Louisiana Redistricting: An Ugly Post-Katrina Partisan Mess

Simply put, 2011 redistricting in Louisiana is likely to be ugly.  A combination of factors make the 2011 redistricting a high stakes situation for both parties and will likely make the process a partisan fight.  This series of articles will detail Louisiana redistricting with a general overview of the state followed by a close examination of each current Congressional district.louisiana

Currently, Republicans control six of the seven Congressional seats.  Republicans control the three districts in the West of the state (4th, 5th, and 7th), the Baton Rouge based 6th district, the 1st district to the North of New Orleans, and the New Orleans based 2nd district.  Democrats only control the 3rd district in the Southeast.  On paper, Republicans should control the 3rd district as it went 61% for John McCain in 2008, and Democrats should control the 2nd district as it went 75% for Barack Obama in 2008 and is around 60% African American.  However, Democrats control the 3rd district because Blue Dog Democrat Charlie Melancon has won three terms because of his moderate voting record, and in the 2nd district Republican Joseph Cao won because he faced a Democratic incumbent who was recently convicted for corruption and will spend 13 years in prison. In 2010, it is possible that control of these two districts will switch parties.  In the 2nd district, Cao will have a very difficult reelection because of the demographics of the district, and he will not be running against a corrupt incumbent.  In the 3rd district, there will be an open seat election because Melancon is running for U.S. Senate.  The demographics of that district favor a Republican candidate in 2010.  If this switch occurs, Republicans will still control six seats while the Democrats will control only one.

Louisiana's Current Congressional Districts
Louisiana's Current Congressional Districts

The system of redistricting in Louisiana encourages partisanship.  While the state legislature draws the new Congressional districts, the Governor can veto the revised apportionment plans.  The Governor is Republican Bobby Jindal.  Louisiana has a unique system for its legislature where the Governor recommends the leaders of the state legislature who are then approved by the respective branch of the legislature (Senate approves Senate leaders, House approves House leaders).  Democrats are in clear control of the Senate with 23 seats compared to the Republicans’ 16 seats.  The situation in the House is not as clear because Democrats control 52 seats, Republicans control 50, and there are 3 Independents (one of the Independents, Michael Jackson, switched from being a Democrat in 2008).  The House leadership is split between the parties.  For example, the Speaker of the House and the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee are Republicans while the Speaker Pro Tempore and the Chairman of the Education Committee are Democrats.  The close margin in the House and the split partisanship in the leadership could create compromise or could more likely encourage a very partisan situation as both parties fight to get enough votes to pass their plan.    Democrats are in a position of power as they control the Senate, but the Republicans will also have a significant say because of the close margins in the House and because the Republican Governor can veto any plan.  

Further complicating the situation, and largely due to Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana’s population has declined by nearly 1.3% since 2000, and Louisiana is likely to lose one of its seven seats in Congress in 2012.  The loss of a seat has raised the stakes for both Republicans and Democrats as both want to ensure that their party does not lose a seat.  Outside groups have intervened early in the process.  The Louisiana Family Forum already released a sample map that would combine much of New Orleans and Baton Rouge into one district.  This plan would probably maximize Republican success by combining the two largest centers of Democrats in the state into one district, leaving five likely Republican districts.  The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (a national Democratic organization that will play a role in redistricting throughout the U.S.) wrote a blog post describing the Louisiana Family Forum’s plan “as a non-starter.”  More groups will continue to get involved as 2011 gets closer.

A recent population estimate by the Louisiana Governor’s office says that the population of Louisiana will be around 4,474,900 in 2010 (High Series file).  Assuming that Louisiana loses a Congressional seat and has only six, that means that each Congressional district will need to have well over 700,000 people (closer to 740,000) in order to have equally sized districts.

What does Louisiana as a whole look like both demographically and politically?  The state’s estimated population in 2008* (see note on statistics below) was 4,410,796, of which 65% of the population was white, 32.4% was African American, and 3.4% was Hispanic.  The state’s poverty rate in 2008 was 17.3%, somewhat down from 22.5% in 2004.  Although Democrats control the state legislature, Louisiana continues to become increasingly Republican in Presidential elections.  In 2008, Louisiana gave John McCain 58.6% of the vote, which beat George W. Bush’s 2004 percentage of 57%.  But despite John McCain’s success in the state, incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu won reelection with 52.1% of the vote.  Her victory suggests that while the state as a whole leans Republican, Democrats can still compete for statewide office in Louisiana.

This post is the first in a series that will run all week and cover every district in the state in depth.  Tomorrow’s post will look at the districts impacted the most by Hurricane Katrina: the ones surrounding New Orleans (1st, 2nd, and 3rd).  The 1st district is likely a safe Republican district for the next decade.  Faced with the major population loses due to Hurricane Katrina, the majority African American 2nd district that contains New Orleans will need to be redrawn to increase its population by hundreds of thousands, likely by looking East towards Baton Rouge.  Democrats in the legislature will try to make this district safely Democratic for the next ten years.  The 3rd Congressional district–currently represented by the only Democratic Congressman in the state but likely to elect a Republican in 2010–could be the district that is eliminated in 2011.

*A few notes on statistics.  Population numbers and demographic numbers (and percentages) that are listed as “current” or “2008” are from the 2008 American Community Survey by the Census while 2004 or 2005 numbers are from the 2004 and 2005 American Community Surveys respectively.  While these numbers are very recent, the American Community Survey does have a larger margin of error than the traditional census conducted every 10 years.  Learn more about the American Community Survey on the Census Bureau’s website.

All numbers (both demographic and campaign financial data numbers) are rounded down to the nearest hundred for simplicity.

2008 and 2004 Presidential election results for each district are from the 2010 Almanac of American Politics by the National Journal Group.

Louisiana sign photo Courtesy beketchai

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