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17.2.10

Senate remap plan creates more demographic equity

A joint redistricting plan jointly proposed by a social conservative interest group and a black Democrat state senator presents not only a good redistricting plan for the Louisiana Senate but also highlights the stakes present in the upcoming decennial exercise.


The Louisiana Family Forum is not a stranger to these attempts, as it previously has offered a plan for U.S. House redistricting in the wake of the great likelihood that the state will lose a seat after the 2010 census. Combining forces with it is state Sen. Elbert Guillory, and just like the House plan, this state Senate plan recognized increased black political clout and decreased white Democrat strength.


With the House plan, essentially what is today’s Third District currently represented by white, and currently the only in the delegation, Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon is the casualty of declining population. The LFF plan essentially creates five districts in areas that recently have been won by Republicans and a majority-black district captured in unusually circumstances by Asian Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao last election. This makes it less likely that a white Democrat will be elected from the state and currently is the idea with the most momentum, without Melancon around to lobby for his present district (he is running for the U.S. Senate), depopulation of Orleans Parish necessitating that Cao’s district expand, and desires of black politicians to make sure that a majority black district that would comprise 17 percent of the state’s population remain in a state where 30 percent of the overall population is black.


The state Senate plan follows these parameters in the sense that it shuffles the 39 districts to maximize black representation while dismembering districts of two term-limited legislators – currently held by state Sens. Joe McPherson and Rob Marionneaux – and two recent arrivals to the Senate – state Sens. J.P. Morrell and Karen Peterson – and shifting completely around the district of term-limited Sen. Pres. Joel Chaisson – to constitute new ones. In the process, even as it obliterates two Orleans-based black majority districts, it creates three new ones in different parts of the state – in the River Parishes area, Acadiana, and central Louisiana.


This could be a significant selling point. Currently, only two mainly non-urban majority-black districts exist – in the northeast part (now represented by white Democrat state Sen. Francis Thompson) and just north of Lafayette (Guillory’s). This would create three more, and might appeal to black politicians who would like to see greater opportunity for blacks to be elected outside of urban areas in the state and who wish to clip New Orleans’ political power. Indeed, the plan is advertised as seeking “demographic equity.”


Since it increases the number of black majority districts, it reduces the dilution of black voting strength statewide. Currently, the average spread between the two races in Senate districts is 47 percent. This plan would increase it to 55. That aspect may worry white Democrat politicians because it will make some of the districts they currently hold significantly more amenable to the election of a Republican – particularly the 18th of state Sen. Jody Amedee, the new 19th, the 21st of term-limited state Sen. Butch Gautreaux, the 22nd of state Sen. Troy Hebert, and the 29th of state Sen. Jack Smith.


Two black Democrats also may have problems with this plan, Morrell and Peterson, especially the latter as she just got elected to this seat after leaving the second-ranked position in the House. Her clout may be the most substantial roadblock to this plan but the reality is New Orleans at the very least will lose one Senate seat and if other black politicians are willing to let internecine warfare occur within New Orleans to get these others benefits of the plan, they can box in her, Morrell, and the senators they would be pitted against, Ann Duplessis and Edwin Murray.


This plan will become law if a majority of black Democrats in the Legislature – particularly those in the House who might have progressive ambition for some new Senate seats – will put aside relationships with some existing members with the goal of increasing overall black representation in the Senate. They will be assisted by Republicans who also could get more of their members elected under this plan – as things stand, if the districts listed above flip, they will have a Senate majority. As with the House plan, the odd people out will be white Democrats, casualties of a Louisiana white electorate that increasingly finds itself opposed to Democrats nationally and a Louisiana black electorate seeking co-ethnic candidates to represent their interests.

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