Louisiana Redistricting: An Ugly Post-Katrina Partisan Mess (The Complete Analysis)

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 article will detail Louisiana redistricting with a general overview of the state followed by a close examination of each current Congressional district. 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.

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, switchedSpeaker 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. from being a Democrat in 2008).  The House leadership is split between the parties.  For example, the

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%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. was Hispanic.  The state’s poverty rate in 2008 was

The Fight Over New Orleans

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%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. white,

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

Two Safe Republican Seats in Northern Louisiana?

The 4th district is in the Northwest part of the state and includes the city of Shreveport. The district’s population has actually grown by over 8,000 since 2001 (when it was around 638,425, the approximate population number for each Louisiana district after redistricting in 2001), and currently is about 647,300 people live in the district. The population of the district is 63.5%34.2% African American. Currently, around 18.8% of the people in the district live below the poverty line. The district went strongly Republican in the last two Presidential elections; in 2008 John McCain received 59% of the vote–the same percentage as George W. Bush won in 2004. The district has a Cook Partisan Voter Index of +11 Republican. white and

Republican Dr. John Fleming is the freshman Congressman from the 4th district. He won his election in 2008 (in a December runoff) by 350 votes. The election was very close because Democrats nominated conservative Paul Carmouche who had been the District Attorney of Caddo Parish since 1978, and he had very strong ties to the Shreveport community. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee spent around $2 million combined on the election in addition to what Fleming and Carmouche spent. Despite his close win, Fleming has not tried to portray himself as a moderate, and he is a strong conservative. On his campaign website, he says that he is a “Reagan Republican” who is “dedicated to stopping the invasion of illegal immigrants” and “abolishing the IRS.” He has been a leader in the Republican opposition to the Democratic health care reform plan. He introduced a bill that would encourage any member of Congress who voted for the public option for health care to themselves use the public option for their own health care. He has $181,000 cash on hand for 2010. Considering his close 2008 election and small amount of campaign cash, he could be a target for Democrats in 2010 if they could find the right conservative candidate. But Republicans argue that–considering the margins of victories by McCain and Bush in the district– Fleming is now safe now as an incumbent.

What could happen to the district? The district covers considerable area in the state, so it is unlikely that it will be abandoned and incorporated into other districts. However, the linedrawers will need to increase the district’s population from its current 647,300 by at least 50,000, possibly significantly more (see previous post on populations numbers per district in 2011). It would be difficult to make the district more liberal because it is surrounded by Republican leaning districts. A parish-level map of the 2008 Presidential election results in Louisiana shows that while Caddo parish in the 4th district went to Obama, McCain won most of the other parishes in the region by a reasonable margin. To make the district more competitive, the lines would have to be redrawn significantly to the East into either the current 5th district or to the Southeast into the current 7th district. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal would likely veto any such plan. The most likely outcome is for the 4th district to pick up additional population from either the 7th district in the South or the 5th district in the East, but stay a Republican district in 2012.

The 5th Congressional district is located directly to the East of the 4th district and covers the Northeastern part of the state. The population of the district has decreased by around 3,000 people since 2001 (when it was around 638,425, the approximate number of people in each Louisiana district after redistricting in 2001) and currently is 635,700. The population is 64.2% white and 34.4% African American with 21.7% of the population below the poverty line. The district gave both John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004 62% of the vote, although three counties in the district went for Barack Obama. The Cook Partisan Index has the district at +14 Republican.

Republican Rodney Alexander, now in his fourth term, is the longest serving member of the Louisiana delegation. He switched parties from being a Democrat in 2002 to being a Republican in 2004. The 2010 Almanac of American Politics points out that Alexander had always been a moderate Democrat who sometimes sided with Republicans, and he switched in 2004 because he did not think that he could win as a Democrat. His campaign site says that says that he is pro-life, in favor of gun rights, and a “conservative voice in Congress,” but it also highlights the importance of “bipartisan consensus.” Alexander was not challenged in 2008 (but still spent over $1 million in campaign funds). He currently has $187,200 cash on hand for 2010.

