BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Senate voted 27-11 Wednesday to approve a congressional redistricting map that would provide two majority-minority districts and has the support of Gov. Jeff Landry.
The bill next goes to the House, where a map that draws the districts somewhat differently was approved by a committee Wednesday. The full House will decide how it wants to proceed.
Both maps would turn the 6th district seat now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves into the state’s second a majority-minority district and locate much of it in the center of the state.
But under the Senate bill, sponsored by state Sen. Glen Womack, R-Harrisonburg, the 6th district would stretch in a jagged line to the Shreveport, while the House committee’s version would generally stick to the area from Baton Rouge to Alexandria.
One-third of Louisiana’s population is black, and only one of the six congressional seats is now held by a black representative.
The Legislature rejected proposals last year to create a second majority-minority district, and after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a similar decision by the Alabama Legislature, a federal district judge ordered Louisiana to come up with a new map.
Landry, a Republican who took office this month, said he supports Womack’s bill to create two majority-minority districts to keep from the federal judge from drawing the maps.
Several black lawmakers spoke in favor of Womack’s map Wednesday, while legislators from Northwest Louisiana opposed having parts of Caddo and DeSoto parishes divided among two congressional districts.
State Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe, proposed a map with two majority-minority districts that he argued adhered to the Voting Rights Act but would not result in what he called liberal gerrymandering. He said that he wanted to keep communities of interest together and to make things as fair as possible.
Echols emphasized that he drew his map the way he did to maintain the current members in Congress, including U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise.
“I think we have a task by the judge to come in here and redo everything, which I perceive to be a fair process,” Echols said. “My goal and intent was to ensure a free and fair opportunity for any citizen of Louisiana.”
The House and Governmental Affairs Committee approved his bill in an 11-6 party line vote after state Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, decided to voluntarily defer a bill that would have shifted Congressional District 5, rather than District 6, to a majority-minority district. The District 5 seat is now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow.
Marcelle referenced historic black organizations in District 5, such as well-known churches and Divine Nine sorority and fraternity chapters. She emphasized the fact that the district is full of black culture and needed to be represented as such.
“I attended the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting yesterday and saw a parallel version of this map completely shot down, just like every single other bill members of the Black Caucus have presented in this now three-session redistricting process,” Marcelle said.
“My concern is that this bill will probably not make it to the floor,” she said. “It is evident to me that whatever map that this Legislature wants to pass and who has the majority of votes — that is exactly what is going to pass, and nothing else is going to get out of these committees.”
Also Wednesday, the House voted 64-40 to approve a bill supported by Landry that would shift Louisiana elections from primaries in which candidates from all parties compete against one another to a system in which candidates would compete first within their parties.
The House also voted 94-10 to approve a redistricting plan for the Louisiana Supreme Court that has Landry’s support.
Both the closed primary and Supreme Court bills now go to the Senate.