Louisiana Redistricting: The Fight over New Orleans

Redistricting in Louisiana in 2011 is likely going to be an ugly partisan fight between Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature as well as the Republican Governor Bob Jindal.  Because of Hurricane Katrina the demographics of the state have changed, and the population has gone down since 2000, likely causing the state to lose one of its seven current Congressional seats.  Currently, the Republicans control six out of the seven seats.  Much of the partisan fighting in 2011 is likely to occur over the three Congressional districts surrounding New Orleans because of the population loss that New Orleans suffered after Hurricane Katrina.  The 1st Congressional district is very conservative, but it will need to be redrawn to include more people in 2011.  The 2nd district that includes New Orleans (currently held by Republican Joseph Cao) is protected by the Voting Rights Act because it is a majority African American district, and the redrawn district need to be approved by the Justice Department.  However, many African Americans have moved out of New Orleans, meaning the district will have to be significantly redrawn to keep it a majority African American district.  The 3rd district may be divided among other districts in 2011 if Louisiana loses a district.  This post (the second in the series on Louisiana redistricting) will examine each of these three districts around New Orleans in depth.


Louisiana's 1st Congressional District
1st Congressional District-Steve Scalise (R)

Louisiana’s 1st Congressional district is located just North of New Orleans and borders the state of Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.  Situated on both the North and South sides of Lake Pontchartrain, the distict is connected by the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the world’s longest bridge.  According to the 2008 American Community Survey data, the district grew close to 15,000 people since 2005 (when it was 656,800), and now has a population of 671,700.  In 2008, the district was 80.6% white, 16.9% African American, and 5.9% Hispanic with 13% of the population living below the poverty line.  The district has a Partisan Voting Index of +24 Republican according to the Cook Political Report.  The district gave John McCain 73% of its vote in 2008 and George W. Bush 71% in 2004.

Congressman Steve Scalise-Courtesy of the House Republican Conference
Congressman Steve Scalise-Courtesy of the House Republican Conference

Republican Steve Scalise is in his first full term as the Congressman of the 1st district.  He describes himself as a “staunch conservative.”  His voting record backs him up, as the American Conservative Union gave him a 100% rating in 2008 while the conservative Club for Growth gave him a 93%. He won in 2008 with 66% of the vote despite running against a Democrat who spent around $500,000 more than him.  Going into 2010, Scalise has $189,300 cash on hand as of the 3rd fundraising quarter.  He is unlikely to face a strong challenge in 2010 given the very conservative nature of his district.  Without redistricting, Scalise would be safe for the foreseeable future.

What could happen to the district?  If it is preserved during 2011 redistricting (any of the state’s seven districts could be absorbed into a different district), it will have to be expanded to include more people as its current population of around 671,700 is at least around 30,000 short of the neccessary population (and could be significantly more, see previous post on details about the likely number of people needed per district in 2011).  The district could be expanded either to the West or the South.  To the West is Bill Cassidy’s more moderately Republican 6th district, and to the South is Joseph Cao’s extremely liberal 2nd district, which includes New Orleans.  Considering its very conservative composition, the 1st district would have to be completely redrawn to make it a Democratic district.  One plan the Republicans might favor is adding part of the 2nd district to the 1st district because the 1st district is so conservative that the addition of residents of the 2nd district would not change the balance very much.  Democrats might favor adding part of the more moderate 6th district to safeguard the 2nd district.  However, barring a completely redrawn district, Scalise is likely safe.


2nd Congressional District-Joseph Cao (R)
2nd Congressional District-Joseph Cao (R)

The 2nd Congressional district covers the city of New Orleans.  It borders the very conservative 1st district to the North as well as the moderate 3rd district to the South and West.  This district was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and the population is down by more than 100,000 people since 2004 (when it was 586,900 compared to its current population of 469,200).  The district’s population is down by around 169,000 people since 2001 when its population was around 638,425 (the approximate population numbers for each Louisiana district after redistricting in 2001).  The district was drawn in 2001 as a Voting Rights Act African American majority district, since Katrina, the population of the district has gone from being 67% African American (392,800 African Americans out of a total population of 586,900) to 58.8%.  The population has gone from being 29% white pre-Katrina (172,500 whites out of a total population of 586,900) to 35.1% white post-Katrina.  In 2005, 25% of the population was below the poverty line whereas in 2008 20.7% of the population was below the poverty line.  Despite its population exodus and changing demographics, the district still votes solidly Democratic as Barack Obama won 75% of the vote in 2008, the same percentage that John Kerry won in 2004 (although Kerry received over 30,000 more total votes).  The district has a +25 Democratic rating in the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

Despite the 2nd district’s very Democratic nature of the district, it is represented by Republican Joseph Cao.  Cao won with 50% of the vote in 2008 (in a

