INCUMBENT: Sharon Weston Broome (Democrat)
DESCRIPTION: Senate District 15 is generally located in north Baton Rouge and stretches from Church Street in Zachary to the Sherwood Forest subdivision in south Baton Rouge. In between are areas like Baker, Scotlandville, the Glen Oaks area, Park Forest, and Villa Del Rey.
RED/BLUE RATING (using 2008, 2012, and 2014 elections): 76% Democratic
JMCEL’s SUMMARY: East Baton Rouge was once a reliably Republican parish, and between 1964 and 2004 (with two exceptions), it voted for the Republican Presidential nominee. It was also one of the first parishes to develop a robust Republican infrastructure at the local level. Yet in the 2008 Presidential elections (and again in 2012), it was one of 10 parishes to vote for Barack Obama. To understand why this happened, it’s best to look at legislative districts in East Baton Rouge Parish like Senate District 15.
Senate District 15 was originally a conservative leaning district that was anchored in south Baton Rouge neighborhoods near LSU and Midcity, and in an open seat race in 1987, Republican attorney Jay Dardenne (who is Louisiana’s Lt. Governor today) came within 300 votes of getting elected in his first try for public office in 1987. But the district’s personality markedly changed in 1991, when former Senate President Sammy Nunez (an ally of former Governor Edwards who deposed former Governor Roemer’s Senate President in 1990) used reapportionment to help solidify his control of the chamber by creating more black majority districts at the expense of senators who were considered favorable to the Roemer administration. One of those “targets” was former Democratic state Senator Larry Bankston, whose south Baton Rouge district was split into several pieces, and was reconfigured as a black majority state senate district that stretched from (then) white middle class neighborhoods off Florida Boulevard up through north Baton Rouge and Zachary. From there, it then meandered through portions of six adjacent parishes. However, Senator Bankston was able to get re-elected with 51% of the vote in the primary by cornering the white vote (he had four black opponents) and getting just enough black support to win. Had he been pushed into the runoff, it’s entirely possible that he would have lost, because the Edwards-Duke at the top of the ballot in November 1991 generated a record high black turnout.
Interestingly, after Bankston’s re-election, he allied himself with the Senate leadership, to the point that he chaired a gambling subcommittee at a time gambling was being implemented statewide. However, a 1995 federal investigation into video poker had Bankston squarely in its line of fire, and Bankston chose not to seek re-election that year. He was succeeded by black Democrat named Wilson Fields (the brother of former senator/Congressman Cleo Fields and currently a district judge), who was elected in a racially polarized runoff with 61% against a Republican.
The district lines were redrawn in 1997, and the district became more compact: it shrunk to include just East Baton Rouge Parish, the Felicianas, and St. Helena Parish. In this redrawn district, Fields was nevertheless re-elected in 1999 with 65% over a Republican.
Sen. Wilson Fields was the beneficiary of legislation creating a new judgeship in East Baton Rouge Parish during his second term. He was successful in this endeavor, and in the open seat race in 2001, (then) state representative “Kip” Holden (also a black Democrat) was elected with 51% of the primary vote.
Reapportionment further compacted the district in 2001, to where it was wholly contained within East Baton Rouge Parish, and the seat opened up again when Sen. Holden was elected Mayor/President of East Baton Rouge Parish in 2004. He was succeeded by (then) representative Sharon Weston Broome, who was elected automatically when no one qualified against her in the special election. She was then easily re-elected in 2007, and was unopposed in 2011.
Redistricting removed some black precincts in north Baton Rouge, as well as portions of Zachary, and added the Sherwood Forest subdivision. These changes slightly diluted the black voter registration from 71 to 69%, but thanks to demographic changes that have occurred throughout the district, the district has a 74% black voter registration today.
To put the 74% black voter registration in proper context, the last time a Republican Presidential candidate comfortably carried East Baton Rouge Parish was in 1988, and under the 1988 demographics for the current district lines for Senate District 15, black voter registration was only 36%, and George HW Bush actually carried the district 52-46% over Michael Dukakis. When you consider that in 2012 Barack Obama carried the district 77-22%, that 31 percentage point swing towards the Democrats best explains why East Baton Rouge Parish now leans Democratic.
Senator Broome is term limited this year, and is reportedly interested in running for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish like her Senate predecessor, “Kip” Holden. A black Democrat will almost certainly be elected in her place.