Shreveport region risks losing elected seats in Louisiana’s political redistricting

Northwest Louisiana has lost residents over the last decade, jeopardizing political seats

By: - October 22, 2021 9:03 am
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The Louisiana Capitol Building, April 8, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).

SHREVEPORT, La. – Northwest Louisiana residents urged state lawmakers Thursday to draw political boundaries that allow their region to retain the same number of political seats it currently has for the next decade — a challenging task given the area’s population loss.

The residents spoke during a public hearing at LSU-Shreveport set up by the Louisiana Legislature’s governmental affairs committees, which will oversee the redrawing of the state’s political boundaries. They are holding 10 public hearings around the state ahead of the political redistricting process next year.

The first two hearings took place this week in Monroe and Shreveport — areas of the state most at risk for losing political seats because of a decline in population. 

State and federal law requires Louisiana political districts to be redrawn once every 10 years to reflect population shifts within the state. Louisiana’s new political boundaries will affect seats in Congress, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Service Commission, Louisiana Senate, Louisiana House and possibly the Louisiana Supreme Court.  

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The legislators must draw Louisiana’s congressional seats, such that they are as equal in population as possible. Currently, southeastern Louisiana congressional districts 1 and 6 — which are represented by Steve Scalise and Garret Graves — are overpopulated. Districts 4 and 5 in north Louisiana — represented by Mike Johnson and Julia Letlow — are underpopulated.

Lawmakers are likely to consider consolidating the two north Louisiana congressional seats and moving one of those districts farther south, in order to accommodate the population shifts.

Northwest Louisiana could also lose Louisiana House and Senate seats. Legislators are required to redraw statehouse lines such that they are within 5% of the ideal population for each district.

In Northwest Louisiana’s Caddo, Bossier and DeSoto parishes, 11 House districts are “seriously underpopulated.” All of the Senate seats that cover Northwest Louisiana also have too few residents. This is particularly true of Senate Districts 39 (Greg Tarver), 34 (Katrina Jackson) and 31 (Louie Bernard), according to information provided by legislative staff at the hearing.

As with the congressional seats, lawmakers could opt to move some state House and Senate seats from Northwest Louisiana farther south, where legislative seats currently have too many residents. But Shreveport community leaders from both political parties are hoping to avoid that outcome. 

Fewer seats in Congress and the Louisiana Legislature translates to less political influence — and possibly less resources for the region.

“We are trying to preserve our current number of House and Senate seats,” said former state Rep. Thomas Carmody, a Republican from Shreveport. “We appear to be bottom heavy in the state right now … and we are trying to ensure adequate representation.”

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Several people attending the hearing also said the political lines must be redrawn to better reflect the racial makeup of Louisiana. About a third of the state’s population identifies as Black, but Black elected officials don’t make up a third of the Louisiana Legislature or the state’s congressional delegation.

Only one of Louisiana’s six members in the U.S. House of Representatives is Black. The other five members are white and Republican, which isn’t an accurate reflection of the state’s overall population, advocates said. 

Additionally, in northwest Louisiana, the population losses have come mostly from the white community, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. Among people who are of voting age, the Black population has increased over the last decade, while the white population has fallen, said Chris Kaiser, advocacy director for the ACLU of Louisiana. That should be taken into account when political lines are moved, he said.

“It is possible not to draw maps that are not the vestiges of Jim Crow and white supremacy,” said Lisa Tomkies, a Shreveport resident with the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice. 

The makeup of the Louisiana Supreme Court is also up for debate. Lawmakers aren’t legally required to change the seven elected Supreme Court districts — as they are for other elected offices — but are under significant pressure to do so. 

The court’s political lines haven’t been adjusted for population shifts since 1997 and some are substantially larger than others. One seat located in the New Orleans area is 28 percent smaller than the ideal size for a supreme court district. Another in the Baton Rouge area is 26 percent larger than it should be, according to legislative staff.

There is also only one Black justice on the court. Civil rights groups believe at least one additional political district for the court should be drawn such that it would make it easier to elect another person of color.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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