BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday he backs the creation of a second majority-minority U.S. House district among Louisiana’s six congressional districts, his first detailed comments about what maps he’d like to see lawmakers draw in next year’s redistricting session.
The Democratic governor noted that one-third of Louisiana’s more than 4.6 million residents are Black. He said it would be fair to ensure one-third of the U.S. House districts reflect that.
“Obviously, if you want to talk about fairness and making sure that the maps reflect the reality, what the situation is on the ground, that should certainly be our goal, and I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to get there,” Edwards said in response to a question at a wide-ranging, end-of-year news conference.
The governor didn’t say if he would veto a map that doesn’t add a second majority-Black district, and it’s questionable if lawmakers in the majority-Republican Legislature would agree to create one at the expense of a safe GOP district. The drawing of such a district, if it were approved, would almost certainly force the ouster of a Republican incumbent in Congress.
Every 10 years with the release of the latest U.S. Census data, lawmakers redesign the maps for seats in the U.S. House, state Senate, state House, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Public Service Commission to account for population shifts and evenly distribute people among districts. Lawmakers are planning to call a February special session for the work, and they’re considering redrawing the state Supreme Court districts this time.
Before Thursday, the governor had only offered broad outlines of what he wanted to see from any of the reworked maps.
If a second majority-minority district is drawn, Edwards said, he didn’t believe the state could maintain the current configuration of two north Louisiana-based congressional districts.
“It would be a major reworking of the map,” he said.
Rep. John Stefanski, the Crowley Republican who leads the redistricting work in the House, has said he’s heard more interest from lawmakers about “tweaking around the edges” of the current districts, including maintaining the two north Louisiana-based seats despite large losses in the region’s population.
On other topics, the governor:
—Expects to get federal regulations in mid-January for the $595 million in federal disaster recovery block grant aid Louisiana is receiving from Congress for 2020′s Hurricane Laura. He said the state is developing its draft housing assistance plan to submit for approval once the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development releases its rules governing the aid. Edwards also pledged to continue to ask President Joe Biden’s administration and Congress to pass more aid, seeing more is needed to help rebuild and repair damaged housing in southwest Louisiana.
—Said 11,500 people with home damage from Hurricane Ida, which ravaged southeast Louisiana when it struck in August, remain living in hotels with assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The state also has deployed 2,500 temporary trailers to the region.
—Urged people to get the coronavirus vaccine in a state where fewer than half its residents are fully immunized against the COVID-19 illness, particularly as Louisiana sees an increasing number of cases from the omicron variant of the virus. Edwards also encouraged those already vaccinated to get a booster dose of the shot, saying only 25% of those eligible have gotten a booster so far.
—Called for Lafayette City Court Judge Michelle Odinet to resign after she repeatedly used a racial slur in a video recorded at her home and posted to social media. “If she were not to resign, perhaps all of the litigants before her who were African American would seek her recusal, and I’m not sure that she has a valid basis for denying that recusal and so there is no efficient administration of justice if she stays on the bench,” Edwards said.
—Said he’ll propose to lawmakers to spend the remaining $1.4 billion in unspent federal pandemic aid available to the state on water and sewer system improvements, transportation projects, broadband internet upgrades and another infusion of cash into the state’s unemployment trust fund to pay benefits. Lawmakers will decide how to use the cash in the regular legislative session that begins in March.