House Bill 14 of the 2022 First Extraordinary Session of Louisiana’s legislature redraws the state’s House of Representatives district lines effective March 9 (after the period for gubernatorial approval/veto expired without Governor John Bel Edwards signature). Four of those districts include parts of Ascension Parish; District 81 (represented by current Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder), District 58 (Ken Brass), District 59 (Tony Bacala), and District 88 (Kathy Edmonston). Each have been altered, significantly in some instances, changing the campaign dynamic in time for the October 14, 2023 elections.
All four members were in the 82-vote majority approving HB 14. On the Senate side the vote was split with Eddie Lambert in the majority, Senator Ed Price opposing.
HB 14 is not to be confused with the legislature’s reconfiguration of six Congressional districts which Edwards vetoed, only to be overridden by both state houses last week. Governor Edwards’ veto was based upon his assertion that two of Louisiana’s six Congressional districts should be majority-Black since one-third of the state’s population is African-American.
Representative Ken Brass first won the seat in an October 14, 2017 Special Election necessitated by his predecessor’s (Ed Price) victory in a Special Election to fill the vacancy in the District 2 State Senate seat. A St. James native, Brass rode a 70% tally in his home parish which garnered 41% turnout to best three opponents without need of a runoff. Brass also won a plurality in Ascension and Iberville which both saw 19% turnout.
On October 12, 2019 Ken Brass dominated with 76% of the overall vote, 88% in St. James Parish when just under 26,000 voters comprised the electorate spanning three parishes. Ascension accounted for 47.5% of them, St. James-42.1% and Iberville-10.4%.
House Bill 14 adds five Ascension Parish voting precincts (all in or adjoining the City of Gonzales) to District 58, resulting in a 49.5% plurality of Ascension voters in the district if the election were conducted today. By October 14, 2023 it is likely that Ascension Parish voters will be a majority considering the ever-increasing population locally. At present St. James Parish accounts for 36.5% of the District 58 electorate, and St. John the Baptist Parish voters (Iberville’s five voting precincts were replaced by HB 14) make up 14%.
The fact that Ken Brass supported HB 14 means that a deal has been cut, Ascension’s movers and shakers will support his reelection bid in return for commensurate support of Ed Price’s retention of the District 2 Senate seat Taking five Gonzales-area precincts does not diminish Brass’ electability, though it may very well adversely affect the District 88 (which included four of the precincts in 2019) incumbent’s chances (see below).
District 59 is located exclusively in north Ascension where the population explosion is most pronounced. Multiple bloated voting precincts are split in House Bill 14, yielding four newly-numbered precincts (61-64) without adding any new territory. In fact, three precincts in District 59 from 2011-19 have been deleted, Precincts 3 and 10 are transferred to District 88 and Precinct 73 goes to District 58.
None of which really matters since the incumbent, Tony Bacala, will be a prohibitive favorite no matter the district’s reconfiguration.
Arguably the most consequential since the current representative assumed to House speakership at the beginning of his current (and last) term in January of 2020, District 81 will be up for grabs next year. Clay Schexnayder is ineligible due to Louisiana’s three-term limit on legislative seats, meaning a non-Ascension native is likely to win the seat even though a significant number of Ascension voters have been added to the district. Schexnayder is rumored to be eying the Lieutenant Governor post.
District 81’s former composition included only three Ascension voting precincts compared to Livingston Parish (18 precincts), St. James Parish (9 precincts), and St. John the Baptist Parish (5 precincts). Livingston voters made up 51.9% of the electorate in the last contested election (see below), with St. John (17.1%), St. James (16.8%) and Ascension (14.2%). Schexnayder, a Livingston native who resides in Gonzales, was uniquely positioned for electoral success given that composition.
Unopposed in 2019, Schexnayder lost his native parish by two votes on October 24, 2015 while racking up impressive totals (77% in Ascension, 80% in St. James, and 72% in St. John) everywhere else on the way to reelection with 64% of the vote. Coincidentally it was the same percentage he garnered in the November 19, 2011 runoff election to win his first term.
All St. John the Baptist Parish precincts have been eliminated from District 81 in its current composition. Just under 5,000 voters excised have been replaced by voters who reside in Ascension’s easternmost precincts abutting Livingston. Four Ascension voting precincts have been added, all taken from District 88, resulting in a total in excess of 10,000. Livingston voters still make up a majority of the district, approximately 14,500 with St. James in the 3,750 neighborhood.
District 88, sited exclusively in Ascension, loses nine voting precincts with the adoption of House Bill 14. They include three in/around the City of Gonzales that the incumbent won handily along with Precinct 34 (the Town of Sorrento) where Kathy Edmonston garnered 53% of the vote in a November 16, 2019 runoff election. Two District 88 precincts (70 and 75) were eliminated by HB 14 with the three precincts (14, 15, and 27) along Ascension’s northeastern border, where Edmonston did not fare so well, relocated to District 81.
District 88 does pick up two of the more populous voting precincts from District 59, Nos. 3 and 10 are adjacent precincts along Bayou Manchac in north Ascension. How the reconfiguration affects Edmonston’s re-electability remains to be seen.