Dear Redistricting Stakeholder,
The U.S. Department of Justice has pre-cleared state legislative Redistricting maps submitted by the Louisiana Legislature for the Louisiana State Senate. As you all know a coalition of neighborhood associations, non-profits, and officials over three parishes consisting of over 2,000 residents have been fighting to maintain their "Community of Interest" and attempting to protect the right to fair representation guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act.
Moving Forward Gulf Coast, ENONAC, the Northshore Citizens Alliance, VOTE, neighborhood and civic organizations, social justice advocates, advocates for fair representation in our nation's democratic system of governance and concerned citizens are all extremely disappointed that the U.S. Department of Justice has given its stamp of approval to redistricting plans for the State House of Representatives and State Senate that clearly violate both the standards and intent of the Voting Rights Act by unnecessarily weakening the ability of racial minorities to elect candidates of their choice and to preserve their communities of interest.
SB 33 "The People's Plan", preserved 4 out 5 majority-minority districts in the metro area, while Chassions’ “octopus” map retrogressed from 5 to 3. We graded two out of three better in compact and contiguity testes, while dividing fewer subdivisions. The People came together and contributed to its development and went on record to offer this alternative plan, but were completely ignored by the Senate committee.
Community residents, clergy and lay leaders, and elected officials who previously expressed their concern about the plans to the Justice Department will now be looking closely at all legal options, including the possibility of a court challenge to the plans, to help ensure that the redistricting process is not abused to divide and conquer communities of color and undermine fair representation. We are puzzled that the Justice Department has chosen to ignore a viable alternative to the map the Louisiana Senate adopted, one that would have maintained four out of five majority minority Senate districts in theNew Orleans metropolitan area and preserved fair representation for communities across the city, and the citizens of eastern New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward in particular.
Please continue to stand with us as we move forward in the pursuit of justice for all.
|"Cracking, Stovepipes and Gerrymandering: Redistricting in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina"
Op-Ed by Trupania Bonner
NEW ORLEANS - Nearly six years ago, the African American community in Greater New Orleans suffered a devastating and disproportionate blow from Hurricane Katrina, as the storm's wrath and subsequent failures of relief and recovery programs drove thousands of minority residents from their neighborhoods and delayed their timely return to the only homes and livelihoods many had ever known. Now the state's legislators want to punish these long-suffering but resilient Louisiana citizens once again, by approving a redistricting plan for the State Senate that weakens the political clout of these residents in the halls of power, thereby diminishing even further any chance for a full and fair recovery for all communities.
The magnitude of the region's population loss in the wake of Katrina became clear with results from the 2010 Census. The enumeration recorded a population of roughly 344,000 for New Orleans, down almost 30 percent from its pre-storm level. New Orleans lost roughly 140,000 residents overall, 118,000 were African American. Yet the minority population across the State grew. With political representation constitutionally tied to population shifts among and within states, the loss cost Louisiana a seat in the U.S. Congress and threatened The Big Easy's political influence in Baton Rouge, and alas, this Redistricting process is the nail in the coffin to a fair and just recovery for New Orleans post-Katrina.
With off-year elections forcing the legislature to follow a tight timetable for redistricting based on the new census data, the Senate moved quickly and, perhaps not surprisingly, stealthily to consider a plan put forth by chamber President Joel T. Chaisson II (D-Destrehan) that would reduce the number of majority-minority Senate districts in New Orleans from five to three. The Senate did little to inform Louisianans of their right to submit alternative plans for consideration and ignored testimony gathered from residents around the state about the cultural and economic characteristics that bind them together, a key factor for consideration in drawing district boundaries. Instead, Sen. Chaisson bemoaned the alleged lack of options when he pushed his plan through the chamber by a vote of 27-12 in late March.
It is just this sort of disregard for the rights of minority citizens that has subjected Louisiana to heightened scrutiny of its redistricting plans (both federal and state) under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice are examining both the process and results of Senate Bill 1, to determine if lawmakers followed rules that promote meaningful community involvement and protect minority voters from plans that unnecessarily weaken their ability to elect candidates who best represent their interests.
There's a reason that no member of the state's Legislative Black Caucus supported the bill: By abolishing the current District 2 (Eastern New Orleans, Lower 9th Ward), and spreading its population among three districts covering as many parishes (Orleans, Jefferson, St Bernard), the new map clearly diminishes and dilutes the votes of minority residents and all but eradicates their opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.
