Black voters to Gov. Edwards: Veto The Maps!
BATON ROUGE, La. – Leaders of some of Louisiana’s most influential civil rights and voting rights groups rallied in front of the Governor’s mansion on Wednesday, demanding Governor John Bel Edwards veto what the rally’s speakers often called “racist” redistricting maps.
The rally came on the heels of both chambers of the state legislature passing redistricting maps that would maintain the current number of minority-majority districts on Monday. The passage of the maps not only rejected numerous popular proposals to create more districts that would have majority Black or majority-minority representation, but it also went against the overwhelming public sentiment expressed to lawmakers over the past month from advocacy organizations like the YWCA of Greater Baton Rouge, Step Up Louisiana, the NAACP, and Black Voters Matter – organizers of Wednesday’s rally – who brought countless activists and voters to the capitol to plead with legislators to draw what they called “fair maps.”
“When we’re not able to get those [new districts], we’re not able to vote for people who have our interests at heart,” said Keturah Butler-Reed, Louisiana Regional Organizer for Black Voters Matter – one of the principal organizations that led Wednesday’s rally. “There are a lot of [potential] candidates in these areas [in Louisiana] who could be working with us [in the legislature] and who understand our community and our issues, but we can’t elect them because the districts are gerrymandered.”
The Senate approved Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette), on a vote of 27-12 on to establish 39 Senate districts in Louisiana and would maintain the current 11 majority Black districts. The House approved House Bill 14, which was sponsored by Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales), on a vote of 82-21 on Monday to create 105 House districts and maintains the existing 29 Black-leaning districts.
The call on the governor to veto the maps comes after he refused to commit to doing so at a press conference on Monday, but did indicate a red line that appears to have been crossed by the Cortez-Schexnayder maps. On Monday, he said Louisiana’s legislative maps should reflect Louisiana’s population and that “a third of the districts should be African American majority districts.” According to Census.gov, African-Americans make up 32.8% of Louisiana’s population – and combined with the state’s Hispanic and Asian population, communities of color make up almost 40% of the state’s population.
Many of the rally’s speakers made mention of the consequences for Governor Edwards should he not veto the maps, chief among them being litigation – including potential federal lawsuits.
“Right now, we’re looking at every part of this that’s not vetoed, if there’s cause for litigation,” said Baton Rouge NAACP President Eugene Weatherspoon Collins, referring not just to HB 14 & SB 1, but also the school board and Congressional maps. “We believe we deserve more representation. Across the board. So if that means litigation, it means litigation. Including federal.”
Moreso, amid the backdrop of “Veto the Maps, ASAP!” and “What do we want? Fair Maps! When do we want it? Now!” chants, some at the rally indicated that they believed the Black population in Louisiana is even higher than the census reports, citing controversial decisions around the overall census data collection and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“[The maps are] clearly not an accurate representation because the census was cut off a whole month ahead of time,” said Michael McClanahan, Louisiana’s NAACP state president, alluding to the premature ending to census data collection in 2020. “Clearly, if there was enough opportunity for everyone to be counted, they had [Black people] increasing [in population in Louisiana] by 7 or 8%. Probably more than that.”
However, the political reality is that Governor Edwards – a Democrat – is facing a legislature with practical Republican supermajorities in both chambers. In the House, Republicans have 68 of 105 seats; in the Senate, they have 27 of the 39 seats in that chamber. Should he veto either or both maps, there’s a very real possibility of a legislative veto override. Should that happen, the long term political consequences of those maps going into effect could be either deflating to the grassroots activists who organized and rallied during this year’s redistricting process or it could be mobilizing, according to rally leaders.
“I think during this redistricting process, we were able to bring a lot of attention to this issue,” said Butler. “I think right now, people are riled up. And I think we need to tap into that. They’ll remember who voted how on these maps and be fired up come next Election Day.”