SADOW: NW LA Is The Epicenter Of Louisiana’s Redistricting Controversies

The initial redistricting maps for Congress and the Louisiana state Senate have been filed for the special session for that purpose, and northwest Louisiana has become ground zero for conflict over potential changes for each.

For Congress, not much would change. Because of population loss, the existing District 4 and 5 will edge a bit more south, and marginal boundary changes accrue to the remainder. These come from a couple of bills, which don’t differ much, filed by the Republican leadership of the Senate and House.

These will prevail over alternatives fronted by Senate Democrats not only because of the large GOP majorities in each chamber, but also because those plans have serious questions concerning their constitutionality since they draw districts with race as the predominant factor, both featuring a meandering majority-minority district that slices off black population from five metropolitan areas, in the process splitting four among two and Baton Rouge among three districts (they also have wider population variances than the courts might accept).

Under the GOP congressional plans, both northwest and northeast Louisiana stay intact in separate districts, unlike Democrat plans that have the former encroach on the latter that would connect West Monroe with Shreveport and Bossier City. By contrast, the initial GOP Senate plan makes significant changes in boundaries in northwest Louisiana, although not in likely party representation statewide. Because Texas and Arkansas borders this area and to account for population loss experienced by all four area districts, term-limited Republican Sen. Barrow Peacock’s Senate District 37 decamps to the fastest-growing region of the state, north of Lake Pontchartrain east of Baton Rouge.

Being that’s a Republican stronghold, the migration doesn’t affect the chamber’s party balance, all other things equal. With SD 5 acquiring a black majority under the plan, that would bring the number of M/M districts to 11, giving the GOP a great shot to retain a supermajority in the chamber come 2023.

Now down to three districts under the plan, the northwest corner of the state will feature M/M SD 39 of term-limited Democrat Greg Tarver taking up much of Caddo Parish/Shreveport, and SD 38 of Republican Barry Milligan the rest and part of De Soto. Across the River, SD 36 of Republican Robert Mills now would consume most of Bossier Parish, but lose its footprint into Claiborne and Bienville Parishes and a good chunk of Webster.

Yet sure to set off controversy is the expansion of the Natchitoches-based SD 31 of the GOP’s Louis Bernard. It loses part of its Rapides reach to Alexandria, but gulps down most De Soto, grabs Bienville, takes a slice of Webster (which goes from being all SD 36 to carved up among it, SD 31, and Republican state Sen. Jay Morris’ SD 33 that includes Ruston and the exurbs of Monroe) and extends a finger into Caddo Parish (even touching isolated parts of Shreveport) and Bossier City.

Whether this helps Bernard is open to debate. He gravely disappointed conservatives with a series of otherwise slam-dunk votes he flubbed in the 2021 veto override session, making him the most vulnerable GOP senator to an intraparty challenge in 2023. Giving him so much new ground could work to his advantage if he can cultivate new constituents and downplay his record in what would become one of the most conservative districts in the Senate.

Or, an aggressive challenger able to inform the district about those votes could see him out the door. For example, any final product that leaves the Senate that includes the precinct in which Republican state Rep. Alan Seabaugh resides, who has had a domicile in what will be SD 38, may tempt the term-limited conservative stalwart to challenge him.

Even as the likely Senate map will continue to facilitate Republican dominance, the byplay over Bernard’s district will be the most interesting story to watch over the next three weeks of the special session – and possibly overtime, if Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards tries to obstruct SB 1 with a veto that probably would force ultimate resolution by the Louisiana Supreme Court that would complicate matters further, since a protracted fight might force 2023 elections under 2019 boundaries.

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