Dr. Brian Marks and the Political Geography of Fairness

Louisiana’s Congressional District map has been in place since 2011.

At the start of 2018, we are nearly three years out from the formal start of the redistricting process that will redraw lines for every legislative body in Louisiana ranging from town councils and school boards, to parish councils, the Louisiana Legislature and our six congressional districts.

The process formally kicks off at the end of 2020 when the results of the United States Census conducted that year will be released. In 2021, the redrawing of district lines will fall primarily on the legislative bodies that will then elect members from.

But, before we get to that point, Louisiana will elect a new legislature in 2019 and that body will redraw not only its own district lines, but that of our congressional districts and, maybe, our Supreme Court districts.

Dr. Brian Marks teaches political geography at LSU in Baton Rouge. He was a panelist at Fair Districts Louisiana’s Redistricting Summit held at the Lod Cook Alumni Center just off the LSU campus on January 19.

Louisiana’s state Senate districts map.

In this conversation, Dr. Marks (who is programming director at WHYR radio station in Baton Rouge) talks about the various kinds of gerrymandering that has been used over the decades in attempts to lock in or lock out political advantage. We also talk about some earlier redistricting processes in Louisiana and the prospects for the use of an independent commission to carryout redistricting.

Representative and House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger III said at the summit that he believes Legislators should not be in the business of choosing their constituents, that it should work the other way around. He didn’t get much support for the idea from fellow Democrats. Removing politics from a political process is easier said than done.

Louisiana’s current congressional district map was redrawn with the explicit purpose of carving out a new seat for Congressman Charles Boustany whose 7th District was taken away due to the more rapid population growth in other states. Boustany won the redrawn 3rd District in a 2012 race that pitted him against freshman Congressman Jeff Landry (who is now state Attorney General).

The Louisiana House map (with insets showing compact districts in metro areas).

Black legislators now believe they painted themselves into a corner with the 2011 redistricting which saw many minority majority districts that had super majorities of Black voters in those districts. The problem was, as Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith said at the summit, “while you’re getting seats that are safe for African Americans with that approach, you’re also creating white seats where people elected don’t have to take into account the interests of Black voters.

We cover a good bit of ground here. I think you’ll find it worth your while.