The options are not good, says demographer Mike Hefner, and the best way to sidestep federal interference on the basis of racial inequity is to make sure black leaders fully understand the new population picture as depicted by the 2010 Census.
Hefner said he also welcomes any ideas from the black leaders that might ease the tension between population deviation and racial parity presented by the latest census numbers.
“Bring minority leaders into the next meeting,” he urged. “If they get that call from (the U.S. Department of Justice), I want them to be informed. We’ve got to make sure we can make this as bulletproof as we can.”
Dissension from the black community could easily derail the redistricting process, which is already under a tight deadline to draw the lines before qualifying opens for this fall’s elections.
Disagreement between black and white leaders in St. Martinville after the 1990 Census kept the City Council from holding elections for over a decade.
The committee of citizens appointed by the individual members of the Parish Council will meet again at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, and Hefner is urging them to invite all the black community leaders they can identify so they can have an understanding of the problem, especially as it pertains to District 3, historically a predominately black district that has become markedly less so over the past decade.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires each district to have, within plus or minus 5 percent, the same amount of people in it – the “one man one vote” doctrine. It also requires that “majority minority,” i.e. predominately black, districts be given a fair chance to elect “candidates of their choice,” which, Hefner says, the Department of Justice interprets as black candidates.
Because of the shift in population that has occurred over the past decade, it’s going to be hard to satisfy both those requirements, especially in District 3, which encompasses the southeastern part of St. Martinville.
The other two predominately black districts are District 2, the southwestern part of St. Martinville and the Cade area, and District 7, which is up in the Breaux Bridge area.
With the new numbers, District 7 can easily be maintained as a “majority minority” district and still meet the deviation standard for overall population. It’s not geographically linked to the other two, so its population cannot be raided by the other two districts.
Districts 2 and 3 share a common border and are subject to some give-and-take. As Hefner put it, the choice facing the citizens committee – and ultimately the Parish Council – is between:
•One strong minority district (7) and two borderline “swing” districts (2 and 3) where on any given Saturday a black candidate or a white candidate could win;
•Or two strong minority districts (7 and 2) and one “swing” district (3).
Why this is inexorably the case can be effectively demonstrated with Hefner’s special software and a projector screen. A click of the mouse shows what happens to the numbers when this census block or that precinct is moved from one district to the other. Ultimately it’s hard to duck the conclusion that the best that can be done to preserve both District 2 and 3 as majority black districts is 57 percent black for each – not likely be considered strong by DOJ.
And while it does not have to be perfect, it must be as close as they can get, Hefner said. And as importantly, it must meet with the satisfaction of the minority communities involved.
“DOJ will acquiesce to the wishes of the community,” he said.
Hefner said the Parish Council needs to introduce the ordinance creating the new districts by April 5.
The redistricting committee is composed of:
•District 1 (Carroll Delahoussaye) -- Kirk Sieber and Lee Hines (D-1 includes the non-contiguous lower St. Martin, which is represented separately by Hines);
•District 2 (Lisa Nelson) – Odell Trahan;
•District 3 (Jason Willis) – Jonas Fontenette;
•District 4 (Mike Huval) – Dale Boudreaux;
•District 5 (Lloyd “Red” Higginbotham) – Terry Guidry;
•District 6 (Jill Hebert) – Burton Dupuis (chairman)’
•District 7 (Pat Cluse) – Roland Chevalier;
•District 8 (Jim Hebert) – Buddy Eddy (vice chairman);
•District 9 (Dean Dore) – Kevin Latiolais.