Gov. John Bel Edwards (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).
Gov. John Bel Edwards came out in support of adding a second majority-Black U.S. House district Thursday–a move which would give minority voters much more political sway statewide.
His statements Thursday are the most specific comments Edwards, a Democrat, has made on the political redistricting process. Edwards can veto the political maps put forward by legislators, meaning he could reject a congressional map that doesn’t include a second minority-majority district next year.
In 2022, state lawmakers are scheduled to redraw the political lines for the U.S. House seats, Louisiana Legislature, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Public Service Commission. Lawmakers are also looking to rework lines for the state’s Supreme Court districts, which have not been adjusted in 25 years. The new maps will shape Louisiana’s political landscape for the next decade.
If the governor and Republican legislative leadership can’t come to an agreement about the political maps, a court could end up setting those boundaries. The GOP doesn’t have a veto-proof majority in the Louisiana House, meaning that they would need to get Democrats or independents to go along with them to override Edwards’ veto of any maps.
To get the perspectives of residents statewide, the Louisiana Legislature has been holding public hearings on political redistricting in different regions, with the most recent one taking place in Lake Charles this week. At every hearing, the idea of adding a second majority-Black district has come up, with Black residents pushing for more influence.
Despite making up nearly one-third of the state’s population, Black residents only make up the majority in one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts and one of the seven state supreme court districts. Five of Louisiana’s six U.S. House members are Republican, even though a third of the state consistently votes for Democratic candidates.
Edwards, a Democrat, said the process of creating two minority-majority districts could pose challenges. If political maps are redrawn, he said he doubted that the two North Louisiana congressional districts – which have both lost population over the years – could be left intact.
“Depending on where [the Black] populations are located, it can be very difficult, or not, in order to draw those maps that work,” Edwards said. “But obviously if we want to talk about fairness and making sure that the maps reflect the reality of what the situation is on the ground, that should certainty be our goal. And I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to get there, that people will agree that that’s the right thing to do.”
“If we do it, of course I don’t know that we can have the two North Louisiana districts continue to look like they do because it would be a major reworking of the map,” Edwards said.
The Republican leaders who control the Legislature are unlikely to go along with creating a second majority-minority U.S. House district, especially since it would likely displace a Republican incumbent in Congress.
State Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, also said Thursday that several state lawmakers are interested in maintaining two North Louisiana congressional districts. Stefanski is the head of the Louisiana House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which directs the state House’s redistricting process.
The leadership in the Louisiana Legislature is circulating a petition to convene a political redistricting session from Feb. 1 to Feb. 20. Both Democrats and Republicans appear to agree with the timeframe.
While the U.S. House lines are getting the most attention, an overhaul of the state Supreme Court’s political boundaries is also expected to be particularly hard. Those court districts require a two-thirds vote in the Louisiana Legislature, meaning some House Democrats or independents would have to vote for any Republican plan to pass. The Legislature can approve all other political maps with a simple majority vote.
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