Louisiana 2011 Legislative Analysis – Senate District 17

Incumbent – Rob Marionneaux (D – Term limited in 2011)

District Map

Senate District 17


Voting History


2008 President

  Current District New District
John McCain (R) 34846 (55%) 32153 (56%)
Barack Obama (D) 27610 (44%) 24080 (42%)
Others 879 (1%) 914 (2%)

2008 Senate

  Current District New District
Mary Landrieu (D) 35446 (57%) 31966 (57%)
John Kennedy (R) 25307 (41%) 22730 (41%)
Others 1022 (2%) 922 (2%)

2010 Senate

  Current District New District
David Vitter (R) 21178 (50%) 19186 (49%)
Charlie Melancon (D) 18822 (44%) 17166 (44%)
Others 2578 (6%) 2438 (6%)

2010 Lt Governor

  Current District New District
Jay Dardenne (R) 23262 (54%) 21114 (54%)
Caroline Fayard (D) 19536 (46%) 17894 (46%)

Current District

Senate District 17 currently forms a semi-circle around East Baton Rouge Parish and, despite its various incarnations, can be considered the “Westside district.” It includes all of Iberville, West Baton Rouge, and Pointe Coupee parishes on the Westside. These parishes cast about 64% of the total vote and have a significant black voter registration (at least 37% in each parish). When you combine the black voter influence with the presence of organized labor from the petrochemical industry and a strong agricultural influence from the sugarcane farms you have a fairly strong populist Democratic voting bloc.

In addition to the Westside, the district crosses the Mississippi River to include all of East Feliciana and part of St. Helena Parishes. These areas are rural and its politics are influenced both by a large black population and the presence of several governmental institutions. Finally, the district includes the northwest corner of East Baton Rouge Parish down to Hooper Road. This area (also known as Central) is predominately white conservative, and was recently incorporated as Central City so that it could get its own school district in 2007.

The district overall had a decided, but not overwhelming, Democratic edge due to the district’s 38% black voter base, unionized plant workers, government employees, and sugarcane farmers. However, there is a fairly significant Republican presence in the East Baton Rouge precincts in the district. This translates politically to a marginal district that Republicans narrowly carry in national elections, while Democrats normally carry the district in statewide and local races. Until last year, that is – both Jay Dardenne and David Vitter were victorious here. Could this mean that the once solid populist Democratic voting base is a thing of the past?

For a period of time in the 1990s, the district had turbulent politics. From 1967-1991, the district was entirely rural populist Democratic, and both J. E. Jumonville Sr (and Jr) represented the district. After the 1991 reapportionment, enough high income neighborhoods from south Baton Rouge were added to make the district politically competitive, and Democratic veterinarian Tom Greene upset Jumonville 51-49% in the 1991 runoff, with 69% support from the Baton Rouge precincts (Jumonville still carried the Westside parishes with 55%). Senator Greene’s conservative politics guaranteed that he would have challenging re-elections, and Jumonville sought a rematch in 1995. Though Senator Greene widened his victory percentage to 58%, he only received 52% of the vote in the Westside, while getting 78% of the vote in East Baton Rouge. Senator Greene switched to the Republican Party shortly thereafter, but retired in 1999 to challenge Mike Foster in the 1999 governor’s race (he received 3% of the vote in the primary).

Tom Greene’s retirement resulted in a competitive race to succeed him in 1999, and Democratic state representative Rob Marionneaux eked out a 51-49% runoff victory over a Republican by carrying the Westside with 57%, even though he only got 30% of the vote in East Baton Rouge Parish. The 2001 redistricting strengthened Sen. Marionneaux. Democratic rural territory in East Feliciana and Saint Helena was added, while affluent neighborhoods near LSU were swapped for Central. Marionneaux’s 1999 Republican opponent sought a rematch, but this time, another Republican jumped in the race, and Marionneaux was comfortably re-elected 62-29%. Not only did he sweep the Westside and rural parishes 64-27%, but he only trailed 43-45% in East Baton Rouge Parish. His 2007 re-election was even more anticlimactic, as he received 83% of the vote. Because Senator Marionneaux was term limited, this district is an open seat race this year.

Proposed District

Overall, the district had respectable population growth, and could have been left relatively untouched, as District 17 had 5% more population than the district ideal. However, the convoluted boundaries of the district got more convoluted, because a newly drawn Senate district in the River Parishes removed about 25,000 residents of West Baton Rouge and Iberville from the district. These precincts had a 50% black voter registration. Similarly, 12,000 Central residents were placed in a newly created senate district between Baton Rouge and Hammond. To make up for these population losses, the district picked up portions of Assumption and St Martin Parish. Similarly, portions of West Feliciana near the Bluffs were added, as were additional precincts in St Helena Parish. Finally, conservative precincts in Central were swapped for more politically marginal portions of Zachary in East Baton Rouge.

These changes, while decreasing black voter registration from 38 to 34%, nevertheless resulted in another marginal district with an identical political complexion to that of the “old” district. A lot will depend on two things: (1) the strength of the Democratic and/or Republican candidates, (2) the strength of the Republican or Democratic tide in Louisiana this year. A Republican victory in this district would mean that the GOP could pick up other marginal districts held by term limited Democratic senators now and in the future. A Democratic victory would suggest that there is a ceiling as to how many Republican senators can be elected to the Louisiana Senate under this plan.