Louisiana 2011 Legislative Analysis – House District 51

Incumbent – Joe Harrison (R – Term Limited in 2019)

District Map

House District 51

Vote History

2008 President

  Current District New District
John McCain (R) 11053 (62%) 10763 (66%)
Barack Obama (D) 6528 (36%) 5176 (32%)
Others 352 (2%) 361 (2%)


2008 Senate

  Current District New District
Mary Landrieu (D) 9132 (54%) 7814 (50%)
John Kennedy (R) 7537 (44%) 7349 (47%)
Others 373 (2%) 391 (3%)


2010 Senate

  Current District New District
David Vitter (R) 6653 (57%) 6527 (61%)
Charlie Melancon (D) 4488 (38%) 3679 (34%)
Others 554 (5%) 519 (5%)


2010 Lt Governor

  Current District New District
Jay Dardenne (R) 6977 (61%) 6743 (64%)
Caroline Fayard (D) 4553 (39%) 3842 (36%)

Current District

There are several state House districts that fit some of the Louisiana stereotypes: House District 51 happened to be one of those districts, as it has its concentrations of swamps, sugarcane, and the oil industry. The district contains parts of three parishes: St. Mary Parish east of the Atchafalaya (where Morgan City is), the southern half of Assumption Parish, and the west/southwestern portions of Terrebonne Parish outside of Houma.

There is a moderate 25% black registration, which is up slightly from 24% when the lines were last drawn. Politically, this district is like many in south Louisiana: inclined to support Democrats at the local level (particularly in the Assumption and Terrebonne precincts), but with an appreciation for the oil industry not present almost anywhere else in the country. In the last several years, however, support for Democrats has declined at the federal and state level, and in 2010, there was a “clean sweep” for the GOP, as they were victorious in the Senate, Lt. Governor, and Congressional races – despite the fact that Democratic Senate candidate Charlie Melancon was from the area.

This change has also occurred at the legislative level. Historically, the district usually supported its incumbents, although this seat tended to be a “springboard” for another office. Democrat John Siracusa represented the area from 1976-1996. After he left to run for a vacant Senate seat (incidentally, he ran for Mike Foster’s seat), he was succeeded in 1996 by Democrat Butch Gautreaux. Rep. Gautreaux served one term and was elected to the Senate in 1999 when Sen. Siracusa retired after one term. Carla Dartez was then elected in his place and served for two terms.

While representative Dartez was not term-limited in 2007, she was one of two incumbents to be defeated, due to personal issues which we would like to discuss as a kind of “Exhibit A” for actions that can doom an incumbent’s re-election chances. Before the October primary, she was involved in a hit and run accident, and her husband was indicted for allegedly harboring illegal aliens. These allegations had some effect on the primary voting, as Rep. Dartez led Republican “Joe” Harrison by only 44-36%. The hits kept coming: a week before the runoff, a phone conversation she was having with the mother of the Terrebonne NAACP chapter to thank her for her early vote efforts ended with her saying “talk to you later, Buckwheat.” The resulting uproar (some in the NAACP even urged voters to support her Republican opponent) undoubtedly hurt her, and she lost the runoff to Joe Harrison 43-57%, even though she still carried St. Mary Parish with 55%. What was most telling about her defeat was the impact in the black community.  Overall, her vote in black majority precincts fell from 56-23% in the primary to 53-47% in the runoff, but she still overwhelmingly carried the black neighborhoods in her home parish of St. Mary Parish. Rep. Harrison is allowed to serve two more terms.

New District

Redistricting wasn’t too complicated in this part of South Louisiana: the district was 1% under populated, and could have been left alone (a 5% population variance is permitted). And there was no way a black majority district could be drawn from the precincts in the district. However, there were some adjustments made which reduced the black voter registration from 25 to 20%: (1) removal of some Morgan City precincts that were 47% black and voted 61-33% for Charlie Melancon, (2) trading four precincts with District 52 (represented by Republican Gordon Dove) which had a negligible political impact, (3) removal of two precincts in Assumption Parish that were 56% black (and voted 62-34% for Charlie Melancon), and (4) adding a precinct in Lafourche Parish near Labadieville that voted 66-28% for David Vitter.

If we were rating Rep. Harrison’s chances four years ago, we would have rated his district as one that was tough for him (or any Republican) to hold, given the unique circumstances under which he won. But the recent Republican tide in Louisiana puts him in a strong position for re-election. This is the kind of district that if the Republicans can hold, they will keep control of the state House.