Analysis: Public Submission of Louisiana Redistribution Maps

Rep. John Stefanski, the Crowley Republican who chairs the Louisiana House Redistribution Committee, addresses the Baton Rouge Press Club about the ongoing discussions on the redrawing of the state’s political maps on Monday, November 22 2021, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (AP Photo / Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (AP) – As lawmakers prepare for a February session to redesign Louisiana’s political districts, advancements in technology have added a new wrinkle to the once-a-decade debates, with advocacy groups and people interested in the work submitting their own fully designed card proposals.

In previous years of redistribution, the software needed to draw the districts was not cheap. But for this latest round of card redesigns, people now have access to free online sites that can allow them to piece together full cards and offer them to lawmakers.

Every 10 years, with the release of new US Census data, lawmakers rework the seating maps of the US House, State Senate, State House, Council of the United States. primary and secondary education and to the Civil Service Commission to accommodate population changes and evenly distribute people across districts. Lawmakers plan to call a special session for the work.

Former House Clerk Alfred “Butch” Speer, who spent decades working as the administrative director of the House before his retirement, said legislative map drawing work in the 1980s involved large pieces of paper. glued together and placed on the ground for people to build districts. In the 1990s, Speer said that expensive new software made it possible to draw maps on computers.

During a public discussion on the redistribution held this month by the Council for A Better Louisiana, Speer said he could not recall any outside groups that submitted a full card in the last redistribution round he ten years ago.

“No one undertook the difficult task of building a complete map of the state because it required an investment of $ 10,000 to $ 20,000 to get these programs,” Speer said. “Now you can sit down on the Internet there is a place called, and you can make any map for any state that interests you.”

The Republican-majority legislature has already received full-map proposals for congressional seats from outside organizations seeking substantial reshuffles, particularly from people of color and left-wing groups interested in creating a second district in black majority among the six seats in Louisiana.

But outside card offers won’t necessarily influence the decisions of lawmakers.

Speer – able to speak more candidly about the redistribution process now that he is safely seated in retirement – expects the legislature to ignore most of the demands made by the general public or advocacy organizations.

Lawmakers “will find a balance on how they’re going to allow people to believe they’re going to listen to what they’re saying, but what they’re going to do is they’re going to take care of – like so many. as they can – the needs of their colleagues, ”Speer said.

The comments from the former House Clerk came during an event where he was seated next to the two lawmakers who head the House Affairs and Government Affairs Committee that leads the chamber’s redistribution work: the President John Stefanski and Vice President Royce Duplessis.

Stefanski and Duplessis joked about Speer’s retired franchise – and both denied they would ignore public comments and map proposals submitted as they traveled to Louisiana to hold “roadshow” hearings on the redistribution .

“I take everything I learn there very seriously,” said Stefanski, a Republican from Crowley.

Duplessis, a Democrat from New Orleans, agreed, saying, “We’re going to listen to what the public has to say. But he acknowledged that there is an “inherent flaw” where lawmakers draw their own districts and “self-preservation is a human trait.”

Louisiana’s congressional districts garnered the most outside interest during roadshow hearings, amid pressure to create two majority-minority districts rather than maintain the current configuration with a majority-black district and five districts. favoring Republicans.

One-third of Louisiana’s more than 4.6 million people are black.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards added a recent twist to the debate, saying he supported the creation of a second minority-majority district in the United States as a matter of fairness. The governor has not said whether he would veto a card that fails to achieve this goal, but Stefanski said what Edwards would do with his veto pen “is a huge consideration” for the debate. legislative.

Still, it is questionable whether the Republican-majority legislature would be willing to sacrifice a safe district from the GOP and the almost certain ouster of a Republican incumbent in Congress, regardless of the suggestions from outside organizations and the cards they put forward.

“I would be shocked if anyone would say it’s going to be done then,” Speer said of a majority-minority second district. “It should be. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be. But there is a lot of pressure on the other side of the scale.

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