Creating second minority congressional district in Louisiana politically difficult, speakers say

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Louisiana is unlikely to end up with a second congressional district in which racial minorities make up the majority after redistricting, current and former officials said.

“It’s going to be, politically speaking, very difficult if not impossible to have a second majority-minority district,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said this week during an online redistricting forum hosted by the LSU Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs.

Five of the delegation’s six seats in Congress have a white majority and are represented by Republicans, while the minority district in southeast Louisiana is a safe Democratic seat. Republicans have a large majority in the Louisiana Legislature and will drive the redistricting process.

While the Republican-heavy Legislature will draw the new districts, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards can veto the result. Dardenne, who is part of Edwards’ administration, expects the governor to “have minimal involvement in the process” but will consider a veto if he doesn’t think the districts appropriately reflect the electorate.

Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states such as Louisiana with a history of racial discrimination in voting were required to clear new districts with the federal government. The Supreme Court rendered that section of the law unenforceable in 2013. But even though the preclearance “guardrail” is gone, the law still prohibits diluting minority representation, said Barry Erwin with the Council for a Better Louisiana.

Former state Sen. Norby Chabert, who was involved in the redistricting process last time, said with six districts and a one-third minority population, creating a second minority-majority district, or at least a more competitive district in north Louisiana, certainly was doable.

“It took a lot of [political] wrangling to ensure that you didn’t see that last go-round,” Chabert said. “This is politics at its highest level, and it’s hardball.”

State Rep. Royce Duplessis, a New Orleans Democrat, said that while the delayed U.S. Census results still are not available, the expectation is that about 38% of Louisiana’s population is nonwhite. At that level, the lack of a second majority-minority district or at least a district with a significant minority population is “problematic,” he said.

“I’m choosing to view it through a lens of optimism, but also not being naïve,” Duplessis said. “At the end of the day, it’s a political process.”

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