(Photo by Julie O’Donoghue)
The Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives approved initial versions of their new political districts Monday that will go into effect for the 2023 election cycle and stay in place for a decade.
Lawmakers resisted calls to increase the number majority-Black districts in either chamber, likely inviting lawsuits from civil rights groups over federal voting rights laws.
While the proposed congressional maps get the most public attention, the Legislature’s own maps are the most personal for lawmakers. Legislators take more interest in the details of the state House and Senate map because those political lines directly impact their ability to get elected and who their donors are.
In both chambers, there are hurt feelings over dissolved districts as well as who gets precincts with wealthier residents and big assets such as ports, convention centers and sports arenas. Lawmakers have also pushed maps that draw potential political opponents out of their seats, thereby ensuring themselves more election security.
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Black Democrats are also frustrated that most white lawmakers haven’t been willing to budge in terms of increasing the number of majority-minority districts in the statehouse.
“It’s an act of voter suppression,” Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, said of the House map approved Monday. “I know we don’t want to look at it that way but that is what it is.”
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Louisiana Senate plan
The Senate passed its new map, sponsored by Senate President Page Cortez, on a 27-12 vote – a veto-proof majority. The proposal moves Senate District 37, currently held by Republican Sen. Barrow Peacock, from Shreveport to the Northshore.
All of the Senate Democrats voted against the bill, except for Sen. Regina Barrow, a Black woman who represents Baton Rouge. Peacock also voted against the legislation.
Cortez said he moved a Senate seat from Shreveport to the Northshore to reflect the state’s population shifts. Caddo Parish, the home of Shreveport, lost 17,000 residents over the past 10 years, while the Northshore and Baton Rouge suburbs have seen population growth.
The Senate scuttled an alternative proposal early in its special redistricting session that would have added two more majority-Black seats to the Senate.
Sen. Ed Price, a Black Democrat from Gonzales, proposed a different map that would have kept Peacock’s Senate seat in the Shreveport area by converting it to a majority-Black seat. He also would have converted a Baton Rouge area seat, District 17 represented by Sen. Rick Ward, from majority-White to a majority-Black district. The Senate’s redistricting committee rejected the proposal.
The Senate also never warmed to a suggestion that would have likely added Democrats to the chamber, though not majority-Black seats.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said last week she thought it would be appropriate for her district lines to stay mostly as they were and not be moved to retain the district’s majority-Black status.
New Orleans has picked up about 40,000 additional residents, but most of those residents are White. Peterson said it would make more sense for her seat, District 5, to reflect that population shift, and for a Senate district in nearby Jefferson Parish to be converted into a majority-Black district instead.
The Senate didn’t agree with Peterson’s assessment, in part because of the impact on incumbents who plan to run for election again. Creating a new majority-Black district in Jefferson Parish would likely displace Republican Sen. Patrick Connick in District 8. It would also have created an extra Democratic seat in the Senate because Peterson’s New Orleans district – whether majority-Black or majority-White – would be unlikely to elect a Republican.
Louisiana House plan
The Louisiana House approved its map, sponsored by Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, on an 82-21 vote.
Black Democrats accounted for all 21 votes in opposition to the map, though five Black Democrats and every white Democrat in the chamber voted for the speaker’s House map.
Schexnayder’s map moves District 23, a majority-Black seat represented by Democrat Rep. Kenny Cox, from rural, northwest Louisiana to New Orleans. It also converts a historically majority-Black seat in New Orleans, District 91 held by Democratic Rep. Mandie Landry, to a district that is no longer majority-Black. GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
To make up for losing the majority-Black district in New Orleans, Schexanayder’s map also converts District 62, currently held by independent Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, into a majority-Black seat. The district is currently based in rural East and West Feliciana parishes but would come farther down into north Baton Rouge Parish, under the speaker’s proposal.
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Schexnayder’s map does not increase the majority-Black seats in the Louisiana House beyond the current number of 29, in spite of a last-minute push from Black Democrats to do so.
Members of the Black Caucus spent more than two hours Monday arguing for three amendments to the Schexnayder map that would have added a majority-Black district in the Shreveport area. None of the amendments got more than 32 votes, well short of the 53 needed.
Rep. Cedric Glover, a Black Democrat from Shreveport, proposed the changes. They were all iterations on the same theme – that House district lines should be moved around in Shreveport in order to make the districts more racially diverse.
“Give us the kind of districts that are representative of the region itself,” Glover said.
Glover, who served as Shreveport’s mayor for over a decade, said Shreveport’s six House districts are too segregated. Each has either 67% White or Black residents.
White Republicans from Northwest Louisiana opposed Glover’s efforts.
“Those who live in the Northwest are happy with the ways that the lines are drawn,” said Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall.
Though Glover’s amendments failed, they could be used to bolster a legal challenge to the map. Attorneys might argue districts in the Shreveport area are too segregated and don’t reflect the true makeup of the community.
Grounds for lawsuits
Black residents make up 33% of Louisiana’s total population, but the Legislature’s majority-Black districts don’t make up a third of either the Senate or House. In the Senate, 11 of the 39 seats are majority-Black or 28% of the total body. In the House, 29 of 105 seats are majority Black, also 28% of that chamber.
The ACLU of Louisiana has threatened to sue the Legislature if its House or Senate maps don’t increase majority-minority seats.
The Senate and House maps each have to go through at least two more votes before gaining full Legislature approval, but the plans aren’t expected to change much during the rest of the process. The Senate and House generally avoid changing each other’s proposals and give each chamber almost all the control over redrawing their own districts.
Gov. John Bel Edwards could also veto the maps, though he would need help from independents or Republicans to avoid a veto override. Democrats don’t have enough members in either the Senate or House to block an override without assistance.
Correction: This article originally said the lawmakers’ next election cycle was in 2024. It is in 2023.
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