State Sen. Elbert Guillory recognizes that he and his latest political partner are a bit of an odd couple.
“It is an unusual combination,” he says. “But this is not a Republican-Democrat thing. It’s really not a black-white thing. And I think it’s good because there’s too much Democrat versus Republican and conservative versus liberal; it’s time for people of different ilk to work together for the benefit of the people, and that’s what we did in this case.”
Guillory, a black Democrat from Opelousas, has partnered with the religious-conservative advocacy group Louisiana Family Forum Action in releasing a detailed plan for how state Senate lines should be redrawn following the 2010 census. The Legislature won’t officially take up the business of reapportionment until next year, after the census numbers are in, but that isn’t stopping Guillory and the LFFA from getting an early jump on the debate. Using the most recent census estimates from 2008, Guillory’s and LFFA’s so-called “Demographic Equity Plan” calls for redrawing districts in accordance with post-Katrina population shifts, with an emphasis on redistributing the state’s 10 black-majority districts across the state.
The plan eliminates three existing majority black Senate districts — two of which are in New Orleans — and draws up three new minority districts in central Louisiana, Acadiana and one southwest of Baton Rouge surrounding St. James Parish. The new central Louisiana district would combine the southeast portion of Rapides Parish with parts of Avoyelles and Point Coupee parishes. Acadiana’s new minority district would run horizontally from north Lafayette all the way east to pick up parts of West Baton Rouge Parish. This would also move Elbert Guillory’s District 24 out of Lafayette entirely and redraw it as a five-parish horizontal sprawl running from southern Evangeline Parish across St. Landry and into parts of Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Point Coupee parishes.
Family Forum President Gene Mills explains the premise for the proposed redistricting on LFFA’s Web site. “Today, only four of Louisiana’s eight geographical regions have majority Black Senate districts,” he writes. “This plan gives minority representation to other regions. Demographic equity is an idea whose time has come.”
Despite this democratic pitch, the plan is generating no shortage of controversy from some of Guillory’s Senate colleagues, who see the plan as an affront to New Orleans’ long-established districts and as a Trojan Horse for a hidden Republican agenda that will turn a majority of redrawn Senate districts more conservative. Helping fuel that speculation is the fact that Guillory was a registered Republican as recently as 2006, and even served on the Republican State Central Committee, before switching parties and running for office.
“In my eyes, it’s probably the most ridiculous, ill-thought-out plan I’ve probably ever seen,” says Sen. J.P. Morrel. The New Orleans Democrat would be directly impacted by the proposal, which calls for consolidating his District 3 seat with District 2, currently represented by Sen. Ann Duplessis. In addition, the neighboring districts 4 and 5, represented by Sen. Edwin Murray and Sen.-elect Karen Carter Peterson, would also be consolidated. Morrel says that overall the plan reduces the number of senators representing the city of New Orleans from five to two. “I mean there’s no question that New Orleans will lose possibly two House seats and probably a Senate seat [with reapportionment],” Morrel says, “but the wholesale consolidation they have spelled out in there is completely ill-thought-out.”
“If you look at the way the districts are all drawn up,” he continues, “the objective is to move all the districts as much as possible to rural areas which as a whole are more conservative. And New Orleans is like the bastion of liberalism as far as the state’s concerned, so it would be in the Family Forum’s neoconservative best interest to try and dilute the vote here as much as possible.”
Morrel says this same agenda also is revealed in a congressional redistricting plan put out by the Family Forum last year. That plan, based on the assumption that Louisiana would be losing a congressional seat due to population declines, divides Orleans Parish into two districts, joining the western half with a north shore district and tying New Orleans East to a vast district that runs through the river parishes, covering much of the present day 3rd Congressional District.
“What it comes down to,” Morrel says, “is this is a purely political move by the Family Forum. The Family Forum is a super right wing conservative group, and if you look at what they do with African-American [state Senate] districts in Orleans Parish and what they do with Bill Jefferson/Joseph Cao’s congressional seat, their goal is to dilute anyone who has a non-neoconservative agenda. That’s their goal.”
With the state still living in the shadow of Katrina, Mills says he expects this to be a hot-button issue.
“I think that it’s certainly understandable that this is a sensitive subject matter,” he says, “and we’ve been cautioned about weighing in on this, and would not have, had Sen. Guillory not asked us to consider working on this together. Having said that, I believe this is a historic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to consider where a plan of demographic equity could bring about an equitable representation throughout the state of all of our families and all of Louisiana. And New Orleans has enjoyed, in our opinion, a disproportionate share of that power in the past. We don’t think that the population in New Orleans warrants maintaining as many majority black districts in New Orleans proper and that other regions of the state certainly should enjoy their opportunity to experience what New Orleans has for these many years.”
Guillory adds, “I’m not emotional about this. This is not an emotional issue. This is a statistical issue. It has nothing to do with disasters and tragedies and all of that stuff; it simply has to do with the numbers of people who have shifted from the New Orleans area into southwest Louisiana.”
The numbers themselves are also a bone of contention. Morrel argues that the Guillory-LFFA plan ignores New Orleans’ upward trend in population over the past few years, a trend he expects to continue with the 2010 census. The city of New Orleans has met with some success in challenging the Census Bureau to increase its population estimates for Orleans Parish over the past few years. The 2010 census, which will be a full count, won’t be subject to as much guesswork (2009 census numbers are expected to come out in July). By most estimates, Orleans Parish, which had a pre-Katrina population of 485,000, will be counted with around 350,000 people in the 2010 census. (The Guillory-LFFA plan is based on a New Orleans population of 330,000.)
Both Guillory and Mills have been making the rounds with their redistricting proposal, meeting with legislators to get feedback. “Some of it was very critical,” admits Mills, “and some of that critical comment caused us to move and rearrange our concepts and assumptions in each of those particular districts. So, we thought it was constructive, and we think that’s got to continue if you’re going to develop a plan that’s going to work for the entire state.” Guillory and LFFA have also publicly released their plan for review and say they hope to foster more open dialogue about redistricting decisions.
Guillory says he first approached the Family Forum about the issue last year after being impressed with the work they had done on a congressional redistricting proposal. “If you check my [voting] record I’ve not been a 100 percenter with the family Forum,” Guillory says, referring to the legislative score cards the Family Forum puts out on each legislator. “But they had the experience and the assets, and in this situation we agreed on the basic principles, the basic principles of redistribution of power commensurate with redistribution of population.”
According to Morrel, there’s a reason no other senators are standing up in support of the redistricting plan.
“One should always be wary of phantom support,” he says. “They’ve been shopping this plan around for almost five or six months. The fact that they couldn’t get one other elected official to come out and say, ‘I’m in favor of this,’ that should tell you that it’s smoke and mirrors. The only person that’s out there pushing this is Elbert, and he’s been on board since it started.”
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.