Congressman Joseph Cao-Courtesy of dsb nola
Congressman Joseph Cao-Courtesy of dsb nola

December runoff after the Presidential election) largely because he was running against Democratic incumbent William Jefferson who had $90,000 stored in his freezer and was recently sentenced to spend 13 years in jail for corruption. Many congressional analysts have labeled Cao as the most vulnerable incumbent in 2010, and many have written him off.  Cao may have helped his reelection chances recently when he was the only Republican to vote for the Health Care reform bill in the House.  He is a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Patriots program for vulnerable Republican members of the House.  He currently has $351,100 cash on hand for his 2010 election.  While Cao may campaign very hard, the Democratic nature of the district will be very hard for him to overcome.  It is likely that a Democrat will win the seat in 2010.

What could happen to the 2nd district?  It will need to add several hundred thousand people to its current population of around 469,200.  If the district is to stay a minority-majority district (as the Voting Rights Act would likely require considering that it currently is one), it cannot be expanded to the North as the 1st district is 80% white.  The district could be expanded into the 3rd district, as that district is around 30% African American.  The Democrats in the legislature may be able to figure out a way to keep the district a minority-majority district by expanding it to select parts of the 3rd district.  However, some, like the Louisiana Family Forum, have suggested having the district include part or all of Baton Rouge to make it a minority-majority district.  If Joseph Cao wins reelection in 2010, the situation will change dramatically.  Republicans likely would try to make him more safe in the future by making the district include more Republicans, either by expanding it into the 1st district to the North or into Republican areas of the 3rd to the South.  While the Voting Rights Act will limit what Republicans can do because they will have to keep the 2nd district an effective African American district, Republicans could try to help Cao by adding a few more conservative white voters, to the extent they can within the limits of the Voting Rights Act.  However, without Cao winning reelection, the 2nd district will likely be a Democratic district (possibly the only one in the state) in the future.

3rd Congressional District-Charlie Melancon (D)
3rd Congressional District-Charlie Melancon (D)

The 3rd Congressional district is the Southeastern district in Louisiana and borders the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a mainly rural area. The population is down about 15,000 since 2005 (when it was 641,700), and it has a 2008 population of around 626,100.  The district is 68.9% white and 27.9% African American with around 15.2% of the population below the poverty line.  The district has gone very Republican in the last two Presidential elections giving John McCain 61% and George W. Bush 58%.  The Cook Partisan Voting Index is +12 Republican.

Congressman Charlie Melancon
Congressman Charlie Melancon

Yet, despite the Republican tilt, Democrat Charlie Melancon is in his third term in Congress.  In 2008, he ran unopposed.  However, the personal details on Melancon are largely irrelevant as he is running for Senate against Republican Senator David Vitter in 2010, and his seat will be an open race.  Republicans believe that they have a very good chance to win the seat in 2010.  The Cook Political Report currently rates the seat as “lean Republican.”  Nevertheless, Melancon has shown that a conservative Democrat can win in the district.

What could happen to this district?  The district would need over 100,000 people added to it to remain a district in 2011.  The district borders Republican districts to the West, so there may be a push (likely by Republicans) to expand the district by taking parts of either the 7th (directly to the West) or the 6th (to the Northwest) to complete the district.  Democrats would likely struggle to make the district more liberal unless they expanded it into New Orleans (very unlikely as it would hurt their chances of keeping the 2nd district Democratic) or expanded it towards Baton Rouge.  Another possibility is that the 3rd district is simply absorbed into other districts.  If a Republican wins the district in 2010, that member would be the most junior member of the Republican delegation and likely the most vulnerable to losing his/her district at least in terms of political clout.  If Republicans have to lose a member, a freshman member is the most likely one to go.  However, if a Democrat wins the seat in 2010, Democrats in the state legislature will try to draw the district to make the new Democrat incumbent safe and could look North towards Baton Rouge.  Yet, especially considering the Republican Governor’s veto, Democrats would likely struggle to keep both the 2nd and 3rd districts as Democratic districts (assuming a Democrat wins the 2nd in 2010).  There is a good chance that the African American portions of this 3rd district will need to be moved into the 2nd district to buttress the 2nd district and earn the required preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the 4th and 5th districts in Northern Louisiana which are both currently held by Republicans.  However, the 5th district does have several counties that voted for Obama and if the district was expanded in a certain direction it could become more competitive or even Democratic.

*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.

In the 2004 American Community Survey, the Census Bureau did not give percentages for certain demographic and only gave raw numbers.  For 2004 numbers, the calculations are listed with a link to the numbers.

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.

Unless otherwise noted, pictures come from each member’s official House of Representatives website.

Leave a reply