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Louisiana Black Caucus to Sue Over Congressional Redistricting in Fight Over Black Representation

Gov. Bobby Jindal

Rep. Regina Barrow

by Christopher Tidmore

( - Despite Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s calls to postpone a final remap of the state’s congressional districts, a special legislative session adjourned on April 13 by sending the map to the Governor’s desk.

The bill will shrink the state’s U.S. House districts from seven to six due to slow population growth and will preserve five GOP districts and one majority-minority African-American Democratic district.

Jindal was not complaining. He got what he wanted. The proposal is essentially the plan that the Governor originally endorsed. The same equanimous attitudes cannot be said to be held by the residents of Terrebonne and Lafourche who will see East Acadiana split apart, and the legislative Black Caucus which vowed to sue for under-representation.

The current map only contains one African-American supermajority district, stretching from Downtown New Orleans, up the West Bank of the Mississippi, to Downtown Baton Rouge.

Black Caucus members have argued that there should be a second seat, two out six in a state that is one-third African-American.

“Almost certainly we will file suit,” said Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, a member of the Black Caucus.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, added in an interview with the Associate Press, “African Americans have been underrepresented in this state, minorities have been underrepresented in this state since the state was created, and it’s a sad, sad thing that in this day and age we continue to have to fight for what’s fair.”

Morrell and his colleagues believe that the current map is not in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, which guards against discrimination. Most Southern states, including Louisiana, must submit their redistricting maps for federal review under the Pre-clearance Clause in Section 5 of the 1965 Act.

Others disagree, contending that the African-American population of Louisiana has virtually flatlined.

Demographer Elliot Stonecipher notes that there are just 500 more Black voters in Louisiana than in the 2000 census. Since the population percentages are nearly the same as a decade ago, mostly since Hispanics are counted as White, Stonecipher sees little reason increased minority representation.

Hispanic/Latinos represent 4.25 percent of the state’s population. They are counted as Caucasian. That makes the White population 62.65 percent of the state’s population. The Black population now stands at 32.04 percent.

Good Government Advocate C.B. Forgotston did note that legislators did not count “for the purpose of redistricting, the 5.4 percent of our population that is neither Black or Hispanic/Latino?”

No rules were established by the legislature for counting the non-Black minorities, such as Vietnamese. “This may appear to be nit-picking,” Forgotston explained to The Louisiana Weekly, “but depending on the location of these non-Black minorities it could distort either a majority-minority district or a majority-majority district.”

There is a large Vietnamese Community in the Second Congressional District, for example.

Other Black Caucus members were disappointed that Governor Jindal and his allies did not consider some East-West design for the North Louisiana Congressional Districts. They stretch from Shreveport South to Central Acadiana, from Monroe to the Florida Parishes.

Black Caucus member State Rep. Rick Gallot, Jr. (D-Ruston) had proposed an East/West I-20 Corridor district that would go from Shreveport to Monroe. While not an African American-majority seat, the district would have been 42 percent Black and could have elected a Democrat.

Gallot argued that Shreveport has more in common with Ruston and Monroe than with Cajun towns or Baton Rouge suburbs. Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard proposed a similar plan that would have an I-20 District and an East/West seat centered around Alexandria. Both would be more white and GOP-leaning than Gallot’s proposal, and would protect incumbents John Fleming and Rodney Alexander. (Congressman Fleming is from Minden; Alexander hails from Quitman.)

However, neither plan met Jindal’s requirement of two completely safe Republican seats in North Louisiana. African-American registration ranks high enough that Democrats could conceivably compete against the two sitting Republican Congressmen. Richard’s proposal was rejected in the closing hours of the session.

Another aspect of Richard’s proposal would have drawn Baton Rouge Republican Bill Cassidy down the Bayou into covering both Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, keeping East Acadiana in one Congressional seat, a major priority of officials from both parishes.

It failed as well. Lafourche will join the seat of 1st District Congressman Steve Scalise, and with stretch from the Parish line to Plaquemine, up to St. Bernard, across the Lake to St. Tammany and Washington parishes, and down the Causeway to East Jefferson and the Lakeview and Uptown sections of Orleans.

The split comes from the demise of the district represented by GOP Rep. Jeff Landry. The first term Tea Party Republican will be forced to run against Republican Rep. Charles Boustany in a district that most closely resembles Boustany’s current seat—if Landry seeks re-election.

Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, said the people of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes have been tied together for decades, and he said the map will carve them “up like a Thanksgiving turkey.” The city of Houma will be split between two districts, he said.

“Give a little. Please. Help me out,” Chabert pleaded to no avail.

Baton Rouge and its suburbs will be represented by three congressmen. The northeast Louisiana-based district will stretch east across the Florida Parishes.

The Senate backed the redesign proposal 25-13, and the House voted 64-35 for it. Black lawmakers voted in a near bloc against the plan.

Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, called the map “the most compromise we’ve got. Not everybody is made whole. When we’ve got to go from seven to six, we’ve just got to make some tough decisions.”

The Louisiana Legislature was redrawing political boundary lines to account for population shifts over the last 10 years as reflected in the latest census data. Among the other maps drawn in the special session were the 144 state legislative districts and the Public Service Commission seats. A redesign of the state education board districts failed to gain passage in the final minutes of the session, and a proposed revamping of the state Supreme Court seats never gained traction.

Even supporters of the map said they weren’t necessarily pleased with its design. Jeff Landry’s 3rd District in Acadiana was sacrificed because he was the Congressman with the least seniority, though, population loss in North Louisiana equaled much of the losses in the metro New Orleans area.

“No one in here is satisfied, I’m sure, 100 percent satisfied. We’d all like things a little bit different. But if we stay here another year I don’t think we could get everybody satisfied,” Rep. M.J. “Mert” Smiley, R-Port Vincent, explained to the Associated Press.

Jindal said in a statement: “No one thinks this plan is perfect, but it is a good compromise. We will sign it and send it to the Justice Department.”

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