Supporting an alternative solution offered by her constituency and advisors, Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis (D-Orleans) proposed an alternative redistricting map as evidence that the Senate could comply with requirements of the Voting Rights Act and save a majority-minority Senate seat in Louisiana. Dubbed "The People's Plan", Senate Bill 33 would preserve four out of five majority-minority districts in New Orleans. Notably, the Willard-Lewis proposal would keep the current 2nd District - which the census showed is growing faster than surrounding areas - intact, avoiding the obvious "cracking" of communities of interest in the Chaisson plan; the latter's treatment of eastern New Orleans' would so blatantly marginalize minority voters that Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, for whom the infamous practice of political "gerrymandering" was named, would have been proud to call this "octopus-shaped" district his own.
Lawmakers who supported Senate Bill 1 have chosen to draw districts that best protect their political futures instead of creating a map that maximizes the ability of all communities, especially those that have been marginalized historically, to elect representatives of their choice. Fair-minded residents of Greater New Orleans and all Louisiana communities should let their elected officials know that a full and just recovery from the 2005 catastrophe depends substantially on redistricting plans that put people - not politicians - first.
Trupania Bonner is Executive Director of Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Inc., a community-based, advocacy organization with a mission to build stronger communities of Color with sustained civic engagement around the protection of human rights.
2010 Census Data Released!
Long awaited Census numbers are released early to Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. As predicted Louisiana will lose a Congressional House seat as well as an Electoral vote. Its been stated by some politicians that Louisiana will lose a House seat because of pre Katrina population loss, others say the only realistic reason is because of the storm. Pre Census estimates show steady growth across the state in areas such as Baton Rouge, which received a boost in population due to Katrina evacuees, but Louisiana, tenth in line to maintain its seat did not grow as fast as other states. Yet, to say that we have not grown as fast as other states is to down play the effects of hurricane Katrina coupled with a power structure working to shrink the carbon footprint of New Orleans.
Post Katrina New Orleans lost 50% of its elderly, 50% of its disabled, 50% of its renters, and a substantial number of home owners. A slow response in the aftermath of the storm on local, State, and Federal levels made it that much harder for community organizers, community based organizations and Census Bureau Partnership Specialists to encourage residents to engage in the Federally mandated Census process. As a result in the lack of trust coupled with the fact that many residents reported not receiving a Census form at their home address, the Census rate of response dropped from 61% in 2000 to 45% in 2010.
The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center States...
The African American community received the least amount of folks back post Katrina. Many African Americans living in Public housing or in rental properties experienced unbreakable barriers upon trying to return. The demolition of Public housing coupled with rent gouging and a subsequent voter registry purge forced low-income and working poor residents to seek housing wherever they may have been displaced(see video on New Orleans Depopulation: vimeo.com/15150033). Many home owners were penalized for rebuilding at their own pace, but have been actively rebuilding since the storm and were not counted in the districts where they plan to return to soon. The Road Home Program was developed to create a path for home owners to return, but the program fell short of providing dollars to thousands on its waiting list, and was recently sued for racial discrimination in the distribution of funds. In 2008, GNOFHAC along with five individual plaintiffs and the National Fair Housing Alliance filed the suit, alleging that Road Home grant calculations based on the pre-storm value of hurricane affected houses rather than the cost of repair were a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. Pre-storm values in African American neighborhoods across the city are lower than pre-storm values in predominantly white neighborhoods due to decades of institutionalized discrimination against African Americans. U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy has ruled that the calculations are likely discriminatory.Executive Director James Perry comments, “We are pleased with the Appeals Court’s ruling and hope that it provides the opportunity for all New Orleans homeowners to fully recover regardless of race.” The order is available on GNOFHAC’s website,www.gnofairhousing.org.
- New Orleans is now a smaller city, having lost 118,526 African Americans and 24,101 whites since 2000, while gaining 3,225 Hispanics.
- The entire seven-parish metro area is more diverse with an influx of fully 33,500 Hispanics, and 3,000 additional Asian residents.
- Children under 18 were among the least likely to return after Katrina, representing only 23 percent of the total metro population down from 27 percent in 2000.
- Housing units have decreased in the most heavily flood-damaged parishes and increased in outlying parishes, while vacant housing units have increased in every parish across the metro.
Moving Forward once dispelled the notion of a special count for the metro area, but upon reading Census final tallies I think these individual parishes or districts should exercise their constitutional right and call for a special Census. The individual parish or district must foot the bill, but it may be worth it considering billions of dollars may be on the line. St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro was quoted as saying, "My initial reaction supports our need to challenge the number to bring to light the fact that it's inconceivable to have lost numbers from '09 to 2010. The decennial census tally will mean significantly less federal funding for the parish," adding that he will consult with his colleagues in neighboring parishes about a possible challenge, Taffaro said. Census Director Dr. Robert Groves did not want to politicize the Census, but we must have a congressional hearing in New Orleans to address the needs of Parishioners state-wide.
