Redistricting session back on track

Redistricting session back on track

The state Legislature is on track to reconvene for a special session to redraw the state’s congressional districts after a federal judge on Sunday cleared the way by lifting a delay on a lower-court ruling. A U.S. District judge gave legislators until June 20 to draw a congressional map with two Black-majority districts, which are needed to accurately reflect the state’s racial makeup. The GOP-led Legislature included only one minority district in the maps it approved last winter. The Advocate’s Will Sentell and Mark Ballard have the latest:

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, of Baton Rouge, issued an opinion on June 6 saying the way the Legislature drew the districts from which Louisiana elected its six-member congressional delegation didn’t seem to conform with Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. … Dick ordered the Legislature to redraw the maps by June 20 in a way that would give minorities a fighting chance of electing one of their own in two of the six congressional districts instead of just one, the 2nd Congressional District.

The political center prevailed
This year’s legislative session could have been bitterly divisive, as some conservatives arrived in Baton Rouge ready to battle on a range of hot-button social issues. But most of those debates fizzled, as did the push to cut taxes, as legislators instead focused their energies on how best to spend the state’s massive influx of one-time revenue.  The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards, working with moderate leadership in the House and Senate, set the tone for the regular session: 

“In a right-leaning state, we avoided going down some of the roads of extremism that have been taken in other conservative states. The No. 1 reason is that we have a moderate Democratic governor who acted as a check on that,” said Peter Robins-Brown, executive director of Louisiana Progress, a Baton Rouge group that pushes progressive legislation. Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, of Lafayette, who heads the Democratic caucus in that chamber, said (Senate President Page) Cortez and (House Speaker Clay) Schexnayder also deserve credit.

There were some notable exceptions, as Edwards allowed a ban on transgender athletes playing high school sports to become law without his signature, and several harsh anti-abortion bills appear likely to become law. 

A ‘pay-go’ proposal on climate change
In Louisiana and across the country, governments are girding for the effects of climate change by building physical defenses against rising sea levels and evaporating lakes. The Times-Picayune’s Bob Marshall notes that while climate adaptation projects are necessary, it also amounts to treating the symptoms without addressing the cause. He says climate advocates should push for a version of the congressional “pay-go” rule, which requires any new programs to be offset by corresponding spending cuts. 

For every million spent on adaptations — such as seawalls, levees, floodgates, beach nourishments, supports for agricultural and other industrial changes — the state or community benefiting would have to take steps to reduce an equivalent amount of emissions it contributes to causing the problem. This could be done through credits for government initiatives such as switching to renewable green energy, developing markets for non-emitting products like electric cars, reducing or eliminating the use of plastic containers, tighter regulations on water use and air conditioning, to name just a few. Just as in pay-go for economic policy, the idea would be not to allow government spending to worsen an existential threat.

An HBCU renaissance
America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have seen major gains in applications and funding in recent years. The New York Times’ Erica L. Green reports that many elite Black students are choosing HBCUs over highly ranked, predominantly white institutions. The trend began with the “Missouri Effect,” a term coined by Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough to describe the demonstrations against campus racism that started in 2015 at the University of Missouri. 

From 2018 to 2021, for example, applications for a cross section of Black schools increased nearly 30 percent, according to the Common App, a platform for students to submit one application to multiple colleges, outpacing the increases of many other schools. … There is also a growing recognition among policymakers and predominantly white schools of the value of H.B.C.U.s, and the fact that they have long operated at a disadvantage. Federal lawmakers have increased funding for the 101 schools, providing nearly $2 billion since 2017, as well as $2.7 billion this year in pandemic emergency relief. Alumni and philanthropists have donated over a billion dollars in recent years, funding scholarships and programs in science, technology and other fields.

Number of the Day
31.2% – Percentage of Louisiana’s voting-age population that is Black. But Black voters only control about 17% of Louisiana’s congressional districts. (Source: The Advocate)