La. black caucus seeking second congressional seat

Associated Press State Wire: Louisiana (LA) - Thursday, March 3, 2011
Author: MELINDA DESLATTE - Associated Press
The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus will seek to expand its representation in the state's congressional and legislative delegations when lawmakers redraw political boundaries in a special session later this month. 

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, head of the black caucus, said Thursday that the group hopes to have two congressional seats, instead of one, where the majority of residents are minorities. It would better represent a black population that is one-third of Louisiana's residents, she said. 

Smith also said the caucus will push for more state House and Senate seats that represent minority districts and may suggest a reworking of state legislative seats that have a majority black population but have white representatives and senators. 

''We're looking at all the options to be able to create minority districts as well are there any individuals who can be electable in areas that aren't majority minority,'' Smith said during a seminar held by the caucus, the NAACP Legal Defense Center and the Southern University Law Center. 

The caucus has hired a Maryland-based consultant to work on its redistricting efforts and to help draw maps for consideration during the special legislative session that begins March 20. 

A total of 27 state House districts, nine state Senate seats and one congressional seat based in New Orleans are majority black districts. Of those, seven of the House seats are held by white representatives, and two of the Senate seats are held by white men. 

The Legislature will meet for a three-week session to redraw political district boundaries for the state House and Senate, the Public Service Commission, state education board, a U.S. House delegation that will drop from seven members to six and possibly for the state Supreme Court and appellate courts. 

Redistricting occurs every 10 years with the release of new U.S. Census data, to account for population shifts around the state and the country. 

''If the numbers are there and they support new (minority) districts, then I think it behooves us to try to create them, and if it's something that's not palatable to our colleagues, then you know we'll just go from there,'' Smith said. 

Louisiana is losing a congressional seat because it's population growth hasn't kept pace with other states. 

Twenty years ago, state lawmakers created a second majority black congressional district that later was rejected in a federal court case over the way the districts were drawn. 

That short-lived congressional seat was held by Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge, a former state senator who participated in Thursday's seminar and urged the creation of new majority minority districts in Congress and the state Legislature. 

Among proposals to create a second majority black congressional district are plans that would focus on Baton Rouge or that would center in north Louisiana, along the Mississippi River delta in the northeast and heading into Shreveport in the northwest. 

Changes to the political lines must get approval from the Justice Department to ensure compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act. The department considers whether the plans are free of discrimination. 

If the black caucus is dissatisfied with the outcome of the legislative session, it could challenge the maps with the Justice Department or through the federal court system.


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