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LA House remap perhaps most controversial of all

If you think controversy has flared over a redistricting proposal that would shift two state Senate seats out of New Orleans after the 2010 census, and as if redistricting that will lead to the loss of a U.S. House seat isn’t also stirring the pot enough, the biggest one has yet to be addressed.

Regarding the House seat, two ideas are making rounds: eliminate the Third District, basically south of I-10 and east of I-49 currently white-majority and the only one not held by a Republican, or combine the Fourth and Fifth which essentially take up all of the state north of Alexandria. Momentum is on the side of the former as it fits better legal aspects of redistricting imposed by federal courts, the Third will have no sitting Congressman to defend it, Republicans who with the governorship and an effective majority in the state House have the upper hand in the process and will want to see a Democrat district dismantled, and black political interests wishing to preserve an Orleans power base desire this outcome.

Regarding the Senate, the Republican/black coalition also is making itself felt as this plan will create three black-majority districts at the expense of removing two such districts from New Orleans. If black politicians join Republicans on this, they will have more than enough votes in the Senate to approve such a plan. However, the prospects of this plan are less certain because so many Senate interests are threatened – not just because of the two black Democrat New Orleans Senate seats (mathematically, a plan could be produced that creates only the loss of one), but also as several white Democrats will find their districts may become less favorable for one of their partisans to be elected and with a nine-seat edge even if only half of black senators stay with them they can prevent the plan from succeeding.

But where the real consternation may occur is in the state House. There, by the numbers, New Orleans stands to lose three House seats. And the geography, demography, and legal environment suggest more loss of black and Democrat power.

Ideally, the districts that come out of the process will have about 44,000 residents, which translates normally into about 30,000 registrants to vote. This puts almost all current Orleans-based districts at risk, but black-majority ones more than others. In fact, the most any has according to them latest statistics is the 93rd (currently vacant) at 25,341. The 99th (Charmaine Stiaes with 19,122) and 101st (Cedric Richmond at 19,885) both are under 20,000.

Viewing the map, one easy consolidation and some paring would be the 101st with the 100th (23,042), state Rep. Austin Badon’s. This is not news; it’s no accident that term-limited Richmond is running for Congress (and favored to win) while Badon is running for New Orleans City Council. With Badon not term-limited, if he loses the city race, not against an incumbent in a combined district he probably won’t mind this change.

A little trickier but still obvious would be the combination and paring of the 99th and the 97th (22,718), the latter held by recent arrival state Rep. Jared Brossett. Both would want to remain in office but Stiaes has been around a lot longer than Brossett and probably could get a combined district drawn to her favor.

Yet it Republicans and blacks, for different reasons, wanted to go for the jugular, they could create two districts out of the 96th (22,418) held by state Rep. Juan LaFonta who is running against Richmond, the 93rd, and the 98th (21,736) held by state white Rep. Neil Abramson. The 96th and 98th are not next to each other, but the dismembering of the 93rd would connect them. Intriguingly, the 98th is a majority-black district more centered on Uptown but it could be made to disappear into two majority-black districts – in essence, blacks would then lose just two seats and whites one.

This kind of plan may appeal to blacks if then the 103rd and 104th, based in St. Bernard, are combined. Democrat state Rep. Reed Henderson’s 103rd (17,467) and Republican state Rep. Nita Hutter’s 104th (16,313) simply cannot survive the depopulation of the area separately. Both are white and Hutter is term-limited. Being the only incumbent then, Henderson, even if a consolidated district might favor a Republican, could feel optimistic about retaining the seat. This would mean in the New Orleans area two seats held by blacks and two seats by whites would disappear – in the minds of black politicians, perhaps a good deal given the circumstances.

A final bonus to blacks would be the 91st, 95th and 102nd districts, held respectively by white Democrats Walter Leger, Walker Hines and Jeff Arnold, could still be arranged to have majority black populations. This means if not in 2011, then soon after, all of these could gain black representatives. Thus, in terms of sheer number of black representatives, there may actually be more after redistricting than before.

Republicans would not mind this at all. From the perspective of Gov. Bobby Jindal, wiping out Abramson’s district might not have him shed many tears as Abramson has been one of Jindal’s staunchest legislative critics. They would have a good chance at keeping a combined 103/104, could be competitive at some point in the 91st, 95th, and 102nd, and with four seats shifting out of the area to other parts of the state are very likely to get one or more of those newly drawn in a way that favors them.

This is just one scenario, but one which maximizes Republican and black Democrat representation at the expense of white Democrats. Whether Democrats will fracture over this remains to be seen, but it helps to recall that there has been some historical animosity of the rest of the state towards New Orleans, and the chance to pile on may be too much to resist regardless of party and race.


Walker Hines said...

Check your numbers again. My House District (#95) has the most registered voters in New Orleans with 26,619.

-Walker Hines
State Representative - District 95

Jeff Sadow said...

That's correct, my eyes must have glazed over looking at all the small type. Which is why your district has a good shot at remaining largely unmolested, just some padding with more majority-white precincts is my guess which is not much better than random chance with so many dynamics in play.