Lawmakers override governor’s veto of redistricting maps

Published 8:17 am Friday, April 1, 2022

By Jim Beam | Beauregard News

Three independent Louisiana lawmakers and one Democrat helped the Legislature override a governor’s veto Wednesday for only the third time in recent history. The override came on a bill drawing new election lines for the state’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed House Bill 1 that was passed during a special redistricting session earlier this year because it didn’t include a second Black district. The new congressional map is expected to return five Republicans and one Democrat to the U.S. House. However, lawsuits have been filed challenging the failure to create the second Black district in the state.

Edwards at a news conference following the override vote said he wasn’t surprised, but he was disappointed because the action was so unfair.

“Nowhere do African-Americans have the districts they deserve,” Edwards said. “The House and Senate refused multiple times (during the redistricting session) to do what is right and fair.”

Vetoing the bill was an easy decision, he said. Edwards said “he slept well last night and would sleep well again tonight” because he did the right thing.

Asked about the court cases that have been filed, the governor said he can’t imagine those who filed them don’t have a compelling case. He also said legislation that was passed deserved to have approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which is no longer required.

“This was not our finest day,” Edwards said.

The state House has only 68 Republicans and it takes 70 votes (two-thirds) to override a veto. The House at an earlier veto session failed to override a previous veto by Edwards.

The 72-31 House vote Wednesday came with help from Reps. Roy Daryl Adams of Jackson, Joseph Marino III of Gretna, and Malinda White of Bogalusa, the three independents. Rep. Francis C. Thompson of Delhi was the lone Democrat to support the override effort.

The Senate vote to override was cast by 27 Republicans (26 were needed) and 11 Democrats voted against the override.

The veto of an abortion bill by former Gov. Buddy Roemer in 1991 was overridden. It would have jailed doctors who performed the procedure. Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards’ veto of an appropriation in 1993 was also overridden.

Rep. John M. Stefanski, R-Crowley, handled the veto override Wednesday in the House. The legislation was sponsored by Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

Stefanski said it is the Legislature’s responsibility to draw new election lines after every decade after the U.S. Census. He said the bill passed by strong majorities in both the House and Senate.

Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said legislative committees conducted public hearings around the state and people were asked what they wanted lawmakers to do. Creation of a second Black congressional district was a major topic at every hearing.

Stefanski said he wasn’t interested in rehashing the legislation.

Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, spoke against the override saying, “This body continues to disregard simple math and the legislation was rife with politics.”

Duplessis was talking about the fact Blacks represent one-third of the state’s population, and one-third of 6 U.S. representatives is 2. He said the bill that was approved doesn’t put people first.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, handled the debate in the Senate. She said redistricting was a difficult and challenging process. However, she said the Voting Rights Act and court opinions make it clear that election districts have to be geographically compact and race can’t be used as a factor

“It does matter where you live,” she said.

Sen. Sharon Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, spoke against the override, saying she was “being ignored just like my ancestors.” She added, “We all want to have approval, affection, health care and housing.”

Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said of her Senate colleagues, “We no longer see each other as people. Party and self-preservation is all I heard.”

Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, said the override “is something history will remember.” Some people don’t enjoy the quality of life that others enjoy, he said, and that is why another minority district is needed.