A map Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, submitted for new district lines in the Louisiana House of Representatives proposes 29 majority-minority seats, the same number currently in the chamber. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
A redistricting proposal from Republican leaders in the Louisiana House of Representatives keeps the number of majority-minority districts in the chamber at 29 out of 105, despite calls from voting rights advocates to add more representation for the state’s increasing Black population.
The House and Governmental Affairs Committee debated a map Monday thatbreaks upHouse District 23 in northwest Louisiana and moves its voters into five neighboring House seats. In its place, a new majority-minority district was created in New Orleans.
“It’s like you threw a land mine into my district and blew it into pieces,” said Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, who has represented District 23 since 2011.
Committee chairman Rep. John Stefan ski, R-Crowley, crafted the map in House Bill 14, which lists House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, as author. The speaker’s sponsorship gives it the best chance of advancing from the Republican-dominated Legislature. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has the right to veto maps that are advanced to him.
Stefanksi’s map also makes House District 62, which Rep. Roy Daryl Adams of East Feliciana Parish represents, a majority-Black district by moving parts of District 63, held by Baton Rouge Rep. Barbara Carpenter, and District 29, held by West Baton Rouge Rep. Edmond Jordan, into its territory.
Adams is an independent. Carpenter and Jordan are both Black Democrats. The new majority-Black district, currently held by Adams, would make up for the loss of a majority-Black district in New Orleans. District 91, held by New Orleans Rep. Mandie Landry, is no longer by majority-minority under Stefanski’s proposal.
Stefanski said input from fellow House members was a primary influence when it came to creating the new House districts. It led him to prioritize term-limited incumbents when looking for a district to move from northwest Louisiana, portions of which saw some of the state’s largest population decreases based on Census figures, he explained to committee members.
Representatives who retained their districts in his map also had a say when it came to drawing the new lines, he said.
“At the end of the day, I believe the (House) members know their districts the best,” Stefanski said.
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The boundaries of District 23 roughly follow a path along Interstate 49, from Cane River heading northwest into DeSoto Parish. Cox, who is a Black military veteran, said he was told the loss of his district was a “done deal” by GOP House leaders last Wednesday.
According to Cox, District 23 needed a “couple thousand” residents added to keep it intact. He questioned the accuracy of the Census, saying some people in his district “were afraid” to take part in the process. He said there was no support to bolster its population from fellow lawmakers in northwest Louisiana or the House leadership. Instead, the minority population of District 23 was split into smaller fractions among five other districts.
“When you divide our people up like that, and now you give me 20% here or 25% there, there’s no representation. You don’t have any rights,” Cox said. “There’s no representation … Our people don’t have anything to stand up to go vote for. This is voter suppression at its greatest.”
Cox and Black lawmakers on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee criticized Stefanski for not adding more majority-minority districts tp his map. With 29 seats, minority districts account for 27% of House representation. The latest Census shows Blacks make up 33% of Louisiana population, and minorities account for 40%.
Cox asked his colleagues to reconsider splitting up his district, recounting his experience in the military when he led soldiers into battle.
“In this case, I ain’t got no soldiers,” Cox said. “It’s just me, and I’ve been chosen as the sacrificial lamb to be quartered, divided, chewed on – and I actually feel spit on.”
Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, has introduced an alternative House map that identifies where more majority-minority districts could be created. But as Stefanski repeatedly noted, it contains in its present form the same number of minority seats, 29.
Duplessis, who has deferred consideration of his bill, took issue with claims from Stefanski and House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma, that the competing bills had reached the same conclusion on the number of majority-minority districts.
Duplessis asked Stefanski if he believed minorities are “adequately represented” in the House Speaker’s bill, and Stefanski said he feels they are based on a “regional perspective.”
In this case, I ain’t got no soldiers. It’s just me, and I’ve been chosen as the sacrificial lamb to be quartered, divided, chewed on – and I actually feel spit on.
– Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches
In District 62, Stefanski said he “unpacked” the higher minority population and moved it into District 63 and increased its share of Black voting age population to 78%. To do so, the large section of West Feliciana Parish was pulled from District 62 along with the rural northeast corner of East Baton Rouge.
Adams was elected to represent District 62 in 2019. He told the committee he opposes splitting the Felcianas into two districts, noting each parish is home to state mental and correctional facilities.
“Even after the Census, my district was good. But we’re going to divide it up and move everybody around … that’s my beef.”
The House committee is expected to vote on Stefanski’s map Tuesday. An alternative from Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, is on the same agenda but was not discussed Monday. It proposes more majority-minority districts in the House though it doesn’t specifically define where they will be.
At Monday’s meeting, Stefanski and Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, were critical of groups that have submitted maps that suggest more majority-minority districts but do not provide specific boundaries. Representatives of the ACLU of Louisiana and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice went on record to oppose Stefanski’s map.
Both organizations have said lawsuits are likely if Louisiana fails to add more minority representation in the Legislature, Congress and other seats being redrawn. In a similar case from Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday set aside a lower court ruling that would require lawmakers there to redraw their maps.
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