In the last installment of this series, we discussed how a Congressional redistricting plan might look if a partisan Democratic (and a Republican) redistricter were to draw the lines, given recent population estimates. In this installment, we will redraw the state’s House districts. Given the change in voter registration between April 2010 (when the US Census was taken) and December 2013, JMC estimates that the current population of Louisiana is 4,580,251, or a 1.0% population change in 3.5 years (for comparisons sake, the most recent Census estimate has Louisiana’s population at 4,601,893).
Given this estimated population, a state House district (there are 105 of them) would have an ideal district population of 43,621.
Black majority districts: 29
Districts David Vitter carried in 2010: 74 (72 with at least 50% of the vote, and 2 with a plurality)
Districts Charlie Melancon carried in 2010: 31 (30 with at least 50% of the vote, and 1 with a plurality)
(UPDATED 1/3/2014) The current district lines for Louisiana’s state representatives have been in place since 2011. What made that reapportionment tricky were two constraints: (1) substantial population losses resulting from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in the New Orleans metropolitan area, and (2) the Voting Rights act, which spells out “appropriate” minority representation. These constraints resulted in loss of representation for Jefferson, Orleans, and Saint Bernard Parishes, while at the same time creating new districts in the fast growing suburban parishes between Baton Rouge and New Orleans along I-10/12. Furthermore, new black majority districts were created outside the New Orleans area to compensate for any black majority seats lost in New Orleans.
Since 2010, there has been continued population growth in the area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans relative to the rest of the state, although (as of 2013), the population changes aren’t enough for those parishes to gain additional seats.
Black majority districts: 31 (2 more than the current plan)
Districts David Vitter carried in 2010: 67 (65 with at least 50% of the vote, and 2 with a plurality) (7 less than the current plan)
Districts Charlie Melancon carried in 2010: 38 (34 with at least 50% of the vote, and 4 with a plurality) (7 more than the current plan)
Given that Democrats are outnumbered 44-59 in the state House (there are two Independents), a Democratic redistricter would want to maximize the size of the Democratic delegation. This would be accomplished by deploying the following offensive strategies: (1) concentrating Republican voters into a minimum number of districts, and (2) diluting Republican strength in districts with a sizeable Democratic minority to enable Democrats to pick up those seats (note: voter registration statistics and the Vitter/Melancon numbers from 2010 were what we used to measure the partisan intensity of a given district). The following are the specifics of what a partisan Democrat redistricter might do:
(1) Combine two Westbank Republican seats into a single district, and the eliminated district would be recreated in Algiers/Terrytown as a Democratic seat;
(2) Eliminate the only Republican held seat in New Orleans and relocate it to Baton Rouge as a black majority district;
(3) Convert Republican held seats in Shreveport and Northeast Louisiana to black majority districts;
(4) Tweak the district lines to weaken twelve more Republican held seats: one in De Soto Parish, one in central Louisiana, one in Lake Charles, one in Acadiana, one in Houma, one in the Felicianas, one in Baton Rouge, one in Gonzales, one in Slidell, one in Gretna, one in Kenner, and one in St. Bernard Parish.
Assuming that the Democrats were successful in every seat the attempted to flip, they theoretically would gain 16 seats purely from redistricting and retake the state House with a 60-43 majority. In other words, numbers they have not had in the House since the Blanco administration.
Black majority districts: 28 (1 less than the current plan)
Districts David Vitter carried in 2010: 75 (75 with at least 50% of the vote, and 0 with a plurality) (1 more than the current plan)
Districts Charlie Melancon carried in 2010: 30 (29 with at least 50% of the vote, and 1 with a plurality) (1 less than the current plan)
Since the Republicans currently have a 59-44 majority in the state House, their focus would be more defensive in nature (i.e., protection of its majority by shoring up members representing politically marginal districts). Still, there are a handful of white Democratic legislators representing districts that consistently vote Republican in statewide and national elections, and these legislators can be weakened by partisan redistricting. Given these realities, here are the specifics of what a partisan Republican redistricter would do:
(1) Make four Democratic held districts more favorable to the Republicans: one in north Louisiana, one in Central Louisiana, one in St Mary Parish, and one in the River Parishes;
(2) Strengthen nine Republican held districts: two in north Louisiana, one in southwest Louisiana, one in Acadiana, one in the Felicianas, two in the Westbank, one in Kenner, and one in St. Bernard Parish (incidentally, given that there are 59 Republicans in the House, it can be argued that altogether these districts determine which party controls the House)
(3) Eliminate a seat in New Orleans and move it to the southern suburbs of Lake Charles as a Republican leaning seat;
Assuming the Republicans were completely successful, they theoretically could gain four seats purely from redistricting, which would put them at a 63-40 majority. There is a very strong caveat, however: the number of black majority districts would decrease from 29 to 28. Though it is true that several of these black majority seats are held by white Democrats, the Voting Rights Act does not permit a reduction in the level of minority representation (i.e., those districts with a black majority). To further add to the complexity of this matter, the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act has been struck down, and a new mechanism has not yet been constructed. So even assuming that the enforcement mechanism is a “gray area” by the next redistricting cycle, this (whether to have 28 or 29 black majority districts) would be a heated debate topic both in committee and on the House floor.
Any redistricting plan that would be considered would inevitably be tweaked to satisfy the preferences of those serving on the House (and to some extent, the Senate) Governmental Affairs Committee. Furthermore, depending on who is in the Governorship and/or the legislative leadership by 2021, the applicable politics that would play out may be different. Finally, there is a third intangible to consider: depending on who gets elected in the 2015 and 2019 election cycles, different districts may be targeted and/or defended.
Still, given the population estimates as of December 2013, these contrasting plans can be thought of as an early “snapshot” of what the state House districts drawn for the 2020 Census might look like from either partisan extreme.