Democrats pitch second majority-minority district in Congress for Louisiana; Republicans resist

A state Senate committee has six versions to consider

By: - February 3, 2022 4:13 pm
Republicans in Legislature resist congressional maps with 2 Black districts

Louisiana legislators, Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt (middle) and her GOP colleagues Sen. Barry Milligan (left) and Sen. Glen Womack, study new congressional district maps proposed at the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

A state Senate committee stopped short of advancing any maps of revised district lines for Louisiana’s seats in Congress, choosing Thursday to defer multiple options submitted this week. 

Nonetheless, members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee studied six proposed versions – five submitted by Democrats and one from a Republican.

Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, offered three maps the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has drawn. Each would create two minority districts out of Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th congressional districts.. 

Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, proposed a map with two majority-minority strongholds in the same two districts. Luneau’s 5th District, which Julia Letlow, R-Monroe, currently represents, would capture much of Shreveport and Baton Rouge, giving the district a minority edge with 54% of its registered voters Black and 42% white.   

A second majority-minority district has been the most common request from voting rights advocates who have taken part in the legislature’s redistricting effort since it began last year. 

The 2020 Census confirmed Black residents in Louisiana are significantly under-represented in federal and state government. A third of the state’s population is Black, yet Black residents make up a majority in only one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts and just one of its seven state Supreme Court districts. 

Minority voters are also under-represented in the Legislature and on the state school board. 

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said at Thursday’s committee meeting that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does not guarantee Louisiana’s one-third minority population should have one-third minority representation in Congress. 

“[N]othing in this section establishes a right to have members of a protected class elected in numbers equal to their proportion in the population,” Hewitt said multiple times, citing Section 2 of the act. 

Luneau disagreed, saying courts have interpreted the passage to guarantee the opportunity for minorities to elect a candidate of their choice. 

Citing her interpretation, Hewitt proposed a map that keeps just one majority-minority stronghold in the 2nd District, the seat held by Rep. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, who is Black. The Slidell senator said one of the goals in her map was to unite rural and agricultural interests, pointing out that agriculture is an $11 billion industry in Louisiana. 

The 5th District in Hewitt’s map comprises mostly white rural communities stretching from north and central Louisiana and the top half of the Florida parishes north of Lake Pontchartrain. It captures a registered voter population that is 64% white and 33% Black. The 2nd District would maintain its current registered voter demographic: 61% Black, 31% white. 

Arguing against a second majority-minority district, Hewitt said it poses “a great risk” to weaken the state’s only current minority stronghold. To add another, she said it would require taking some of the 2nd District territory and reducing its minority voter population from 61% to about 53%.

Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, said there are no hard numbers to support Hewitt’s claim. 

“We don’t know that a district with… 53% voting age population would not elect a minority in that district,” Price said. “We don’t have that data.” 

Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, proposed a map with the 2nd and 5th as majority-minority districts. Their Black registered voter populations would be 54% and 53%, respectively. 

Smith said his map proposes a much more concise 6th District, which Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, holds, that hugs the east bank of the Mississippi from south Baton Rouge to Metairie and captures all of Livingston Parish. 

The 6th District is currently 71% white and covers territory east and west of the Mississippi, excluding much of the predominately-Black industrial corridor known as “Cancer Alley.”

Lawmakers are expected to continue debate over the congressional district proposals in committee Friday.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.

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