This story was first reported by Louisiana Illuminator and republished with permission.
Urban and suburban areas in South Louisiana — like Lafayette, Lake Charles and New Orleans — have increased in population since 2010, while rural areas — such as Acadia and Cameron parishes — have lost residents. Those changes will potentially affect those areas’ political influence and representation as lawmakers get set to redraw district lines throughout the state next year.
With new U.S. Census data in, the Legislature will adjust political districts for its congressional members, the Louisiana Legislature, state school board and Public Service Commission, in a process that will shape Louisiana’s political landscape for the next ten years. Lawmakers may also redraw the state supreme court districts for the first time since 1997.
Lafayette Parish, which has a population of about 250,000 residents, has experienced a nine percent increase in population since 2010. Meanwhile, Acadia Parish, which has a population of about 5,700 residents, saw a seven percent decrease in population size in the last ten years. St. Mary Parish, home to about 50,000 people, saw about a 10 percent decrease in population size as well.
Dozens of south Louisiana residents pleaded with lawmakers Tuesday to keep Louisiana Senate District 22 — home to residents from Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry and St. Martin parishes — together through the state’s political redistricting.
The residents spoke during a public hearing at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, set up by the Louisiana Legislature’s governmental affairs committees, which will oversee the redrawing of the state’s political boundaries.
“We’re one big family… we want to stay a family,” Sen. Fred Mills, who represents that district, said to the committee, which received applause from the audience members.
Rep. Blake Miguez, who represents a corresponding house district in Iberia Parish and serves as the House Republican Caucus Chairman, said that lawmakers in “behind closed doors conversations” have talked about splitting up the district.
If the district is split up, Miguez said residents would have to drive “an hour and 45 minutes” to their nearest state senator in Houma.
“I can tell you from traveling around the state, you’re gonna learn that there’s a difference between growing up along the bayou, on the bayou, up the bayou and down the bayou,” he said.
Even though District 22 has an ideal population size for their representation, “that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have to change, just because of everything else around you,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
“But I think their message was loud and clear, (St. Martin and Iberia parishes) see themselves as a community of interest,” Hewitt said. “To the extent that we’re able, I feel certain that we’re going to keep (District 22) together.”
Kelly Garrett, policy coordinator for Voice Of The Experienced (VOTE), an advocacy group for incarcerated people, said that lawmakers also need to remedy “prison gerrymandering.”
The state currently counts inmates who live in prisons as part of the political districts where the prisons are located. Advocates for incarcerated people would prefer inmates be counted — for political district purposes — at their home address outside of the prison.
“Prison gerrymandering allows districts containing prisons to inflate their population count with incarcerated people even though people convicted of felonies here in Louisiana cannot vote while they are incarcerated,” Garrett said.
Rep. John Stefanski, chair of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, said that prison gerrymandering is “something we have to look at.”