What could happen to the district? Because the district is so big, like the 4th district, it is unlikely to be absorbed or divided up into other districts. But the district will need to add more people. The 2010 Almanac of American Politics comments that “the increase in the district’s African-American population to 35% (in 2007 numbers) could pose some redistricting jeopardy for Alexander, who is white.” The Democrats in the state legislature could try to draw the 5th district into Baton Rouge, taking territory from the 6th district, as Baton Rouge is 54.2% African American and East Baton Rouge parish voted for Obama. An ideal plan for the Democrats could try to make the 5th district into a Democratic one, but that would be demographically difficult and it would face resistance from Republican legislators and Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. Any effort to make the 5th district a Democratic one is limited by the need to keep New Orleans in a majority African American district. As noted in the previous post on the 2nd district, the Voting Rights Act will likely require the 2nd District (which includes New Orleans) to remain majority African American. But if Democrats could draw the lines carefully enough (and somehow avoid a veto of the plan) to keep the 2nd district Democratic and make the 5th district Democratic, it could be one of their best chances to create two Democratic seats in Louisiana–or at least one Democratic seat and a competitive seat. By contrast, Republicans are likely to suggest that the 5th district be expanded into one of the conservative districts that borders it (4th to the West, 7th to the South, 3rd to the South, or 6th to the East) in a way that does not add many new Democrats to the district. Any Republican plan to include any part of Baton Rouge would likely split the city with one or more additional districts.

What Happens to Baton Rouge?

The 6th Congressional district includes the state capital of Baton Rouge. The district currently has the largest population of any district in Louisiana with around 701,200 people. The district has grown by around 62,700 people since 2001 when its population was around 638,425 (the approximate population of each Louisiana district after redistricting in 2001). The population is 62.2%35.5% African American, with 16% of the population living below the poverty line. John McCain won the district in 2008 with 57% of the vote, and George W. Bush won it in 2004 with 59% of the vote. The Cook Partisan Index for the district is +10 Republican. white and

Republican freshman Dr. Bill Cassidy won his first term in 2008 by winning 48% of the vote. He beat Democratic incumbent Don Cazayoux by 8% and was greatly helped by independent Michael Jackson (an African American state legislator) who split the African American vote with Cazayoux. Cazayoux had won a special election for the seat earlier in 2008. Because of Cassidy’s close election in 2008, the National Republican Congressional Committee has placed him in the Patriots program for vulnerable House Republicans. Cassidy realizes that he could be a Democratic target in 2010, and he currently has $680,000 cash on hand for his 2010 reelection campaign.

What could happen to the district? The district will need to add people, but as the most populated district in the state, it will have to add the least number of people and is unlikely to be absorbed or split among other districts. Baton Rouge gives the district a strong Democratic base. A map of the 2008 Presidential election results shows that St. John the Baptist parish and St. James parish, both to the South of the district, went for Barack Obama in 2008. The Democrats in the state legislature might like to try to redraw the district to include parts of either of these counties to make the district more moderate or even tilt Democrat. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal likely would realize what was happening and veto that plan. Republicans might try to expand the district to the Southeast into solid Republican areas of the 3rd district (not St. James parish or St. John the Baptist parish) to make the district more Republican for years to come.

The 7th Congressional district is in the Southwest of the state and borders Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. On his website, Congressman Boustany says that the 7th district is “the heart of Cajun Country” and proudly points out the importance of the oil and natural gas industry to the district as 25% of all liquefied natural gas in the United States goes through the 7th district. The district has grown by about 20,800 people since 2001 (when it was around 638,425) and currently has around 659,300 people. The population of the district is 72.1% white and 26.7% African American, with around 17.3% of the district living below the poverty line. John McCain won the district with 63% of the vote in 2008, and George W. Bush won the district with 60% of the vote in 2004. The district has a Cook Partisan Index of +14 Republican.

