Jim Beam column: New map divides Calcasieu

Published 6:43 am Saturday, January 27, 2024

Legislators who represent Calcasieu, Ouachita, St. Bernard, and some other parishes are definitely unhappy with a redistricting bill approved  during the recent special legislative session that created a second majority-Black congressional district.

Some organizations that represent Black voters aren’t happy with the map either, but as one spokesman said, “This is the best map we were ever going to get from this Legislature. We don’t love it, but we’ll take it.”

The Center Square reported that a court challenge of the map was unlikely. However, state Rep. Mike Bayham, R-Chalmette, told the Louisiana Radio Network he is among a group that plans to file a court challenge.

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Bayham said the map is “completely unacceptable.” He said the map that stretches the 6th  Congressional District from parts of East Baton Rouge Parish to parts of Caddo Parish resembles one the courts struck down in the 1990s.

State Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, spoke for other members of the Calcasieu Parish legislative delegation when he said he amended the bill in committee because it put his home turf of Calcasieu Parish into one congressional district (the 4th), according to a news report in The Advocate.

Unfortunately, Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, and chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that heard the bill, had the House remove the Farnum amendment from the legislation. Calcasieu is now split into the 3rd and 4th congressional districts.

The Shreveport Times said Monroe’s two state senators are unhappy that their home parish of Ouachita is split into the 4th and 5th Congressional Districts. The newspaper said it means Monroe and Ouachita will no longer be the population hub of any congressional district.

Republican Sens. Jay Morris and Stewart Cathey are upset their parish wasn’t left whole in GOP U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow’s 5th Congressional District. They called it a “travesty and disservice.”

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, isn’t happy the Legislature made his 6th Congressional District the second majority-Black district. The Advocate said Graves’ district, the Capital region, would be split between four congressional districts.

The newspaper said the Legislature essentially voted to remove Graves from Congress. Graves, who has been a strong advocate for Louisiana, said he doesn’t think the courts will approve the new map.

U.S House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Benton, and congressman from Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District, didn’t want legislators to draw any map. He wanted the issue to go to trial.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and a member of Congress’ Freedom Caucus, said she was surprised Louisiana would “let the Democrats steal a House seat.”

Newly elected Republican state Attorney General Liz Murrill of Baton Rouge said U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick was “holding her pen in one hand and a gun to our head in the other.”

Gov. Landry agreed, saying, “Today is an exciting day! The outcome of this special session is a win for the people of Louisiana. We took the pen out of the hand of a non-elected judge and placed it in the hands of the people.”

State Sen. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, and chairman of the Legislature’s Democratic Caucus, told the Shreveport Times, “Louisiana has taken a historic step in adopting a congressional map that creates two African American districts based on population. This is a fair map passed with bipartisan support. I commend the Legislature for taking this bold step forward.”

Here is why Calcasieu Parish lawmakers and others don’t like the map:

Ascension Parish is split between the three congressional districts. Split between two congressional districts are Avoyelles, Caddo, Calcasieu, DeSoto, East Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lafourche, Livingston, Ouachita, Rapides, St. Bernard, St. Charles, and Tangipahoa parishes.

Lake Charles, Iowa, and some Sulphur precincts in the eastern part of Calcasieu Parish will be in the 3rd Congressional District, along with Cameron, Jeff Davis, and eight coastal parishes that are represented by U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette.

Westlake, Starks, DeQuincy and the other Sulphur precincts in the western part of Calcasieu Parish will be in the 4th Congressional District with Allen, Beauregard, Vernon, and 16 other parishes along the state’s western and northwestern boundaries that are represented by U.S. House Speaker Johnson.

Many Calcasieu citizens remember when Calcasieu Parish was divided into five state Senate districts after the 1990  U.S. Census when it had been previously represented by just two senators. The more you divide up a parish, the less effective representation it has. Calcasieu now has only three state senators.

Unless a court challenge is successful, the current congressional map is how things will stay in Congress at least until the 2030 census.