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New black Democrat majority to affect LA redistricting

It appears that contention over redistricting plans serves as the inaugural flexing of political muscle among Louisiana’s black elected Democrats, promoted as they are now from the back of the party’s bus to claiming the driver’s seat.

Lost in the numbers bandied about in redistricting plans and in the latest two Democrat-to-Republican switches in the state Senate is that black political interests now firmly control the legislative Democrats. As of now, even though in both chambers some white Democrats (and one white recent Republican convert) represent majority black districts, the fact is a majority of districts held by Democrats in both have black majorities, while 44 percent of Democrat representatives and 50 percent of Democrat senators are black.

This power arrangement profoundly will affect Democrats’ positioning on redistricting issues.
It explains why the party will fight against the House plan sanctioned by its leader Republican Speaker Jim Tucker, because Tucker proposes the creation of 29 black minority-majority districts (HB 1), up from 27, when the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus thinks it can have 30.

It also explains why they will favor the plan (SB 1) of Democrat Sen. Pres. Joel Chaisson, which seeks to add one M/M district to make 11. However, that appears to be running into opposition, for, even as he has failed to release public information on it as of yet, Republican Senate and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Bill Kostelka looks to present a plan modeled after one suggested by the Louisiana Family Forum that has 12 but which could attenuate white Democrat electoral chances – and Republicans after recent switches and elections now hold a decisive 23-16 majority in the Senate.

Finally, it explains the insistence of House Governmental and Affairs Committee Chairman Rick Gallot on pushing plans not really discussed before their presentation concerning Congressional districts, which would create a northern district and a very extensive central district. Kostelka’s version still has not been made public beyond its bill text, but calls for two districts running north and south. (Gallot may claim his versions meet the demands of interests from the northern part of the state as he perceived them, but in the discussion of redistricting it’s clear at least as many of them from that part of the state prefer the two-district plan.)

Black legislators particularly are interested in Gallot’s idea (reflected in both HB 3 and HB 4) as it creates a district that a black Democrat has a chance of winning, and with perhaps an even better chance of victory presented to a white Democrat with 42 percent black registration. They include the residence of Gallot, who is a black Democrat. Gallot also has offered up the LLBC House plan (HB 35). His and Kostelka’s maneuvering could lead to interesting tradeoffs.

For black Democrats, the grand slam would be approval of Gallot’s plans plus Chaisson’s. But while they simply don’t have the numbers to pull any of that off, especially with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal having the final say at the end, they do have legal threats that the federal government could step into the process either in the preclearance process or by an LLBC suit. Frankly, that’s rolling the dice, but the uncertainty may be enough leverage to force a concession for Democrats to get one of their plans through.

Likely that would be the Senate plan. In the scheme of things, the Congressional remap would be top priority and is the only one that Jindal has mentioned any preference concerning (for Kostelka’s plan, SB 2), so that is out for bargaining. While in the House by going with a 30th M/M district the GOP would lose competitiveness in less than 1 percent of seats, in the Senate an additional M/M district represents almost a 3 percent loss of competitiveness. But, the Chaisson plan’s extra M/M district apparently draws into that district Gallot and he would be one of the favorites for it. So Gallot may take his foot off the pedal for his Congressional and House plans in exchange for acceptance of Chaisson’s Senate plan; if he can’t try to extend his political career by going to Washington; heading to Baton Rouge as a state senator isn’t a bad consolation prize.

We’ll know tomorrow what all goes down after House and Governmental Affairs meets, as Tucker has said he wants something out of there ready for the floor with few if any amendments by Friday, and expects it to look like HB 1. With a GOP majority of that committee, that looks likely. Today, Senate and Governmental Affairs will take up general reapportionment matters. If nothing definitive comes from that today, if the Tucker plan goes through on Wednesday, look for Kostelka’s and Chaisson’s plans to follow shortly thereafter.

If so, chalk it up to the expanding muscle of black Democrats. Long suppressed by white Democrats in their own party (for example, withheld support of white Democrat leaders has allowed only one black Democrat ever to run to get to the general election runoff of any statewide office), as white voter support slips away for Democrats (trending so that by the end of the year, the plurality of registered Democrats in the state will be black) encouraging more white elected officeholder abandonment of the party simultaneously, expect this to be just the beginning of a major increase in black influence over state Democrats.

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