Republican Congressman Dr. Charles Boustany is in his third term in the 7th district. He won in 2008 with 62% of the vote. Boustany has been a leader in the Republicans fight against the Democratic health care reform bill, and he gave the nationally televised Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s health care speech to a joint session of Congress in September. On his website, Boustany emphasizes his knowledge of health care as a doctor and his work on energy policy considering the importance of oil and natural gas to his district. He currently has $440,500 cash on hand for his reelection in 2010.

What could happen to this district? The district will need to add at least 40,000 new people and possibly considerably more (see previous post on the likely number of people needed per Louisiana district in 2011). The Democrats in the legislature might attempt to make the district Democratic by trying redraw it to include Baton Rouge, but considering that the district is currently only 27% African American and votes solidly Republican, making the 7th district Democratic would be harder than a district like the 5th or 6th. Republicans would probably like to expand the district to the East into the 3rd district (especially if that is the district that is divided and abandoned in 2011) because that region is solidly Republican. The district could also be expanded to the North into either the 4th or the 5th district to stay solidly Republican. Boustany is likely to have a safe Republican district after redistricting in 2011.

Conclusions and Outlook: Solidly Republican for the Next Ten Years?

There will be many different plans for Louisiana redistricting in 2011.  Many different maps will be drawn that divide up the districts in many ways.  While Democrats have some power in the state legislature because they control the Senate, their power in the redistricting process will be limited by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal’s veto power, the close Republican-Democrat margin in the Louisiana House of Representatives, and the increasingly Republican trend of the state.  Republican Congressmen Steve Scalise (1st district) and Charles Boustany (7th district) seem safe because demographics and geography make these districts hard to turn Democratic.  Additionally, the large population sizes of these districts make them difficult to eliminate in 2011.  Despite John Fleming’s close 2008 election, his 4th district will likely remain a Republican district after 2011 because there are few Democratic strongholds close by.  Additionally, the large geographic size of the district makes it unlikely that it will be eliminated.  The 2nd district, which encompasses New Orleans and is historically majority African American, is currently represented by Republican Joseph Cao, but it  is likely to return to the Democratic column in 2010.  And in the 2011 redistricting, the 2nd district will probably be extended either into the 3rd district or towards Baton Rouge to make it a safe Democratic district in the future.  The Voting Rights Act will likely require it to remain a majority African American district if possible.  If Congressman Cao wins reelection in 2010, Republicans in the legislature will try to redraw the district to help him continue winning in the future.  But the most likely outcome is for the 2nd district to be a solid Democratic district in the future.

That makes three safe Republican districts and one safe Democratic district.  However, there are three districts left that must be combined into two.  Much will depend on what happens to Baton Rouge as it is close geographically to the 5th, the 6th (where it currently is), and the 3rd districts.  The Democrats in the legislature might try to expand either the 5th or the 3rd district to include part or all of Baton Rouge and possibly turn that district Democratic.  Yet, that plan would likely be vetoed by the Governor.  The Democrats could also try to expand the 6th district to the Southeast toward New Orleans to make the 6th a Democratic district.  Again, the Governor would likely veto this plan.  Another possible scenario is for the 3rd district to be divided among several districts–the 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 7th districts could all be given a part of it.  Whoever wins the 3rd district in 2010 will be a freshman and will have the shortest tenure among the state’s Congressional delegation, so dividing up the 3rd district could be a solution.

As this analysis has demonstrated, there are many different scenarios for Congressional redistricting in Louisiana in 2011.  Given the Republican trends in the state and the Republican Governor’s veto, Republicans could plausibly draw districts that would create five Republican seats and one Democratic seat for the next decade.  At the same time, the Democrats in the state legislature will try as hard as they can to prevent that scenario and gain another Democratic seat.  Although the final outcome is uncertain, the surest prediction is that the fight over redistricting is going to be partisan and ugly.

*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 Welcome Sign Picture Courtesy beketchai

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

To get the most of the Census website, here is a guide.

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