Districts could throw voters for loop - One redrawn to hit 8 different parishes

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Friday, August 12, 2011
Author: Matt Scallan River Parishes bureau

Some St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parish residents might face some surprises on the ballot when they go to the polls for legislative races this fall. 

Residents along River Road on St. Charles Parish's west bank and in much of St. John will find themselves voting in a Senate district that covers eight parishes, including a small part of West Baton Rouge Parish. 

"At least there is some common interest there, because they're all along the river," said former state Rep. Bobby Faucheux, who represented St. John. 

Faucheux's gripe is about the 81st House District, which encompasses part of Livingston Parish, as well as portions of St. John, St. James and Ascension parishes. St. John has 17 percent of the district's population from the parish's upriver end of the east bank. 

"They don't have the same tax base or the same issues that we do here," said Faucheux, who served in the Legislature from 1996 through 2007. 

The two parishes came into the special redistricting session last spring with a disadvantage: None of their delegation was returning to their current office because of term limits or because of a decision not to seek re-election. 

Sen. Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, and Gary Smith, D-Norco, face term limits, and 57th District Rep. Nickie Monica, R-LaPlace, has announced that he would not seek re-election. 

But Chaisson, the Senate president, said he was able to protect St. Charles Parish from being carved up in the Senate plan. 

"There were some plans that were proposed that were much worse, but I killed them," he said. 

All but the west bank communities closest to the river are in Chaisson's 19th Senate District. The district covers much of the eastern most portion of St. John, the Pleasure Bend area, and a portion of northern Lafourche Parish. 

The Killona and Hahnville communities, along with portions of Old Luling, are in the 2nd Senate District, which is a majority-black district that encompasses parts of eight parishes along the Mississippi River, including the upriver portion of St. John's east bank. 

"If you look at the demographics, it was the only way you could get the numbers that we needed," Chaisson said. 

State Rep. Elton Aubert, D-Vacherie, who is running for the 2nd District seat, said the makeup of the district is good for him politically, "but whoever wins is going to have to spend a lot of time in the car." 

State Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco, whose St. Charles-based district extends into western LaPlace, said the delegation did a good job of keeping the two parishes largely intact. 

"There were plans out there that would have come down I-55 from the north shore to get part of LaPlace, but we resisted that," he said. 

Like the Senate plan, the majority-black communities on St. Charles' west bank are included in the St. John-based 57th District, which has a 60 percent black majority. The 56th District has a 75 percent white majority. 

Smith said the new alignment reclaims the Bayou Gauche area into the 56th District. The district has been part of the Plaquemines-based 105th District. 

Voters will get some idea about who will be on their October ballot when new registration cards are mailed out this month, St. Charles Registrar of Voters Brian Champagne said. 

St. John Parish Registrar Betty Madere said many voters will be in for a surprise. 

"St. John has been diluted," she said "I don't think people realize just how much."