’s really exciting to see so many organizations focused on redistricting, trying to improve the outline of districts to make sure people are represented,” said Melissa Flournoy, board chair of the Coalition for Louisiana Progress and a former state Democratic lawmaker from New Orleans. “Oftentimes it’s been focused on incumbent protection and not about making sure the voices of the people are heard.”

The fifth congressional district–which Monroe is a part of–is at the forefront of the issue. The district includes northeastern and central Louisiana, running from the top of the state down to St. Landry. Monroe residents argue that this district doesn’t accurately represent their issues or their concerns. 

“Obviously districts four and five are too frigging large,” Wright said. “They need to be split in two. Rural concerns are not the same thing as urban or suburban concerns. District five is ginormous.” 

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Kay Katz, a former state representative from Monroe, urged the opposite, asking the lawmakers to keep congressional district 5 together. 

“We’re good folks together and I hope you will keep the lines as close as possible to what they were before,” Katz said. “I support the fifth district the way it is.”

Residents of north Louisiana might be particularly nervous about the redistricting process, which only takes place once every 10 years, because the northern regions of the state has lost population, while southeastern Louisiana has gained residents. That could shift one of its two congressional districts — as well as other political offices — farther south.

At particular risk is U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, the first Republican woman to represent Louisiana in Congress. Letlow has only been in office a few months. She won Louisiana’s 5th district congressional seat, which includes Monroe, last spring after her husband, Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died as a result of COVID-19.

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Political affiliation will also be a factor. Republicans have gained more power in the Louisiana Legislature since the last redistricting session took place in 2011. Democrats fear that could mean the new lines are skewed more to benefit conservatives. 

Republicans hold a super-majority in the Louisiana Senate, but Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has veto authority for political district maps, giving his party some political sway. New redistricting criteria passed in the 2021 Legislative session seeks to enforce new standards, including keeping parishes together whenever possible.

 Sharon Hewitt, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said public input was invaluable to the process. 

“Your voice, your thoughts and your ideas are absolutely vital to this process,” Hewitt said. “This is a listening session. It’s our goal to take the information you provide to us and to use it as we begin the process of drafting redistricting plans.” 

There are nine other scheduled forums, which will run through mid January. The forums are meant to explain redistricting to the public and raise awareness– all meetings are held after work hours to encourage public attendance. Lawmakers have to draw new lines for the Louisiana Legislature by Dec. 31, 2022. 

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro is a contributing reporter to the Illuminator. She has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.

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