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State Senate, House maps approved without adding any Black districts to Louisiana

Lawmakers gather on the floor of the Louisiana House of Representatives. June 30, 2020.
Paul Braun
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WRKF
Lawmakers gather on the floor of the Louisiana House of Representatives. June 30, 2020.

After weeks of fiery debate, Louisiana lawmakers in the House and Senate advanced proposals to redraw their own legislative districts Monday without meaningfully increasing the number of majority-Black districts in the state legislature.

The votes are a major step toward lawmakers finalizing legislative districts the state will use for the next decade.

Traditionally, the House and Senate never amend the maps the other chamber draws for itself. The bills are expected to sail through the legislative process and win final passage well before lawmakers end their special session Feb. 20.

The maps passed by the House and Senate on Monday are likely to end up in court. Civil rights groups have said Louisiana, with its 33% Black population, needs as many as nine additional majority-minority districts in the House and four in the Senate to come into compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars states from diluting or diminishing the political power of racial minority groups through the redistricting process.

The House passed HB14, Speaker Clay Schexnayder’s proposed House district map, on an 82-21 vote. Twelve Democrats voted with the House’s Republican majority.

HB14 - House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales)

HB14_reengrossed_021522.JPG
Louisiana Legislature
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HB14 by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) as it it was approved by the House of Representatives. Feb. 14, 2022

The nearly two hours of debate on the House floor over the bill, showed the messy, often personal debate that can ensue when lawmakers are tasked with redrawing their own districts.

Rep. Kenny Cox (D-Natchitoches), who last week accused GOP leaders of “throwing a landmine” into his district in northwest Louisiana, made an impassioned, last-ditch plea that lawmakers not scatter his majority-Black constituents across four overwhelmingly white districts in the region.

“Y’all made a decision to take out my district — something that’s taken over 300 years to come about,” Cox said. “I never minded fighting a battle I had a chance of winning… but I have no recourse.”

Republican legislative leaders relocated the term-limited Cox’s 23rd House District from northwest Louisiana to Orleans Parish to account for population shifts within the state over the last decade.

The Republican majority of the House voted down a series of amendments by Rep. Cedric Glover (D-Shreveport) that would have unpacked five deeply segregated districts in the northwestern corner of the state. Each change differed slightly, but all would have created one new majority-Black district and resulted in more competitive districts across the region — a prospect that was unpalatable to lawmakers who have worked to protect incumbents throughout the redistricting process

The amendments mirrored a complete House map proposed by Glover last week and was voted down by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday. After that vote, Rep. John Stefanski (R-Crowley), who has shepherded Schexnayder’s bill through the redistricting process, said the GOP leadership would consider amending their bill to include Glover’s district configuration in northwest Louisiana.

Those negotiations broke down over the weekend, but Glover still tried to add his amendments without the leadership’s support.

The amendments were opposed by every Republican member of the northwest Louisiana delegation.

“I respect all the work that Rep. Glover does — I know he’s putting a lot of time and energy and heart into it — but it’s bad for our communities in northwest Louisiana,” Rep. Danny McCormick (R-Oil City) said. “Not bad for my district per se, but bad for our communities and very bad for northwest Louisiana.”

Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) spoke in support of Glover’s amendments and criticized the lawmakers of the northwest delegation who opposed the bill, all of whom are white.

“It is not only practical, not only reasonable, not only fair — it is the right thing to do, not just through the lens of fairness but also under the law,” Duplessis said. “The only thing I can recall hearing is, ‘I don’t like it. It just doesn’t work’… I think our duty goes beyond that.”

Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-Baton Rouge) said passing Schexnayder’s map, which does not add to the House’s 29 majority-Black districts, was tantamount to voter suppression.

Jordan pointed to a framed picture Glover presented to the legislature while arguing for his amendments. It was a composite of the portraits of the 29 Black state lawmakers who were elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1868 amid the Reconstruction Era.

“So from 1868 to 2022, we’re still talking about 29,” Jordan said. “You’re going to tell me in 150 years we can’t get one extra seat, and you want us to accept that as progress? … That is not progress.”

The full Senate ultimately voted 27-12 to approve its new map, proposed by Senate President Page Cortez. Sen. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge) crossed party lines to vote with the Republican majority. Sen. Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) voted against the bill in apparent protest of the Senate leadership’s decision to relocate his district to the Northshore to account for population shifts.

SB1 - Senate President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette)

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Louisiana Legislature
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SB1 by Senate President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) as it was approved by Louisiana State Senators. Feb. 14, 2022.

But state Senators did not entertain the same heated debate as their colleagues in the House, approving their new districts after just minutes of discourse.

Most of the negotiations in the Senate happened behind closed doors, as lawmakers exchanged precincts to retain supportive voting blocs and solidify their reelection chances in years to come.

But at times those heated discussions boiled over into public view. Last week, two Democrats — Sen. Karen Carter Peterson and Sen. Gary Carter — clashed over the composition of their districts in the greater New Orleans area. Carter attempted to amend the map to swap some of his district’s Jefferson Parish precincts on the West Bank of the Mississippi River with some precincts on the East Bank in Peterson’s district.

Peterson accused Carter of drawing the lines to bolster his reelection chances, and the amendments failed on a 10-28 vote.

But after the earlier drama, the Senate adopted only one set of amendments: a technical set of precinct swaps in the Lafayette and Baton Rouge areas that had the full agreement of each city’s Senate delegation.

The margin of victory in both the House and Senate were wide enough to override a potential veto from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who hasn’t yet said whether or not he will reject the maps from the legislature.

This story has been updated to include the latest maps.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.