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Edwards urged to veto congressional map after Republicans decline to add 2nd majority-Black district

 Members of the Louisiana House of Representatives debate a Republican-backed redistricting proposal. Feb. 18, 2022.
Paul Braun / WRKF
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Members of the Louisiana House of Representatives debate a Republican-backed redistricting proposal. Feb. 18, 2022.

Despite calls from civil rights groups to boost minority representation in the state legislature and in Congress, the Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature wrapped up its redistricting session by approving maps that largely maintain the status quo.

Most notably, the map for U.S. Congress does not add a second majority-Black district, which many Democrats and civil rights groups say is needed to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The maps passed by lawmakers – which would determine electoral districts for the next decade – now head to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who issued a statement pledging to “carefully examine them in order to determine if I believe they are reasonable, fair, and in line with the Voting Rights Act.”

Edwards said he believes the maps need to reflect the growth of the state’s Black population and allow minority groups to have the opportunity to elect candidates of their own choosing.

“I do have concerns that several of the maps do not fulfill that moral and legal requirement,” Edwards said.

Following the vote, state Democrats called on Edwards to veto the maps and send them back to the statehouse.

“This is another sad chapter in Louisiana's long history of suppressing minority representation in government,” Louisiana House Democratic Caucus Chairman Sam Jenkins said in a statement.

A coalition of civil rights groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU of Louisiana also issued a statement urging Edwards to use his veto power :

“It is fair, necessary, and logical that Black Louisianans have an opportunity to elect their preferred congressional representatives to Congress,” the statement said. “An additional district in which Black voters comprise the majority… would provide Black voters with a chance to elect candidates of their choice and address the state’s pervasive and ongoing record of racial inequality.”

So far, Edwards has declined to say whether he’ll veto the maps.

Status quo maintained

The maps passed Friday would not differ greatly from the state’s previous electoral districts. Lawmakers slightly shifted district boundaries to account for population changes and maintained the same level of minority representation in the state — a move that would solidify strong Republican majorities in the state legislature and congressional delegation.

During the redistricting process, Democrats’ and civil rights groups’ have claimed that the maps proposed – and ultimately approved – by Republicans violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits states from diluting the political power of racial minority groups through the redistricting process.

They reason that Louisiana, with its 33% Black population, should have majority-Black populations in two of its six congressional districts and significantly more majority-Black districts in the state legislature, on the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Supreme Court.

Most of the debate on the House and Senate floor Friday centered around the Republican legislative leaders’ two identical congressional maps that won final passage.

Rep. John Stefanski (R-Crowley) said the process required lawmakers to balance a variety of factors — shifting populations, public input, communities of interest, and legal obligations — with the political will of the legislature.

What he and the state’s Republican legislative leaders settled on was a congressional map proposal that did not include a second majority-Black district.

“When you take a holistic view…you have to come up with what you think is best for Louisiana in order to accomplish our constitutional duty,” Stefanski said.

That argument carried little weight with Black lawmakers.

"The fact is that this map does not comply with the Voting Rights Act," said Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans).

Stefanski’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), returned to her refrain that she and the leadership tried to draw an additional majority-Black congressional district, but was unable to do so without potentially sacrificing the viability of the state’s one existing majority-Black district.

Civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers have refuted this claim several times over by submitting their own map congressional proposals that include a second majority-Black district.

It’s expected that civil rights groups will challenge the maps in court.

Here are the proposals approved by the legislature and on their way to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk.

Congress

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HB1 by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder & SB5 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt

The legislature passed HB1 and SB5, two identical GOP-backed proposals to redraw the state’s congressional maps. The proposals differed only slightly in their original forms — both bills focused on keeping the state’s existing congressional districts as intact as possible and maintained the racial balance of the districts. Lawmakers spent most of Thursday in closed door negotiations working to reconcile the differences in the two plans.

The changes left a handful of Republican lawmakers upset at how their communities were split by district lines. Rep. Beryl Amedee (R-Houma) and Rep. Blake Miguez (R-Erath) all voted against the measures, which could torpedo any GOP attempt to override a potential veto from Gov. John Bel Edwards.

HB1 cleared the House on a 70-33 vote and the Senate on a 27-10 vote. SB5 won Senate approval on a 27-12 vote and the House on a 64-31 vote.

State Senate

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SB1 by Senate President Page Cortez 

Senate President Page Cortez’s map shifted one Senate district from northwest Louisiana to the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain to account for population shifts within the state. Cortez drew criticism earlier this week when it was reported by The Advocate that he redrew the boundaries of his own Lafayette-area district to include his friend and current House member Rep. Stuart Bishop, so Bishop can run for the seat when Cortez leaves office next term.

SB1 cleared the Senate on a 27-12 vote and the House on a 65-31 vote.

State House of Representatives

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HB14 by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder 

Schexnayder’s House map, like Cortez’s Senate map, moved one district from northwest Louisiana to the southeast. It moved the House District 23 from its location in several parishes along the Cane River and place it in Orleans Parish. The move drew sharp criticism from the district’s current representative, Kenny Cox (D-Natchitoches) who objected to the leadership’s decision to dissolve his district and spread its majority-Black population among four overwhelmingly white neighboring districts.

Notably, the measure earned enough bipartisan support in the House to override a veto, but fell short of that mark in the Senate.

HB14 cleared the House on an 82-21 vote and the Senate on a 25-11 vote.

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

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HB3 by Rep. Polly Thomas

Louisiana lawmakers passed a new BESE map that tweaks the current district boundaries to account for population changes and maintain the current level of minority representation on the state’s top school board. Two out of the eight elected seats on the board have districts with a majority-Black population. Rep. Polly Thomas (R-Metairie), who sponsored the proposal, said she honored the existing lines as much as possible.

But at times, Thomas faced tough questions from Black lawmakers about pushing a plan that did not bring the makeup of the board more in line with the state’s demographics. Lawmakers may work to reshape the board before the next redistricting cycle through legislation. Rep. Phillip Tarver (R-Lake Charles) has proposed a bill for the upcoming regular session that would eliminate the three gubernatorial appointees on the panel.

HB3 cleared the House with a 73-11 and the Senate with a 27-11 vote.

Public Service Commission

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HB2 by Rep. John Stefanski 

The Public Service Commission maps moved smoothly through the redistricting process, drawing none of the controversies and bitter debate that the state’s congressional and state legislative proposals attracted. The map largely maintains the status quo while addressing population shifts over the last decade and has a single majority-Black district. It is the only map passed Friday that civil rights groups say complies with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

HB2 was unanimously approved by both the House (101-0) and Senate (39-0).
Copyright 2022 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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