Louisiana 2011 Legislative Analysis – House District 23

Incumbent – Rick Nowlin (R – Term Limited in 2019)

District Map

House District 23

Vote History

2008 President

  Current District New District
John McCain (R) 9662 (54%) 6517 (36%)
Barack Obama (D) 8125 (45%) 11168 (63%)
Others 226 (1%) 171 (1%)


2008 Senate

  Current District New District
Mary Landrieu (D) 9453 (54%) 11594 (67%)
John Kennedy (R) 7522 (43%) 5282 (31%)
Others 469 (3%) 321 (2%)


2010 Senate

  Current District New District
David Vitter (R) 5483 (54%) 3842 (40%)
Charlie Melancon (D) 3835 (38%) 5203 (54%)
Others 799 (8%) 641 (6%)


2010 Lt Governor

  Current District New District
Jay Dardenne (R) 5231 (52%) 3746 (39%)
Caroline Fayard (D) 4807 (48%) 5916 (61%)

Current District

John Maginnis once noted that Natchitoches Parish (where Northwestern State University is located) is “…evenly split between college town residents and cotton and soybean farmers.” This college-town/rural split, combined with a large and relatively stable 38% black voter registration, has apparently made the parish a political bellwether – Natchitoches Parish has voted for the winner in each of the 25 statewide elections held for President, Governor, and U.S. Senator between 1983 and 2010.

District 23 contains all of Natchitoches Parish and a small portion of southwest Winn Parish. Politically, the high black population, combined with the college town environment of Natchitoches, has created a political context that usually favors the Democrats: Republicans have been more victorious here in recent years, but rarely by large margins.

This is a district that usually has had stable representation in the legislature: from 1968 to 2000, Democrat Jimmy Long represented the district, usually without much competition, but in 1991, he had to struggle to win in the runoff, and in 1999, Democratic attorney Taylor Townsend upset him in the primary. Rep. Townsend served for two terms before vacating the House seat to run unsuccessfully for an open Senate seat (he did, however, get 56% of the vote from his constituents).

In the open seat race that ensued that year, Republican Rick Nowlin defeated the former mayor of Natchitoches Joe Sampite 55-45%. What was interesting about his victory was Nowlin’s strength in the black community – in predominately black precincts in the city of Natchitoches, he received an unheard of (for a Republican) 67% of the black vote in those precincts. He also ran strongly throughout most of the parish, except for some rural precincts adjacent to Rapides Parish. He is allowed to seek two more terms.

New District

Historically during reapportionment, black majority districts were only drawn in urban areas or rural areas where there were there were black majorities. The 2011 reapportionment was different, because the loss of population in New Orleans meant that black majority districts had to be eliminated and recreated elsewhere so as not to dilute minority representation. Unfortunately for Rep. Nowlin, the large black minority of about 40% in the northwest Louisiana parishes of Natchitoches and next door Red River and De Soto made drawing a black majority district in that area tempting. 

Which, in fact, was what happened – the rural white precincts of Natchitoches Parish west of I-49 were placed in District 24 (represented by Republican Frankie Howard). Similarly, the Winn Parish precincts, and the Natchitoches Parish precincts northeast of the city of Natchitoches were moved over to District 22 (represented by Republican Billy Chandler) and District 13 (represented by Democrat Jim Fannin). That left the district with the core portion of Natchitoches Parish roughly between I-49 and the Red River – 48% of the voters in this part of Natchitoches Parish are black. Appended to this core were the heavily black portions of Red River and De Soto Parishes. 

The newly drawn district is now a thin piece of territory that follows I-49 roughly from the town of Stonewall in De Soto Parish to a point in Natchitoches Parish a few miles north of the Rapides Parish line. This district has a 55% black voter registration and can be counted on to give Democrats 60-65% of the vote in most elections. Normally, this kind of district would be beyond the reach of any Republican, but Rep. Nowlin shouldn’t be counted out, for two reasons: (1) the high income precincts near Sibley Lake and near downtown Natchitoches were left in the district, and (2) the 67% of the black vote Rep. Nowlin received in Natchitoches demonstrates that he has the ability to get black votes – this ability will certainly be put to the test in the fall elections.