Decision 2015: JMCEL’s “bite sized politics” (Senate District 17)

INCUMBENT: Rick Ward III (Republican)

DESCRIPTION: Senate District 17 is located in the Baton Rouge media market and forms an arc around East Baton Rouge Parish. It contains all or part of nine parishes: all of East Feliciana and Pointe Coupee Parishes, northern Saint Helena Parish, the northern fringe of East Baton Rouge Parish, a small area of West Feliciana Parish along Thompson’s Creek, Iberville and West Baton Rouge Parishes to the west of LA 1, the western portion of Assumption Parish, and lower Saint Martin Parish. Despite the district’s elongated shape, 49% of the district’s voters live in Iberville, Pointe Coupee, or West Baton Rouge Parishes (also known as “the Westside”)


District Map

District Map










RED/BLUE RATING (using 2008, 2012, and 2014 elections): 52% Republican

JMCEL’s SUMMARY: Senate District 17 is a district that has multiple personalities, as you have sugarcane farms, rural hilly terrain in the northern parishes, swampy terrain, plantations, and petrochemical plants all existing within the district’s boundaries. There has also been some suburbanization that has occurred in the district’s portion of East Baton Rouge, the east bank of Iberville, West Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana Parishes.

These divergent economic interests contribute to a fairly competitive politics, as you have a 35% black voter registration that has in the past been joined by sugarcane farmers, (formerly unionized) petrochemical employees, and those dependent on local and state government (several state government entities are located in East Feliciana Parish). In the past, this coalition  kept the district securely Democratic in federal and state elections.

That has changed at the federal level, as the district has voted Republican for the past three Presidential races by decent (but not overwhelming) margins. Lately, the district has voted marginally Republican in statewide elections, and while in local races, this remains solidly Democratic terrain, Republicans have had some success here in state senate elections.

The history of Senate elections here has been one of occasionally competitive races, and two senators have actually switched to the Republican Party once in office. A longtime state senator (J.E. Jumonville) was defeated in 1991 by Tom Greene when reapportionment added a portion of south Baton Rouge to the district. Even though Jumonville sought a rematch in 1995, Senator Greene was re-elected with 55% of the vote, and  switched to the Republican Party during his second term. Sen. Greene vacated the seat in 1999 in an unsuccessful run for Governor against Mike Foster, and in the 1999 open seat race, state representative Rob Marionneaux eked out a 51-49% runoff win against a Republican opponent. Given that the epicenter of his opposition was in the East Baton Rouge Parish precincts, the 2001 reapportionment removed most of those precincts and added new territory in the Florida Parish that strengthened his hand, and his re-election worries (even against the same opponent in 2003) were eliminated.

Senator Marionneaux was term limited in 2011, and in the open seat race to succeed him, Rick Ward (son of the current DA for the Westside) was easily elected with 70% of the vote in the primary, and carried seven of the nine parishes in the district (he received 82% of the Westside vote). Senator Ward switched to the Republican Party in 2013, and is allowed to seek two more terms. Given his strength in the Westside, he should be in decent shape for re-election, although there are enough Democrats here (Barack Obama got 43% of the vote, and Mary Landrieu got 48% in her losing race last year) to make this a competitive race.