Decision 2015: JMCEL’s “bite sized politics” (Senate District 14)

INCUMBENT: Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb (Democrat)

DESCRIPTION: Senate District 14 is located in East Baton Rouge Parish and contains the lion’s share of what people associate with Baton Rouge: universities (LSU, Southern University, and Baton Rouge Community College), government (the State Capitol and many of its state office buildings are located downtown), industry (the ExxonMobil refinery/chemical complex), healthcare (the Our Lady of the Lake Hospital and the original Baton Rouge General Hospital), and casinos (all three casinos are located within the district lines).


District Map

District Map










RED/BLUE RATING (using 2008, 2012, and 2014 elections): 81% Democratic

JMCEL’s SUMMARY: Senate District 14 is one of the first black majority Senate districts that was drawn, which was as long ago as 1981. Accordingly, it elected a black state senator (Dick Turnley) in the 1983 elections, although Sen. Turnley was upset in 1987 by a (then) 24 year old Southern Law graduate and SGA President named Cleo Fields, who held the seat off and on between 1988 and 2008 – he briefly served in the US House of Representatives between 1993 and 1997, and returned to his state senate seat when his 1993 successor was elected district judge in 1997.

Senate District 14 also considerably changed during the 1991 reapportionment: in its original configuration, it only consisted of black majority, inner city precincts between LSU and Scotlandville. But in 1991, former Senate President Sammy Nunez (an ally of former Governor Edwards), in the words of John Maginnis, “plotted all summer to twist the GOP grand strategy in order to create more African-American seats but also to protect its own populist majority (that is, the guys who voted to throw out Roemer’s president and to reinstate Sammy Nunez).” Part of this protection of the once solid populist Democratic majority meant that “opposition” senators would receive unfavorable districts wherever possible. One of those opposition senators at the time was former senator Larry Bankston, whose adjacent South Baton Rouge Senate district was dissolved, and as part of the dissolution, District 14 inherited precincts in the Garden District/Hundred Oaks area, an area immediately to the south of LSU, and black neighborhoods in South Baton Rouge like Mayfair and Concord Estates. During the 2001 reapportionment, the Burbank/Gardere area was also added. While these changes dropped the black voter registration to just over 60% a decade ago, the white neighborhoods appended had liberal political tendencies, and so this remained a solidly Democratic district.

Senator Fields was term limited in 2007, although legislation was passed in 2006 that allowed Senator Fields and another legislator (Representative Wayne Waddell) to serve another term, due to the timing of their elections and subsequent swearing in in 1997/1998. Sen. Fields’ candidacy, however, was challenged after he qualified to run for re-election. Though a district judge ruled in favor of Sen. Fields, the appeals court reversed the district court, and the reversal was upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Therefore, Cleo Fields was removed from the ballot, and he promptly threw his organizational muscle behind term-limited state Representative Yvonne Dorsey (who, curiously, ran against him in 1997). Even with Senator Fields’ support, Dorsey only defeated a fellow black Democrat named Jason Decuir in the runoff by 93 votes. This was a case where voter intensity clearly mattered: Decuir carried the white precincts with 82% of the vote, while (then) Rep. Dorsey received 74% of the vote from the black precincts. However, those precincts with a 75% or higher black voter registration cast 47% of the total vote in the primary and 49% of the total vote in the low-turnout runoff – the extra 2% was her margin of victory, and then some.

The 2011 reapportionment strengthened Senator Dorsey’s hand by removing white precincts around the Garden District, while adding two black majority precincts in north Baton Rouge, which increased the black voter registration from 63 to 69%. These changes clearly helped her, as she was elected in the first primary with 58% of the vote against two opponents. Senator Dorsey is allowed to seek one more term, and given that the district has been heavily contested for the past three election cycles, she has the potential of having a contested re-election from a fellow black Democrat – 80% of district voters supported Barack Obama, and 82% voted for Mary Landrieu, so it’s very unlikely a Republican could wage a competitive campaign here.