Republicans hold sway as Louisiana Legislature nears end of redistricting session

By: and - February 16, 2022 6:00 am
Brass Louisiana relief map

A brass relief map of Louisiana lies in the center of Memorial Hall at the Louisiana State Capitol. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

Republican leaders in the Louisiana Legislature are optimistic their special redistricting session will end before the weekend as GOP-backed maps continue to advance from both chambers. All keep the current level of minority representation in place, making lawsuits likely from voter rights groups as well as possible vetoes from Gov. John Bel Edwards.    

Efforts from Black Democrats to redraw districts that favor minority candidates – even those that maintain a White majority – have fallen short across the board, despite the latest Census figures showing Louisiana’s minorities are underrepresented in Congress and at multiple levels of state government.

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said Tuesday that House lawmakers and senators are close to reaching agreement on maps for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Public Service Commission, and Louisiana’s six congressional districts. Each chamber has approved its own redistricting plan, and neither is likely to meddle in the other’s map.

The only possible drama remaining involves the Louisiana Supreme Court map, but it’s also expected to follow the pattern of not adding minority districts to the current makeup. 

Here’s where the maps stand heading into Wednesday.

Congress

The House redistricting committee advanced a Senate bill Tuesday that proposes a status quo map with just one minority seat in Congress for Louisiana. It has not been placed on the House calendar for consideration. 

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, passed with a 10-4 vote after a failed attempt to amend it from a member of the Legislative Black Caucus. 

Hewitt highlighted her map’s low population deviations among the districts, zero split precincts and only 15 split parishes. She told House committee members the map preserves Louisiana’s “agricultural heritage” and keeps military installations together with their surrounding communities. 

Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, offered the amendment to Hewitt’s bill that would have created a second majority-Black district. It failed with a 5-9 vote. 

The Senate’s redistricting committee approved House Bill 1 Tuesday from House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales. It also retains a single minority congressional district and is expected to go before the full Senate when it convenes Thursday. Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, unsuccessfully attempted to amend the speaker’s map to create a second minority district out of the 5th District.     

BESE

The House redistricting committee rejected a Democrat’s proposal for a state school board map with an additional minority seat, and then advanced a Republican-backed Senate bill that keeps the number of minority districts for BESE’s elected seats at two out of eight. 

House Bill 6, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer, proposed a third majority-Black seat. The House adopted a BESE map last week with two minority seats, and Jefferson said he wanted to offer his colleagues a final chance to do what is fair and equitable for Louisiana citizens, one-third of whom are Black, according to the 2020 Census. 

“Our generation will be judged not just by the acts of bad people but by the silence of good people,” Jefferson said, quoting late civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jefferson’s map would have created a majority-Black seat out of the 4th District in northern Louisiana with 49.8% Black voters and 46.4% White voters. It failed on a 6-7 vote.

Rep. Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, who crafted the BESE map that the House approved last week, said the Black population under 50% in Jefferson’s bill might underperform as a majority-minority district. In response, Jefferson said his map complies with the goal of the federal Voting Rights Act in that it merely gives the opportunity for minorities to elect their preferred candidate rather than to ensure minority-preferred candidates will always win. 

The House committee instead chose to advance Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Cortez. Through amendment, it’s identical to the BESE map from Thomas, which the Senate redistricting committee approved Tuesday. Thomas’ bill was put on the Senate calendar for Thursday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he would not be overly concerned if another minority district is added to the BESE map, indicating he would not veto such a proposal. The governor appoints three members to the state school board. 

Public Service Commission

Both the House and Senate versions of new Public Service Commission districts sailed through committee hearings Tuesday. House Bill 2 from Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, is scheduled for Senate floor debate Thursday.

Although minorities are under-represented on the Public Service Commission, they do not have a large enough population share to hold a second majority-minority seat on the five-district body. PSC map proposals have so far sailed through without opposition. 

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Louisiana House and Senate

GOP leaders in the Legislature have bills to remap their respective chambers poised for final approval. A last-ditch effort from Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, to diversify House districts in northwest Louisiana could happen Wednesday in committee, although the full House rejected a similar attempt Monday.

Both the House and Senate maps keep the current number of minority districts in the Legislature. Republicans in each chamber were able to move districts from northwest Louisiana to the New Orleans area and Northshore without affecting the party seat allotment. 

Louisiana Supreme Court

By law, the Legislature does not have to alter the state high court. Its districts haven’t been updated since 1997 as a result, and GOP measures that have advanced from their respective chambers have stayed a single minority district out of seven. As happened 25 years ago, a federal court could compel Louisiana to redraw its the state Supreme Court districts if lawmakers don’t act.

Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, wants to add a second district, and the House redistricting committee has approved his proposal, House Bill 22. It’s on the full House calendar for debate Wednesday, but it still faces long odds to win approval. 

A Supreme Court map needs a two-thirds vote to win approval, which Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, obtained from the Senate for her map that sticks with one minority court district. The House redistricting committee has her bill on Wednesday’s agenda.

Also on that agenda are long-shot proposals from Rep. Wilford Carter, D-Lake Charles, who wants to expand the state Supreme Court to nine districts. That would require statewide voter approval through a constitutional amendment.  (UPDATE: One of Carter’s bills that adds a second minority district to the current seven-seat court has advanced from a House committee.)

The schedule

The redistricting session doesn’t have to end until Sunday, but all signs indicate any loose ends will be tied up no later than Friday. At the end of Tuesday’s brief floor session, Cortez told the Senate the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget is likely to meet as schedule Thursday afternoon. “Be prepared to work all day,” the Senate president told his colleagues. 

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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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. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including 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, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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