Decision 2014: Shrinking the (East Baton Rouge Parish School) Board
Last night, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted 6-5 to reduce its membership from 11 to 9 members.
Given the reduced size of the school board, what is the political impact of this redistricting plan ? First of all, two sets of incumbents (Republicans David Tatman/Jerry Arbour and Democrats Craig Freeman/Evelyn Ware-Jackson) were thrown into the same district, although with Craig Freeman’s not seeking re-election, the Tatman/Arbour matchup is the only incumbent on incumbent race. More specifically, here is the breakdown of the individual districts (the approved map is here):
District 1: Independent Mary Lynch
This is a generally Republican district that includes south BR neighborhoods along Goodwood and Harrell’s Ferry Road. While recent demographic changes have diluted the Republican strength here (this is a 30% black district with a 6% Asian/Hispanic population), a Republican, particularly with a less Democratic midterm electorate, would have a decent chance of winning here in November/December.
District 2: Democrat Vereta Lee
This is a heavily Democratic district, due to its 78% black voter registration, although there are some conservative pockets in the northeastern corner of the parish. Incidentally, this district is not contiguous because of the prior creation of the Zachary and Central school districts.
District 3: Democrat Kenyetta Nelson-Smith
This north Baton Rouge district has 96% black voter registration and includes neighborhoods between Plank Road and the Mississippi River roughly between the State Capitol and Southern University
District 4: Democrat Tarvald Smith
This 79% black district includes more blue collar neighborhoods between Florida Boulevard and Greenwell Springs Road, and is a safely Democratic district.
District 5: Democrats Craig Freeman and Evelyn Ware-Jackson
(UPDATED 7/26 AM) While technically there are two incumbents in this district, Craig Freeman decided not to seek re-election, leaving only Evelyn Ware-Jackson. While this is a black majority district, it is only 50-46% black by voter registration, and consists of neighborhoods along Florida Boulevard between downtown and Our Lady Of Mercy, with a substantial white minority consisting of more liberal neighborhoods near City Park, as well as the affluent (and solidly conservative) Bocage subdivision. While a Democrat is a near certainty to win, the 46% white minority (with a strong white liberal hue) means that a black candidate (or even a white liberal candidate) with a reform platform and/or appeal to white voters would be a winning combination.
(UPDATED 7/26 AM) Incidentally, in this part of town, black turnout has historically been noticeably less than white turnout. When examining major statewide elections since 2004, there has NOT been a black voting majority on Election Day – even with Barack Obama on the ballot in 2008 and 2012. So effectively, this is a white district from a voting strength perspective, and this electoral reality means this is not a seat where a black candidate can be assured of victory.
District 6: Republican Jill Dyason
This securely Republican district is anchored in the southeastern corner of the parish and includes the conservative precincts of Hickory Ridge, Shenandoah, White Oak Landing, and Azalea Lakes. However, this part of town is also the epicenter for a movement to create a separate (Saint George) school district, and this creates inherent conflict for anyone representing this area on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.
District 7: Republican Barbara Freiberg
This is a white majority district (with 16% black voter registration) that includes LSU and nearby neighborhoods along Perkins and Highland Road. However, the political hue of this district is more moderate, and Republicans perceived as being too conservative for this district do not carry this district.
District 8: Republican Connie Bernard
This district contains newer neighborhoods along Highland and Perkins Roads, as well as the rapidly growing area off the Bluebonnet Extension. This district also contains the black neighborhoods of Gardere, Mayfair, and Barkley Place. The political complexion of this district, with its 25% black voter registration and politically moderate neighborhoods closer to LSU, is actually quite similar to District 7: Republican leaning, but conservative Republicans do not get a majority here.
District 9: Republicans David Tatman and Jerry Arbour
This is a Republican district consisting of a mixture of older and newer neighborhoods on either side of Jefferson Highway and South Sherwood Forest Boulevard. While this is a Republican district, demographic changes along South Sherwood Forest Boulevard mean this district has a 21% black voter registration. In political terms, this means that Republicans can generally win here, but their margins are not as once sided as they are in southeast BR or in Central.
Last night’s redistricting has resulted in a board with four black majority and five white majority seats. At this point, the major question about the plan is whether threatened litigation from the NAACP would prevent this plan from being implemented for the fall elections (qualifying for these races is in less than a month).