(Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
A Louisiana Senate committee made up mostly of white Republicans scuttled Friday the only state Senate political district proposal that would have increased the number of majority-Black districts in the chamber in 2024.
The map that remains in play maintains the status quo in terms of majority-Black Senate districts and will likely draw a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana unless it is altered. The full Senate is expected to start debating the map Tuesday.
The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 6-3 in favor of Republican Senate President Page Cortez’s Senate Bill 1, with 11 majority-minority districts out of 39 seats. The committee voted to kill Democratic Sen. Ed Price’s Senate Bill 17, which would have increased majority-Black districts in the Senate to 13.
The committee vote split along race and party lines. White Republicans voted in favor of Cortez’s map and against Price’s proposal. Black Democrats voted against Cortez’s boundaries and in favor of Price’s bill.
BREAKING: In a 6-3 vote, the LA Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee just approved state Senate & Congressional maps that will likely violate the Voting Rights Act. We strongly urge the legislature to adopt a Senate map that won’t undermine the political power of Black voters!
— ACLU of Louisiana (@ACLUofLouisiana) February 4, 2022
That all the Black members of the committee favored an alternative proposal to the only Senate map moving forward may strengthen the ACLU’s argument in a potential lawsuit. Few people expected Price’s map to advance out of committee, but Democrats pushed the proposal with an eye toward possible litigation.
After the committee vote Friday, the ACLU of Louisiana tweeted that Cortez’s map “will likely violate the Voting Rights Act. We strongly urge the legislature to adopt a Senate map that won’t undermine the political process!”
The crux of the argument for increasing majority-minority districts in the Senate is that the current makeup of the Senate does not reflect the demographics of Louisiana.
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The Senate’s 11 majority-Black seats, maintained in Cortez’s map, make up 28% of the entire body. Price’s 13 majority-Black seats would have brought the number of majority-minority districts up to one-third.
More than 40% of Louisiana’s population identifies as a minority and 33% is Black. Since the current Senate lines were drawn over a decade ago, the share of Louisiana’s white population has dropped while the Black proportion has increased.
While Cortez’s map maintains the same racial makeup, it does make a significant change in regional representation. The Senate President has proposed moving Senate District 37, currently held by Republican Barrow Peacock, from Shreveport to the Northshore. Caddo Parish, where Shreveport is located, has lost more population – 17,000 people – than any other parish over the last decade.
Price’s map offered an alternative to Cortez’s map in that arena as well. His proposal kept the endangered Senate seat in the Shreveport area, but flipped it from majority white to majority Black. That should appeal to Northwest Louisiana lawmakers in both political parties, who don’t want to see their region lose political clout.
Yet Price wasn’t able to convince Sen. Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport, to go along with his proposal. Milligan, who is white, voted against Price’s map and for Cortez’s proposal as a member of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee Friday, though it reduces Milligan’s own community’s voting power.
Milligan said he didn’t feel like he had a choice, given the drop in Shreveport’s population.
“We can’t make more people,” he said. “As much as we want to keep our Senate seat, our population just doesn’t justify it.”
Milligan also felt Cortez’s proposal had been vetted by more senators and the Senate President had worked more to gain a consensus than Price. Cortez spent weeks meeting with senators about their districts, something Price had not taken the time to do, Milligan said.
Democrats haven’t ruled out backing Cortez’s proposal when it comes up for a vote next week, even if they didn’t vote for it Friday.
Price said he hasn’t made up his mind about how he will vote on Cortez’s map next week. He also wasn’t sure whether he would be offering amendments to try and change Cortez’s proposal.
Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, said he didn’t know whether he would vote for Cortez’s map either. Rapides Parish, where he lives, is cut up into six Senate districts in Cortez’s plan and Rapides civic leaders are upset about the proposal.
But even if all the Democrats oppose Cortez’s map, he could still get it out of the Senate and moved on to the House. Republicans make up two-thirds of the Senate and can pass bills without Democratic support.
Some lines on Cortez’s map are also likely to change.
The Senate is having a difficult time settling on district lines in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. The area is not in danger of losing a Senate seat, but it has been hard for lawmakers to keep the current racial makeup of the New Orleans and Jefferson districts.
New Orleans has seen a surge in population, but those new residents are overwhelmingly white, making it more difficult for Cortez to maintain the four majority-Black Senate districts currently in the city. One of those seats, District 5 represented by Democrat Karen Carter Peterson, is no longer a majority-Black district because of population shifts over the last 10 years.
In order to boost the Black population in Peterson’s seat, Cortez had to move around a number of lines for other districts in Southeast Louisiana. The adjustments affected Senate districts as far away as St. John the Baptist Parish.
Sen. Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans, said the reworking of the lines in Orleans and Jefferson is a “fluid process.” He wasn’t sure he could vote for Cortez’s map in its current configuration.
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