A judge is set to redraw Louisiana’s congressional map. It could make or break careers.

Last year, the Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature completed a once-a-decade redistricting process by maintaining the 5-to-1 Republican advantage in the state’s six-member congressional delegation.

Left-leaning groups and civil rights organizations objected, and U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick soon sided with them, ruling that the map approved by lawmakers was unconstitutional because it did not turn one of the White-majority districts into a second Black-majority one.

Now Dick, who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, is moving forward with plans to create the second Black district – unless a higher court stops her or the new governor and Legislature step in beforehand to do it themselves. Dick has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 5 where she will take testimony on how to design that district, which would also mean redrawing the boundaries of the other five congressional districts.

If she proceeds, she is poised to impose her version afterward by ruling that in a state where about one third of the residents are Black, two Black candidates ought to have a strong opportunity to win two of the six congressional seats.

A new map could have profound impacts on a number of political careers. Among those most likely to be affected: U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, U.S. Rep. Troy Carter and state Sen. Cleo Fields.

Political insiders think Gov.-elect Jeff Landry is considering creating a map that damages the reelection chances of Graves, a fellow Republican but political foe.


Governor-elect Jeff Landry speaks during a press conference Wednesday, October 25, 2023, at Russo Park, the UL-Lafayette baseball stadium, in Lafayette, La.

Landry would not comment on that possibility, though Graves acknowledged it in a recent published account.

“At the end of the day, I think that the people of Louisiana are going to want to do what’s right and not support any type of revenge,” Graves said to Punchbowl News, a politics-focused news website.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, members of the Legislative Black Caucus say that a rift has developed between Carter and Fields over the potential shape of the two Black-majority districts, although both men said they are not at odds. Carter holds the only Democratic congressional seat in Louisiana, while Fields wants to run for the additional Black-majority seat, if it’s created, sources say.

Special session? 

Most Republicans are betting, however, that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will overturn Dick’s ruling and keep the current 5-to-1 Republican map.

But if the appeals court sides with Dick, then Landry and the new Legislature could hold a special session immediately after they take office in January to preempt her, by redrawing the congressional map to be more favorable for Letlow even while it harms Graves.

State Sen. Cameron Henry, the incoming Republican Senate president from Metairie, said he and Landry have not discussed a possible special session in January.


Congressman Garret Graves speaks at Zachary Mayor David Amrhein’s annual prayer breakfast Nov. 4, 2022.

“We’re going to wait and see what the court decides,” Henry said, adding that Republicans like the map they approved.

The new Legislature and governor take office on Jan. 8, but the state Constitution requires them to wait at least a week before a special session could begin.

Whether Landry would want to devote political capital to redrawing the map is a major question, especially since he said during the campaign that he wanted to hold a special session on crime. Plus, the calendar in January is complicated because numerous elected officials will decamp for Washington Mardi Gras, which runs Jan. 25-27, ending about a week before Dick has scheduled her hearing.

In the meantime, political insiders are chattering that Landry would like legislators to draw a map that replaces Graves’ coastal parishes, which have voted for Graves repeatedly, with parishes that are north of Lake Pontchartrain and don’t know him. That shift would require the assent of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Jefferson, the No. 2 House member and the delegation dean, as his district includes those parishes now.

Landry hasn’t said anything publicly about Graves, and he wouldn’t say anything for this article other than he’s waiting to see how the 5th Circuit rules. But he has a reputation for wanting to punish political rivals.

Graves is thought to have angered Landry by not endorsing him in the race for governor. Graves supported Stephen Waguespack, his friend from when they both worked for Gov. Bobby Jindal. Waguespack finished a distant third.

Gutting Graves’ district would also potentially deny him a perch from which he could run against Landry when the governor is up for reelection in four years, political insiders note.

Politicos close to Scalise say Graves angered Scalise by working against him last month when he was seeking to become House speaker.

Steve Scalise

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of La., attends a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“Garret went out of his way to try to hurt Steve. I know that for a fact,” said one Washington Republican who would speak only without being identified. “They want to protect Julia, but that’s secondary to screwing Garret.”

Graves, who has said he did not work against Scalise, would not discuss the issue for this article.

Going after him would be a mistake, said Rolfe McCollister, a supporter of Waguespack and Graves who is the former publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report.

“I know the gov.-elect and Cong. Graves were not on the same page in this election,” McCollister said. “But I would expect Jeff Landry knows how effective Garret has been on many issues for Louisiana and how wildly popular he is in District 6. It is in our state’s best interest that they work together and focus on the many challenges we have ahead.”

