In this installment, we would like to discuss the changes to House and Senate districts in North and Central Louisiana with the strong caveat that there may still be last minute changes to the lines by either chamber. There is also the ever present possibility of a gubernatorial veto, and the Justice Department could still reject the lines even if the governor signs off on them.
State House Districts
Currently: 28 representatives (12 Democrat, 16 Republican) (Revised 4/11/2011)
The House leadership strategy in this part of the state was essentially defensive: lock in 2007 GOP gains in the region by lowering the African-American percentages in several marginal districts, while converting two Republican held House seats to African-American majority districts. There are still, however, the prospect for additional Republican gains in the region, as there are still five white Democratic House members. Four of those five are incumbents whose Republican leaning districts were not changed much, while the fifth district is that of term limited Democrat Jean Doerge of Minden. It is also worth noting that the region saw three Democrats switch parties in the aftermath of the 2010 elections.
Term limits isn’t really expected to have much of a partisan impact in this region. Four members from the region will not be returning next year. Two of the seats (Republican Jane Smith of Bossier City and Democrat Rick Gallot of Grambling) are not expected to switch. While the Monroe seat of Republican Kay Katz has been converted into an African-American seat (60% of registered voters) stretching from Monroe to Bastrop, Democrat Jean Doerge of Minden represents a Republican leaning seat in Webster Parish that gave David Vitter 60% (Jay Dardenne got 55%).
The interesting race to watch in the region will be that of freshman Rick Nowlin (R-Natchitoches). His seat went from 38% to 55% black voter registration, and the Vitter/Dardenne percentages accordingly declined about 15%. However, Rep. Nowlin has demonstrated the ability (unusual for a Republican) to get a majority of the black vote, and as such he shouldn’t be counted out. Similarly, the African-American district created between Monroe and Bastrop meant that freshman Republican Sam Little of Bastrop got a more Republican district, but one that is about 85% Ouachita Parish, so a Monroe based challenger is a possibility.
State Senate Districts
Currently: 11 senators (3 Democrat, 8 Republican)
In this region, the Senate leadership strengthened the hand of several GOP held districts, while creating an African-American majority district between Alexandria, Ruston, and Natchitoches that numerically favors an Alexandria-based candidate (53% of the population is in Rapides Parish). In this case, the GOP has already maximized its gains in the area, since the last Republican leaning seat saw its senator (John Smith of Leesville) switch to the GOP several months ago.
Term limits aren’t expected to have any partisan impact in the region, as the lone term limited Democrat, Joe McPherson of Woodworth, saw his district turned into a 56% African-American district (by voter registration) that also saw its Vitter percentage plunge from 56 to 39%. While the other open seat is held by retiring senator Buddy Shaw of Shreveport, his district is expected to remain in Republican hands; in fact, representative Jane Smith (R-Bossier City) has already announced her intentions to run for the seat.
While two of the Republicans (Gerald Long of Natchitoches and Bob Kostelka of Monroe) saw their Republican percentages increase, they were also given a lot of unfamiliar territory. Sen. Long now has 36% of his district in Rapides Parish, and Sen. Kostelka got a district where 26% of its population is either in Grant, Rapides, or Winn Parishes.
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