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Louisiana lawmaker goes off on colleagues after fellow Republicans block redistricting vote

Ivey2_021422.jpg
Paul Braun
/
WRKF
Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central) presents his proposed state Supreme Court map to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Ivey was the only Republican state lawmaker to introduce a redistricting proposal that would add a majority-minority district to the state's electoral maps. Feb. 14, 2022.

A surprise bipartisan effort to redraw Louisiana’s nearly 25-year-old state Supreme Court map and bring more minority representation to the bench died on the House floor Wednesday after the chamber’s Republican majority tabled the bill, prematurely suspending debate and preventing a vote.

The action prompted the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central), to excoriate his colleagues on the House floor, saying the state’s elected officials are “too stupid” to work across party lines to solve the state’s problems.

“We’ll continue to get by here in Louisiana because we’re too stupid to work together,” Ivey said “Our state is dead last. We had kids from all over the state come and tell us they have no hope. When this institution over the last 100 years has extinguished the hope of our children, shame on us.”

At every turn during the state’s once-in-a-decade redistricting session, Republican state lawmakers have used their commanding majorities in both the House and Senate to vote down any proposed maps that would have increased the number of majority-Black districts in the state.

Democratic state lawmakers and civil rights groups have made increasing minority representation in the state their top priority for the session.

They argue that the state's current electoral maps — and all of the new proposals backed by Republican legislative leaders — violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by packing the state’s Black voters into too few districts, diluting their political influence in the state.

Ivey was the only Republican state lawmaker to file legislation during the session that would increase minority representation at any level of government in the state, specifically to add a second majority-Black district to the Supreme Court’s seven districts.

His bill stood little chance of earning the 70 votes it needed to clear the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And with the state’s GOP legislative leaders eyeing an early end to the session — possibly as early as Thursday — it would have been all but impossible for the legislation to proceed through the Senate before final adjournment.

Ivey knew that when he took to the podium on the House floor, but he still made an impassioned argument to his largely disinterested colleagues until Rep. Mark Wright (R-Covington) interrupted that presentation with a motion to table the bill.

Tabling legislation is an action rarely taken by the Louisiana Legislature. The motion cannot be debated, and if successful, it immediately ends discussion of the tabled bill. It only takes a simple majority of the members present to table legislation, but a two-thirds vote to bring it back up for consideration.

The House voted 52-43 to table the bill. Rep. Roy Daryl Adams (I-Jackson) voted with 51 Republicans to table the bill. But 11 Republicans and two independents voted against the motion.

Ivey returned to the House floor and delivered an 8-minute tirade against his fellow lawmakers, saying their efforts to stifle debate and maintain the status quo have pushed Louisianans to check out of the political process.

“When groups of people in our state do not vote because they feel their vote doesn’t count — because they’re right, their vote doesn’t count — what are we saying? We’re saying we haven’t evolved at all,” Ivey said. “The apathy throughout this state is evident in each of you when you fail to act when you can, when you should.

Ivey called out his Republican colleagues for ignoring the need for racial proportionality in the state's political maps and accused them of falling into the same patterns of racism that prompted courts to intervene in the state’s politics.

“We all say, ‘It’s not about race, we’ve grown, matured, evolved, we’re enlightened,’” Ivey said. “And what do we do? We repeat ourselves because we don’t learn from history, and we prioritize politics.”

Pending litigation in federal court has loomed over the discussion of proposed state Supreme Court maps.

State law does not require the legislature to redraw Supreme Court districts each redistricting cycle. The last time the legislature redrew the state’s Supreme Court districts was in 1997 after being ordered by a court to create a majority-Black district.

Lawmakers isolated the district in Orleans Parish. It is geographically smaller than every other Supreme Court district and its current population is barely half as large as the most populous district.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other civil rights groups are currently engaged in a yearslong court battle over the legality of the current state Supreme Court map. They allege that the configuration violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by packing Black voters and giving them the opportunity to select the candidate of their choice in only one of seven districts.

Passing a new state Supreme Court map, even one with the same number of majority-Black districts, could render those arguments moot and reset the clock on efforts to achieve fairer maps through the courts.

Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) said Ivey threw House members “under the bus” with his comments and argued that tabling his bill was just another part of the political process.

“Life does not give you what you want, it gives you what you deserve,” Harris added.

That comment prompted jeers from several members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who collectively filed dozens of bills that would have brought the racial makeup of the state’s electoral districts more in line with its demographics.

Until Wednesday, none of those measures had advanced out of committee.

“I do believe this process is tainted,” Rep. Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge) said. “Many of the bills that we heard should have been debated on this floor and that process has been stopped… You may want to turn a deaf ear to it, but the truth is the truth.”

The leading proposal, SB15 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), has already won the approval of the full Senate and cleared a House committee. House leaders have suspended the rules to bring the measure up for a floor vote on Thursday, but opposition from within the GOP could scuttle the effort.

Hewitt’s bill would rebalance the populations of the seven districts, which have become severely malapportioned since they were last drawn, but it does nothing to increase the number of majority-Black districts in the state.

In a committee meeting Wednesday morning, Ivey criticized Hewitt’s proposal, saying it would likely violate the Voting Rights Act and prompt another judicial intervention.

“I feel as a policymaker that history’s repeating itself, that we are absolutely content with allowing the courts to make the decision and ultimately make us do what we know we can do — should do,” Ivey said.

In an interview after his rant, Ivey questioned his colleagues’ motivation to table his bill and prevent a vote.

“The only valid reason is to not have a record on the bill,” Ivey said. “Because it’s really hard to make a case for that while this bill has all the metrics. It’s the best drawn map — not only better than what we currently have but better than the other bills out there, including SB15 by Sen. Hewitt.”

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.