Commentary: Edwards Behaves as Predicted on Redistricting Maps
On Wednesday night, Governor John Bel Edwards kicked two redistricting maps back to the state legislature for reconsideration, both over concerns regarding minority representation.
However, he is only calling for the legislature to reconsider one of those maps this year. The congressional maps passed by the state legislature contain just one majority-minority congressional district, currently held by Representative Troy Carter in LA-2, and is largely unchanged from previous maps.
Edwards released his statement to the media and on social media Wednesday evening, mere days ahead of the start of the regular legislative session.
“Today, after careful consideration, review, discussion with legislators, and consultation with voting rights experts, I have vetoed the proposed congressional map drawn by Louisiana’s Legislature because it does not include a second majority African American district, despite Black voters making up almost a third of Louisianans per the latest U.S. Census data. This map is simply not fair to the people of Louisiana and does not meet the standards set forth in the federal Voting Rights Act. The Legislature should immediately begin the work of drawing a map that ensures Black voices can be properly heard in the voting booth. It can be done and it should be done.
While neither the congressional or legislative maps passed by Louisiana’s Legislature do anything to increase the number of districts where minority voters can elect candidates of their choosing, I do not believe the Legislature has the ability to draw new state House and Senate maps during this upcoming legislative session without the process halting the important work of the state of Louisiana. At a time when we face unprecedented challenges, but have unprecedented opportunities to make historic investments in our future, the Legislature should be focused on the issues in the upcoming session and not concerned about what their own districts will look like in the 2023 elections.
I have signed the maps for the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Public Service Commission because I believe those maps provide a fairer representation of Louisiana than the other maps that were passed.”
The translation to all this is that Edwards wants the legislature, while also dealing with hundreds of new bills covering just about every category, to re-draw congressional maps more favorable to his party this year. But they can worry about legislative maps next year.
It's not an unexpected result, either. Most reporters and commentators agreed this was about how it would go, the only question being how the legislature might respond. There are some variations to that, but you can definitely expect to see a veto override attempt.
Jeff Sadow at The Hayride lays out the potential path there.
Keep in mind that Republicans hold a supermajority plus one seat in the Senate, meaning party unity will override any Edwards veto. In the House of Representatives, they fall two short of this lofty perch of 70, but also have three no party members on which to draw, of which state Rep. Joe Marino typically leans their way whereas state Reps. Roy Daryl Adams and Malinda White normally cast their lots with Democrats.
The no party dissenter on Congress and the House was Adams, whose district would face changes making him unlikely to win reelection. He would be open to Edwards’ blandishments to switch on those he supported. However, Marino and White consistently backed the GOP proposals and Edwards would have to mete out a lot of political capital to get them to defect on one or more overrides (probably more for Marino than White).
More disturbingly to Edwards, Democrat state Rep. Francis Thompson consistently voted with the GOP, as he has been wont to do the term and seems unlikely to flip. These three consistent supporters set a base one more than needed on all bills to override successfully. Aside from Thompson, the only other Democrats to defect on more than HB 14 (there because it drew them districts not difficult to win reelection in, a number which included some of the least conservative members of the chamber) were (interestingly, and who didn’t on HB 14) state Rep. Randal Gaines on HB 3 and state Rep. Jeremy LaCombe on HB 3 and SB 1.
Assuming the Republicans have the ability to unify on this, then there's little doubt that the override will happen. Keep in mind, though, that the House Republicans have their dissenters, and the Senate isn't always unified either. Just as Sadow points out defectors on one side, Republicans have the chance to lose some support on their own side.
But the question comes amid new census numbers showing one-third of the state's citizens are an ethnic minority, which complicates the otherwise strong Republican swing of the state.
What Democrats are proposing is taking the heavily black parts of Lafayette and St. Martin Parishes and adding them, along with St. Landry Parish and possibly even a portion of Baton Rouge and adding them to LA-5, making it just over 50 percent black, meeting the requirement. However, that also potentially pits Julia Letlow and Mike Johnson, two popular Republicans, against each other this year.
The push by Democrats for another majority-minority (and, in theory, Democratic) sear isn't just about race, however. It's also partisan. The national Democratic Party is staring down major losses in Washington D.C. this year and the party has been working overtime across the country to try and mitigate that through map-drawing. They are in a hurry to get this done ahead of the 2022 midterms rather than wait until 2024 to get their second seat.
Assuming, of course, that they get that seat in the election. The second proposed majority-minority district is barely that, and in mid-terms and off-year elections black voters are more likely to not vote. Republicans may be losing a seat in theory, but in practice they could still hold on to LA-5.
There's no quick solution, no matter how this goes. This is a topic that will be hovering over the legislature's heads throughout this regular session and, potentially, wind up in the courts.