Although Black Population is Growing Statewide, Legislative Numbers Are Declining | Legislature
State Representative Sam Jenkins says his House neighborhood in the city of Shreveport is compact enough that he has noticed stores closing and homes vacant.
The US Census counted 37,287 people in the 2nd House District of Jenkins. That’s 7,073 people, or 16 percent, fewer than the roughly 44,000 voters required in Louisiana House’s 105 districts. When redistricting begins in two weeks, lawmakers will need to find about 7,000 people to add to the Jenkins district.
“These people are there. I didn’t see them move. You would think with those losses, it would be noticeable,” said Jenkins, an attorney who is also the House Democratic caucus chair.
It’s ironic that Louisiana’s black, Hispanic, and Asian populations have grown so much that a majority-minority second congressional district is possible. At the same time, the populations of predominantly Black House and Senate districts have plummeted.
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The census shows that 70% of House’s 27 black-represented districts will need more people. Ten of the 11 major House districts that need people the most are represented by black lawmakers.
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 northern Louisiana and rural areas.
The predominantly black districts of Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Shreveport and Monroe will need significant infusions of people for House’s 105 districts to represent roughly the same number of people. Predominantly white neighborhoods in these same cities have more residents than are needed to constitute a neighborhood.
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New Orleans is an obvious outlier of population displacement out of majority black neighborhoods. Rebounding from post-Katrina population loss, Crescent City has gained about 40,000 people since the last census — almost enough to fill a brand new House neighborhood.
“While it is possible that some degree of undercount has occurred, the census data we have available still ensures greater black representation in Louisiana,” said Chris Kaiser, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.
Jenkins says the US Census Bureau underestimated urban communities. Rep. Ken Brass, whose River Parishes district is 7,064 or 16% short, assumes younger voters have moved to 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 relocate while their homes are repaired.
State Representative Vincent Pierre, whose North Lafayette District is short of 6,220 people, or 14% of the ideal district size, suspects that some of that population has migrated north into rural and suburban areas. from the Carencro-based district of State Rep. Julie Emerson, who has 3,939, or 9%, too crowded.
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“It’s really, really difficult to analyze what’s going on,” Pierre said.
This is all true and certainly helps describe why so many black neighborhoods need to be repopulated, said Ashley Shelton of the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, a grassroots organization involved in redistricting. But the biggest reason is a consequence of history.
Over the past few decades, lawmakers have drawn maps of as many African Americans as possible in a district. The handful of blacks who could not be crammed into a predominantly black neighborhood were dispersed into several predominantly white neighborhoods.
“People don’t understand how gerrymandered our cards have been over the years. We basically smash and whack people of color and have been doing that for years,” Shelton said.
The House has 68 constituencies in which one race or the other represents at least two-thirds of the electorate – 13 blacks and 55 whites. The Power Coalition has written to Governor John Bel Edwards asking him to ensure districts are drawn more competitively.
But politics is as much involved in redistricting as numbers. Lawmakers are well aware that more competitive races could jeopardize the seats of well-established lawmakers and congressmen.
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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 chairman of the House committee responsible for redrawing the maps. He would like to see three or four more black representatives in the State House.
“It’s a priority for me, to make sure the Statehouse maps look like the rest of the state,” Duplessis said.
Lawmakers return to Baton Rouge in two weeks on Feb. 1 with the sole task of redrawing district lines to accommodate the state’s changing population. Lawmakers will shift precincts to equalize roughly the same number of voters for each member of Congress, state senator, state representative, member of the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education and commissioner of the civil service.
Each of Louisiana House’s 105 districts must have a population of approximately 44,000. Forty-nine of those seats need to add people to match their colleagues.
Long before she became a state representative, C. Denise Marcelle’s 61st House district included the Garden District of downtown Baton Rouge. But much of the predominantly white neighborhood was carved out when maps were drawn in 2011 and added to the already predominantly white 68th House District, then represented by the late Steve Carter and now Scott McKnight, both white Republicans whose homes are miles away in the southeast sections. of East Baton Rouge Parish.
The census counted the 80% minority in Marcelle, in the North Baton Rouge District, as numbering 5,865 people, or 13%, less than the ideal. Due to the location of its district — and the legal requirement that neighborhoods must touch — the 61st District is expected to reclaim what was removed in 2011 and take any excess in Baton Rouge’s 69th District from the Republican Paula Davis.
Even then, that’s not enough — together, Davis and McKnight have just 858 more residents to drop.
“I absolutely expect to recruit additional people. I’ve had conversations with the people that border my district, and I think I might be able to pick up some of those,” Marcelle said.
Outgoing State Rep. Ted James’ Baton Rouge District lost 2,892. He said he didn’t want to see black voters crowded into districts. That’s been Baton Rouge’s problem, and more so in Shreveport.
For a few moments on a recent Saturday, the room went quiet as Donald Buckles showed off his precision with an old-fashioned straight razor.
State Rep. Tammy Phelps’ district is a 91.6 percent minority and she must pick up 8,473 people to reach 44,000 voters. The problem is that it is almost surrounded by other predominantly black districts that are also below the necessary population levels.
State Representative Cedric Glover expects his Shreveport-based district, which is 5,647 or 13% short, to crawl further east in Bossier Parish. But he is not the only legislator seeking to draw people east of the Red River.
Jenkins and Republican Rep. Danny McCormick of Oil City are looking for the same people to add their districts.
“We’re working very aggressively to make sure we don’t lose a district,” Glover said.
“Nobody has focused on districts that have to be sacrificed, that can be expanded,” Jenkins said. “No cards have been offered yet. These fireworks will arrive on February 1.