Council tinkers with new district boundaries

Redrawing the lines for 11 Parish Council districts is a work in progress, a process whereby the principle of “one-man, one vote” is supposed to be accomplished.  Of course, ever since Elbridge Gerry figured out how to pencil-whip the district lines around Boston to favor the Democratic-Republicans over the Federalists it has taken a backseat to partisan political interests.  On the parish level it is more about bolstering the chances of incumbency, a truism on display during November 10’s Redistricting Workshop.

Geographic Planning & Demographic Services’ (GPDS) Mike Hefner proposed new districts as a starting point…

Council Workshop to consider changes to its already gerrymandered districts (Wednesday)

being sure to retain each incumbent in his/her current district.  First principles (aside from the “one man, one vote” thing) include the maintenance of minority voting districts, two of which exist in the current configuration.

One of those is District 1, exclusively on Ascension’s west bank which does not have sufficient population to comprise a single district.  Currently occupied by Alvin “Coach” Thomas, District 1 must cross the Mississippi River without diminishing the current minority voter majority in two districts (No. 1 and No. 3).  Mike Hefner’s initial solution was to extend District 1 east along Ascension’s southern border with St. James Parish, Interstate 10 as the northern border abutting District 2, everything east of Hwy 44 and south of Brittany Tower Road added (except the Town of Sorrento, and Conway Subdivision which would remain in District 2).

Worried about “watering down” its representation, Chairwoman Teri Casso declared the necessity; “It needs to be two districts on the west bank.”  Which flies in the face of the “one man, one vote” ethos, but the point carried the day with her District 1 counterpart and the other black council member, District 3’s Travis Turner.

Turner, for his part, did not want District 3 adding any west bank voting precinct because it is somehow better to have a white member representing the west bank alongside, presumably, a black member after the next election in October 2023.  Where else could one find a political discussion so openly focused on race?

Turner, whose district was subjected to minimal changes by GPDS’ initial proposal, opined that the currently configured District 2 (occupied by Joel Robert) should retain its west bank presence.  But that would severely constrain the ability to have all 11 districts within the acceptable population range deviation, +/-5% of 11,500 residents (Mike Hefner informed that +/-7% or 8% could be deemed acceptable under certain circumstances).  With only three possibilities because every district must be contiguous, District 8 (currently occupied by Chairwoman Casso)…

was extended south across the Mississippi River (see left side of map above, District 8 shaded pink) into Modeste where sparse population, mostly white, does not imbalance the minority-majority numbers.

District 9 Councilman Dal Waguespack, joined by District 11’s Michael Mason, lobbied to utilize Airline Hwy as the east-west boundary for precincts north of the City of Gonzales.  What they came up with still had District 9 (in blue above) straddling the Airline along with District 10 (the seat currently occupied by Councilman John Cagnolatti in, let’s call it red above) and District 2.  

The current configuration…

Current council district map

is “so convoluted,” according to Councilman Waguespack, that “it confuses people.”  While three districts are still bisected by Airline Hwy, the proposal does eliminate three wildly misshapen districts (No. 9, No. 10, and No. 11 in the current map).  The reconfiguration seems to satisfy the deviation parameters.

District 5, currently occupied by Dempsey Lambert, must lose population and a lot of it.  District 6 in St. Amant, which Chase Melancon calls his own, must cut into the eastern side of District 5 significantly.  District 11 takes the southwest corner of District 5, east of Hwy 44 from Germany Road north toward Hwy 933.

Mike Hefner said he would have a second proposal formalized and delivered by the Thanksgiving holiday.  The vote to codify new district lines does not have to be made until mid-2023.