The Louisiana Capitol Building, April 8, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).
COVINGTON — State lawmakers on Tuesday heard from many north shore residents who were eager to have new political maps drawn and said they no longer want to be represented by a congressional district that is concentrated in the New Orleans suburbs south of Lake Pontchartrain.
Tuesday’s forum was one of a series of redistricting roadshows being hosted until the end of January 2022 by the Louisiana Legislature’s Joint Governmental Affairs Committee, which is tasked with redrawing the state’s political maps and choosing which voters to include in which districts.
A common theme among the speakers was the idea of separating the north shore, which includes the parishes of St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington, from other southeast Louisiana communities.
Covington resident Jim Harlan, who unsuccessfully ran against U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise in 2008, said north shore residents overwhelmingly want a congressional representative who lives on the north shore.
“That’s one of the reasons that I ran,” Harlan said. “The split between Jefferson and St. Tammany is a dysfunctional split.”
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Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District — which Scalise represents — encompasses St. Tammany and parts of Tangipahoa on the north shore, but the bulk of the district’s population is south of Lake Pontchartrain, in the parishes of Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines. The district also stretches to the Bayou region to include portions of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.
The north is also split between two congressional seats. The northern section of the north shore is lumped into the 5th Congressional District, which is primarily based in Northeast Louisiana. Sections of Tangipahoa and Washington Parish are represented by U.S. Rep. Julie Letlow, a Republican who lives near Monroe.
Resident Debbie McCloud said Washington Parish has frequently been used as a voting block for lawmakers to move around whenever they want to protect certain lines.
“We have a vested interest in the north shore…but we’re rural too,” McCloud said. “We’re sitting amongst giants, but we need to have our voice heard…The 5th Congressional District does not represent Washington Parish.”
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State Rep. Malinda White, an independent from Bogalusa, said it doesn’t make much sense for Washington Parish to be in a north Louisiana congressional district.
“It’s definitely going to take some action to shift the lines around,” White said. “There’s a lot of growth here, and I feel like we heard that tonight too.”
The parishes of St. Tammany and Tangipahoa saw some of the largest per capita population gains in the state over the last decade, climbing 13% and 10%, respectively, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Overall, Louisiana’s population growth was sluggish since 2010, but the state saw significant shifts in population moving from the northern half to the southern half and from rural to urban and suburban areas, according to the 2020 Census.
The redistricting process will affect almost every election in Louisiana for the next decade. State lawmakers will determine which voters to include in voting districts for U.S. Congress, Public Service Commission, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), state Senate, the state House of Representatives and possibly the state Supreme Court.
State lawmakers are expected to draw and vote on new political boundaries in February.
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