Louisiana 2011 Legislative Analysis – Senate District 29

Incumbent – Joe McPherson (D – Term Limited in 2011)
District Maps (Alexandria and Ruston maps available here and here)

Senate District 29 (Entire District)

Voting History

2008 President

  Current District New District
John McCain (R) 28068 (59%) 28979 (37%)
Barack Obama (D) 19108 (40%) 17592 (62%)
Others 641 (1%) 442 (1%)


2008 Senate

  Current District New District
Mary Landrieu (D) 23165 (50%) 30164 (67%)
John Kennedy (R) 22444 (48%) 13999 (31%)
Others 1035 (2%) 958 (2%)


2010 Senate

  Current District New District
David Vitter (R) 16569 (57%) 10323 (40%)
Charlie Melancon (D) 10419 (36%) 13724 (53%)
Others 2293 (8%) 1936 (7%)


2010 Lt Governor

  Current District New District
Jay Dardenne (R) 15854 (54%) 10128 (39%)
Caroline Fayard (D) 13245 (46%) 15864 (61%)

Current District

Senate District 29 covers all of Rapides Parish (except for some nearly all white precincts in the northern fringes of the parish) and has a 33% black voter registration (up from 31% several years ago). The district itself contains three district parts of the parish: inner city Alexandria, the suburban fringe north and west of Alexandria, and the rural areas south and west of town.

Because 53% of the voters of the district live in the city of Alexandria, you have a district that will typically support Republicans at the top of the ticket, but by a narrower margin than Rapides Parish as a whole. These demographics have resulted in a district favorable to its longtime incumbent, populist Democrat Joe McPherson. With the exception of a 4 year hiatus between 1996-2000 (he unsuccessfully ran for the Public Service Commission in 1995), he has continuously represented the district since 1983. He has only been seriously challenged twice: in 1987, and in his 1999 comeback, when he defeated a Republican state representative. He cannot run again due to term limits, and probably in anticipation of this, unsuccessfully ran for Public Service Commissioner back in 2009.

Proposed District

There were two issues that faced those tasked with drawing the new district lines for the Senate: (1) The best way to maintain minority representation given the population losses in New Orleans, and (2) the appropriate level of minority representation in that legislative chamber. It was decided that only one minority district was to be eliminated in the city of New Orleans – its “replacement” was drawn in the River Parishes. The Senate leadership also decided that an additional minority district could be drawn in Central/North Louisiana, and since Senator McPherson was term limited, conversion of his district into a “majority minority” district was the least painful choice.

Even though the district was only 4% under populated (and, technically, could have been left alone), it has been significantly redrawn for the reasons above; only 48% of the district’s voters are in the new district, which covers parts of seven parishes and stretches from an area south of Alexandria all the way up to Ruston. The district can be segmented into four portions: (1) an area of Rapides Parish between Forest Hill and Lecompte that includes inner city Alexandria and most of Pineville – these precincts are 54% of the district voters, 59% of whom are black; (2) black portions of Grant, Winn, Jackson, and Bienville Parishes, which represent 23% of the district and are 45% black; (3) a salient of territory into Natchitoches, which is 8% of the district, and is 71% black; (4) black precincts in Ruston and Grambling in Lincoln Parish – this portion of the district is where 15% of the voters live, and is 75% black by voter registration.

It is almost guaranteed that a Democrat will be elected in this new district, since support for GOP candidates is pretty consistently in the upper 30s in this district. Is it a sure thing that a minority can be elected ? Even though the black voter registration is 56%, a white candidate can theoretically win, given the fact that in North Louisiana, white turnout tends to be significantly higher than black turnout. For example, in the 2010 elections, the racial breakdown of those who voted in the new district was 49-49% black. If a similar turnout pattern emerged this year, you could have a situation where a white Democrat (especially one from Rapides Parish, which casts 54% of the district vote) could get near unanimous white voter support, which would only require getting about 15% of the black vote to be able to win.