When it comes to influencing the legislative process, size matters — in terms of the number of votes that can be garnered for any given issue. Using that metric, metro New Orleans might be down slightly, but it's definitely not out. Four area House seats were lost during the 2011 reapportionment process, which translates into four fewer local votes when times get tough at the Capitol.
But New Orleans' long-term pro-spects look better, according to some recent numbers.
Many of the House and Senate districts in Orleans Parish lost more registered voters than any other area of the state after Hurricane Katrina. In fact, of the 144 legislative districts, the six that lost the most voters in the years following the 2010 census are all in New Orleans and were all held by Democrats.
The latest study was conducted by JMC Analytics and Polling using voter registration data between April 1, 2010, which is when the last census was conducted, and March 1, 2014. It found the following fluctuations:
• House District 99, Rep. Wesley Bishop: 22 percent decrease
• House District 97, vacant (most recently Jared Brossett): 14 percent decrease
• House District 93, Rep. Helena Moreno: 12 percent decrease
• Senate District 3, Sen. JP Morrell: 13 percent decrease
• Senate District 4, Sen. Ed Murray: 11 percent decrease
• Senate District 5, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson: 8 percent decrease
While on the surface this looks bad, JMC President John Couvillon cautions against reading too much into the decreases. "We're seeing this because there was a huge voter purge in 2010," he says. "We didn't see the population losses from Hurricane Katrina play out until then because the officials doing the purge didn't want to seem heartless, so there was a delay."
Besides, districts are drawn based on total population, not voter registration. Moreover, voter registration figures in those areas are rebounding at a faster rate than the statewide average. "Plus, when you start looking at year-to-year population changes, not just voter registration, you see Orleans Parish and St. Bernard Parish growing faster than the rest of the state," Couvillon says.
In the April 2010 census, Orleans had a population of 344,000, while the July 2013 interim estimate, the most recent available, pegged it at closer to 379,000. In St. Bernard Parish, population increased from 36,000 to 43,000. (Neighboring Jefferson Parish's population has remained relatively flat, going from 433,000 to just 435,000.)
Together, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes accounted for 46 percent of Louisiana's overall population growth from 2010 to 2013.
Couvillon estimates that kind of growth could enable the region to recapture two of the four House seats lost after the 2010 census.
It's all happening rather quickly. When he looked at the interim census figures last year, Couvillon says he was only expecting one of the New Orleans House seats to be reclaimable.
Louisiana redraws its political lines every 10 years after the decennial census is released to the states. Because political livelihoods are on the line — congressional and judicial districts have to be redrawn as well — the process is Machiavellian in the truest sense. Answering the question of how and where the new seats will materialize is no simple query. "It would be difficult to say because of the unique political alliances that form during a redistricting session," Couvillon says.
The next governor, speaker of the House and chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee (which initiates the reapportionment process) all will factor prominently into the complex political formula. The Voting Rights Act and the need for minority districts also will be important components.
But it's already clear that New Orleans' gain will come at a cost to northeast Louisiana, where population growth is stagnant, especially in rural areas. The Legislature will still have 144 districts; how those district boundaries are drawn will be the issue.
This is all inside baseball for a process that probably won't take place until 2021 at the earliest or 2023 at the latest. Based on the early numbers, New Orleans is positioned to gain at least part of what it recently lost.
There are no absolute guarantees, however. "It's a very interesting tug of war," Couvillon says, "and it will be the political aspects that determine the specifics."