Scalise’s office would say only: “The state Legislature passed a congressional map that abides by traditional redistricting principles, and I am confident that the 5th Circuit will uphold that map drawn by the state Legislature last year.”

Political insiders have been saying Henry would ensure that Scalise, his political mentor, emerges with a favorable district.

They add that Henry would have an added interest in taking care of Scalise because he is positioning himself to run for Congress whenever Scalise steps down. Scalise said in August he is suffering from blood cancer but expects a full recovery.

But Henry said he has ruled out a run for Congress.

“The congressional schedule does not fit me,” Henry said, noting the weekly flights back-and-forth to Washington and that he has four children younger than 18. Henry, who is in only his second term in the state Senate, could spend the next eight years as Senate president, which is second only to the governor in terms of political power in the state Capitol.

Henry said he has encouraged state Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, to consider running for Congress whenever Scalise retires.

Carter and Fields

Letlow is part of the redistricting conversation because virtually all maps pushed by Democrats and such allies as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund turn her 5th Congressional District into the second Black-majority district. Letlow, who just won reelection, has vowed to run for the seat even if it’s redrawn with more Democrats.


Congresswoman Julia Letlow taking photos with Bastrop Mayor Betty Olive at a local event in Bastrop, La on Friday, October 20, 2022 (Photo by:Kita K. Wright) ORG XMIT: BR.letlow.adv008

The legal defense fund and other groups have submitted a proposed map to Dick where a Black candidate in the 5th District would be expected to receive 53% of the vote. That district would extend from north Baton Rouge to Monroe, picking up Black-majority precincts in Opelousas, Alexandria and the parishes in north Louisiana along the Mississippi border.

Last year, speculation centered on Fields as a potential candidate for a redrawn 5th Congressional District because he served two terms in the U.S. House in the 1990s, finished second in the 1995 gubernatorial race and returned to the state Senate in 2019. Fields, 60, has maintained ties with such Democratic political heavyweights as Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Fields said then that he saw another candidate running for a redrawn 5th Congressional District, perhaps state Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, a political ally.


Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, takes a call in the senate chamber during legislative session, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

But Legislative Black Caucus members say privately that Fields now says he wants to run. They also note that national groups that help finance Democratic campaigns – such as Emily’s List – would not assist Jackson because she is avowedly anti-abortion. Fields is pro-abortion rights.

In an interview, Fields said he didn’t want to discuss whether he might be a candidate because he doesn’t know if either Dick or the Legislature will create a second Black-majority seat.

“It’s premature,” he said.

While Jackson and Fields are close, she said she hasn’t ruled out running for the seat if Fields announces his candidacy. Jackson noted she just handily won re-election.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus said the dispute between Fields and Carter stems from Fields’ belief that Carter last year opposed efforts to create the second Black congressional district because of fears that doing so would redesign his district in a way that could make him vulnerable to getting beat.

In a recent interview, Carter said he always favored creating a second Black-majority district and recognizes that doing so would mean his district might have to stretch west from Baton Rouge into the Lafayette media market to include enough Black precincts. The second seat would almost certainly cost Carter some Black voters.


U.S. Rep. Troy Carter speaks in LaPlace on Thursday, April 6, 2023. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

“I realize my district may have to extend some and dilute some, but for the greater good, I’m willing to be part of this,” Carter said.

He also dismissed suggestions that he wouldn’t want Fields to return to Washington because Fields would likely receive credit for his prior two terms and become the senior Democrat from Louisiana.

“It would not bother me one iota because every bit of seniority and power and influence that comes to Louisiana is a win for Louisiana,” said Carter, who is a second vice president of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of 12 members named by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to a group that meets with White House and cabinet officials.

Referring to Fields, Carter added, “The notion that there is a rift between us is unfounded.”

But four potential African American candidates said they were asked to run against either Carter or Fields:

  • Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis
  • Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers, who finished second in the 2020 U.S. Senate race
  • Chris Tyson, who finished second in a 2015 race to be secretary of state and now heads a Washington D.C.-based housing nonprofit
  • Joe Hollins, a former senior aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards. Hollins now handles renewable energy issues for Shell.

All four would not say who approached them. Tyson and Hollins said they have ruled out running, while Lewis and Chambers said they would want to see the shape of the districts.

Chambers praised Carter and said Fields has had a “transformational” career but now ought to stand aside for a younger candidate, such as Chambers.

The rift between Carter and Fields, Chambers added, “is real. It is not imaginary.”

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