At any rate, the Census has passed and much is at stake for African American voters and elected officials alike. City Council, Supreme Court as well as Congressional District lines will be re-drawn throughout the state. Some speculate that a population surge in Baton Rouge could lead to the state capitol claiming the Majority-Minority tag from New Orleans. More than 45,000 names were removed from the voter rolls in Orleans Parish by the Secretary of State because they have not voted in two years, leaving Orleans Parish third in the state in registered voters. According to officials, black voters made up 40.3 percent of the 121,826 names removed as inactive and 38 percent of those purged from the rolls were in Orleans Parish. State elections officials are saying the large number of black voters is the result of their displacement following Hurricane Katrina (politicsla.com). Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said, "The capital region now has a population of just more than 800,000, which is an important threshold for economic development purposes and attracting new businesses." “We’re considered a major market now, If you think of it as a boxing metaphor, we're in a different weight class. Its fantastic news."
"Louisiana is a Section 5 covered jurisdiction and since 1965, every Louisiana State House of Representatives redistricting plan has been rejected during the preclearance process as discriminatory or retrogressive by the Justice Department under both Republican and Democrat At- torneys General. Despite its substantial black population, the seven-member Louisiana Supreme Court has only one African American member, Justice Bernette J. Johnson, from the 7th Supreme Court district, representing metropolitan New Orleans, and this is the only majority-minority district."
- Levitas and Cox, “State and Regional Trends in Voting Policy and Barriers to Civic Participation in Six Southern States: 2006 and 2007” (Atlanta, GA: South- ern Regional Council, 2007)
The first of several Legislative lead meetings around the state will be held in New Orleans on February 17, 6:00pm at Dillard University. Come out and lift up your voice to protect the longest standing Majority-Minority district in the US. Moving Forward Gulf Coast will also conduct education and training sessions throughout New Orleans and Louisiana over the coming weeks and months. For more information please go to www.movingforwardgc.org
Data provided by U.S. Census Bureau.
Population Density: Includes Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia in population density
rankings, 1 to 52.
Apportionment: Apportionment is the process of dividing the 435 seats in the House of
Representatives among the 50 states. Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are not included.
Alaska and Hawaii gained statehood in 1959. Arizona and New Mexico gained statehood in 1912.
For apportionment, data before those periods are not reflected on the map. Congress did not
reapportion in 1920. Therefore, the apportionment data shown for this decade replicates the data
for 1910. There is no data reflected for the apportionment population in the 1920 "people per
Census Bureau releases alternative measures of poverty
By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 6:57 PM
The Census Bureau took a baby step toward redefining what is considered poor in America on Tuesday when it released several alternative measurements of poverty, fundamentally revising a one-size-fits-all formula developed in the 1960s by a civil servant.
Under a complex series of eight alternative measurements, the Census Bureau calculated that in 2009, the number of Americans living in povertycould have been as few as 39 million or as many as almost 53 million. Under the official calculation, the census estimated that about 44 million were subsisting on incomes below the poverty line of about $21,750 for a family of four. The alternatives generally set the poverty thresholdhigher, as much as $29,600 for a couple with two children.
CENSUS DATA UPDATE!!!
The Census Bureau
has just announced that it will release the first official numbers from the 2010 Census
-- the state population
totals used for congressional apportionment, and the resulting apportionment, on Tuesday, December 21 @ 11:00am EST.
These totals will be population only; we will not see any characteristics data (e.g. age; race; gender; etc.) until the Bureau publishes block-level redistricting data (P.L. 94-171) on a flow basis between February and March 2011.
Keep in mind that there will be two population totals for each state: One that includes the overseas military and federal civilian employee population, which is used for the apportionment (only!), and the other without this population, used for all other purposes.
TUESDAY, SEP 28, 2010 13:45 ET
Census finds record gap between rich and poor
Income ratio of 14.5-to-1 nearly doubles 1968's low of 7.69
BY HOPE YEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession.
The top-earning 20 percent of Americans -- those making more than $100,000 each year -- received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.
A different measure, the international Gini index, found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.
At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, census data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.
"Income inequality is rising, and if we took into account tax data, it would be even more," said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who specializes in poverty. "More than other countries, we have a very unequal income distribution where compensation goes to the top in a winner-takes-all economy."
Lower-skilled adults ages 18 to 34 had the largest jumps in poverty last year as employers kept or hired older workers for the dwindling jobs available, Smeeding said. The declining economic fortunes have caused many unemployed young Americans to double-up in housing with parents, friends and loved ones, with potential problems for the labor market if they don't get needed training for future jobs, he said.
Rea Hederman Jr., a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, agreed that census data show families of all income levels had tepid earnings in 2009, with poorer Americans taking a larger hit. "It's certainly going to take a while for people to recover," he said.