State Rep. Sam Jenkins says his House district within the city of Shreveport is compact enough that he would have noticed stores closing and houses going vacant.
The U.S. Census counted 37,287 people in Jenkins’ 2nd House District. That’s 7,073 people, or 16%, shy of the roughly 44,000 constituents required in all 105 Louisiana House districts. When redistricting begins in two weeks, legislators are going to have find about 7,000 people to add to Jenkins’ district.
“Those people are there. I haven’t seen them move out. You’d think with those losses it would be noticeable,” said Jenkins, a lawyer who also is chair of the House Democratic caucus.
It’s ironic that Louisiana’s populations of Black people, Hispanic people, and Asian people have grown so much that a second minority-majority congressional district is possible. At the same time populations in predominantly Black House and Senate districts have plummeted.
With one-third of Louisiana's population identifying as Black, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday it's only fair that two of the state's six …
The Census shows that 70% of the 27 House districts represented by Black lawmakers will need more people. Ten of the top 11 House districts needing the most people are represented by Black legislators.
Ten of the 39 state senators are Black and half of them represent districts that will need to be redrawn to include more people.
And not just in north Louisiana and rural areas.
The predominantly Black districts in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Shreveport, and Monroe will need significant infusions of people in order for all 105 House districts to represent roughly the same number of people. Overwhelmingly White districts in those same cities have more people than they need to make up a district.
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An obvious outlier to the outward population shift from majority-Black districts is New Orleans. Rebounding from post-Katrina population loss, the Crescent City gained around 40,000 people since the last census – almost enough to fill an entirely new House district.
“While it’s possible that some degree of undercount occurred, the Census data we have still warrant greater representation for Black people in Louisiana,” said Chris Kaiser, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.
Jenkins says the U.S. Census Bureau undercounted urban communities. Rep. Ken Brass, whose River Parishes district is 7,064 or 16% short, surmises that younger constituents moved into areas with better schools and nearby grocery stores. Rep. Edmond Jordan, whose east and west Baton Rouge district is 5,640 or 13% shy, points to the 2016 floods that forced thousands of his constituents to move away while their homes are repaired.
State Rep. Vincent Pierre, whose north Lafayette district is short 6,220 people, or 14%, of the ideal district size, suspects some of that population migrated north into rural and suburban areas of state Rep. Julie Emerson’s Carencro-based district, which has 3,939, or 9%, too many people.
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“It’s really, really difficult to analyze what’s going on,” Pierre said.
All of that is true and certainly helps describe why so many Black districts need repopulating, said Ashley Shelton of the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, a grassroots organization involved in redistricting. But the larger reason is a consequence of history.
Over past decades legislators drew maps that packed as many African Americans as possible into a district. The handful of Black people that couldn’t be packed into a majority Black district were sprinkled through several predominantly White districts.
“People don’t understand how gerrymandered our maps have been over the years. We basically crack and pack people of color and have for years,” Shelton said.
The House has 68 districts in which one race or the other makes up at least two-thirds of the electorate – 13 Black and 55 White. The Power Coalition wrote Gov. John Bel Edwards asking that he make sure that the districts are drawn more competitively.
But politics are as much involved in redistricting as numbers. Lawmakers are well aware that more competitive races could jeopardize the seats of ensconced legislators and congresspeople.
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Minority communities make up 41.6% of the state’s population, including the 33% who identify as Black, said state Rep. Royce Duplessis, a New Orleans Democrat and vice chair of the House committee charged with redrawing maps. He’d like to see three or four more Black representatives in the state House.
“That is a priority for me, to make sure that the statehouse maps look like the rest of the state,” Duplessis said.
Lawmakers are returning to Baton Rouge in two weeks on Feb. 1 with the sole task of redrawing district lines to fit the state’s shifting population. Legislators will be moving precincts around to roughly equalize the same number of voters for each congressperson, state senator, state representative, Board of Secondary and Elementary Education member, and Public Service Commissioner.
Every one of the 105 Louisiana House districts needs to have roughly 44,000 residents. Forty-nine of those seats need to add people to equal out with their colleagues.
Long before she became a state representative, C. Denise Marcelle’s 61st House district included Baton Rouge’s midtown Garden District. But much of the predominantly White neighborhood was carved out when maps were drawn in 2011 and added to already overwhelmingly White 68th House District then represented by the late Steve Carter and now by Scott McKnight, both White Republicans whose homes are miles away in the southeastern sections of East Baton Rouge Parish.
Census counted Marcelle’s 80% minority, north Baton Rouge district, as having 5,865 people, or 13%, fewer than the ideal. Because of her district’s location – and the legal requirement that the precincts have to touch – the 61st District would have to reclaim what was removed in 2011 and take all the overage in Republican Rep. Paula Davis’s 69th Baton Rouge district.
Even then that’s not enough – together Davis and McKnight have only 858 extra residents to give up.
“My expectation is absolutely to pick up some additional people. I’ve been in conversations with the people who border my district, and I think I may be able to pick some up,” Marcelle said.
Outgoing state Rep. Ted James’ Baton Rouge district is down 2,892 people. He said he doesn’t want to see Black voters packed into districts. That’s been the problem in Baton Rouge, and more so in Shreveport.
For a few moments on a recent Saturday, the room quieted as Donald Buckles flashed his precision with an old-school straight razor.
State Rep. Tammy Phelps district is 91.6% minority and she needs to pick up 8,473 people to reach 44,000 constituents. Problem is she is nearly surrounded by other overwhelmingly Black districts that also are short of the needed population levels.
State Rep. Cedric Glover expects his Shreveport-based district, which is short 5,647 people or 13%, to crawl further east into Bossier Parish. But he’s not the only lawmaker looking to pick-up population east of the Red River.
Both Jenkins and Republican Rep. Danny McCormick, of Oil City, are looking at the same people to add their districts.
“We are working very aggressively to make sure we don’t lose a district,” Glover said.
“No one has zeroed in on which districts have to be sacrificed, which can be expanded,” Jenkins said. “No maps have been proposed, yet. Those fireworks will come on Feb. 1.”