In this installment, we would like to discuss the changes to House and Senate districts along the coastal parishes/southwestern region of the state 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
As with North Louisiana, the redistricting strategy employed by the House leadership was essentially a defensive one: shoring up marginal Republicans by reducing their black voting percentages. Additionally, since robust population growth in the Lafayette area supported the creation of a new House seat, a new House seat drawn with 57% African-American voter registration that included parts of Lafayette, Iberia, and St Martin Parishes.
The direct result of this strategy was a more secure GOP seat that was recently won in St Martin Parish: its black voter registration dropped from 30% to about 20%. This strategy (dropping the black voter registration from 30 to 20%) was similarly employed with the seats held by Taylor Barras (D-New Iberia) and the term limited seat of Gary Smith (D-Norco). Only one GOP held seat had to be sacrificed: that of retiring Nickie Monica (R-La Place) whose district voted for Obama and was almost certain to be recaptured by the Democrats anyway due to recent demographic trends – his seat was redrawn to have a 57% black voter registration.
To what extent did execution of this strategy help Republicans in this part of the state ? The “new” seat in the Bayou Teche region is technically a Democratic seat from New Orleans that was eliminated in redistricting. In the River Parishes, the siphoning off of the black vote from an open Democratic held seat in St Charles Parish was offset by converting a shaky GOP held seat in St John Parish to a black majority seat. Ultimately, we see 1-2 seat GOP gains in the area because (1) Taylor Barras (D-New Iberia) now must decide whether he, as a Democrat, wants to have GOP opposition in a redrawn district that voted 72% for David Vitter (up from 59% in the current configuration), (2) a term limited Democratic seat in Houma voted 61% for David Vitter.
Even though the rest of the House seats in the area were largely left unchanged, we also foresee additional GOP gains from the region due to the fact that you still have 10 white Democratic incumbents, 6 of whom represent districts that gave David Vitter between 60 and 69% of the vote. Sooner or later, these districts are prime pickup opportunities for the GOP – either from forced retirements, the emergence of GOP challengers, or from additional party switches. In fact, 2 of the GOP held seats in the Acadiana region are occupied by Democrats who switched to the Republican Party in the last year.
State Senate Districts
Currently: 12 senators (6 Democrat, 6 Republican)
This region of the state is the most responsible for recent GOP gains’ flipping the state Senate to GOP control; since the November elections, two senators switched to the GOP, and the GOP picked up two more seats in recent special elections. The GOP had hoped for even greater gains this fall, since 4 out of 5 term limited seats in the area were held by Democrats. However, the Senate reapportionment plan generally maintained the current demography of those districts, which limits GOP pickup opportunities – in 3 of the 4 term limited seats held by Democrats, the Vitter percentages ranged from 49 to 53%. The only term limited Democratic seat we see likely to flip to the Republicans is the seat held by “Butch” Gautreaux, which not only voted 60% for David Vitter, but also has a strong GOP candidate (Brent Allain) already running.
The Senate redistricting plan, however, had some side benefit for the Republicans. The rapidly suburbanizing Ascension-based seat of recent party convert “Jody” Amedee was made safely Republican (its Vitter percent went from 56 to 68% for Vitter). Recent party convert Fred Mills (R-St Martinville) saw his Republican leanings strengthened some – his Vitter percentage went from 57 to 61%.
In general, the Senate seats in the region were left alone, although it’s worth noting that the dissolved seat of Cynthia Willard-Lewis in New Orleans East was recreated in the River Parishes and is 56% black voter registration.
NEXT ARTICLE: Changes to legislative districts in the Florida Parishes