'These maps are the best maps': Louisiana Legislature overrides Edwards' veto of congressional map

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Louisiana Capitol, Dec. 13, 2021

Louisiana's Republican-dominated Legislature overrode Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' veto of the state's new congressional map Wednesday, though federal judges will almost certainly have the final say.

Edwards' vetoed the map passed during last month's redistricting Special Session because lawmakers failed to create a second majority-minority district out of six seats despite the state's Black population increasing to 33% over the past decade.

More:GOP Congressman Clay Higgins blasts Republican-drawn congressional map as 'deceitful'

Veto overrides are rare in Louisiana, happening only three times including Wednesday's vote since the current state Constitution was enacted in 1973.

But Republicans secured the two-thirds votes needed in both the House (72-31) and Senate (27-11) to close the deal.

Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales, who was heavily criticized last year after failing to secure the votes necessary to override Edwards' veto on a transgender sports ban bill, noted this was the first time a governor had been overturned in a stand-alone veto session.

"Today, the overwhelming will of the Legislature was heard," Schexnayder said in a statement. "House Bill 1 fulfills our constitutionally mandated duty to redistrict Congress. It also shows true legislative independence and a clear separation of power from the executive branch."

Edwards said he was disappointed, but not surprised.

"I would have been more disappointed had I been complicit in having a map so unfair and unjust enacted into law," Edwards said. "I slept good last night and I'm going to sleep good tonight because I did the right thing."

The new map becomes law for now, though civil rights groups have vowed to file lawsuits to challenge the boundaries, contending the map violates the Voting Rights Act.

GOP Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette, who supported the new map, acknowledged it is bound for a legal challenge. "The courts are going to have to deal with it," Cortez said.

"I can't imagine there is a more compelling case for the courts to look at and to overturn than in Louisiana," Edwards said. "It's not even close. I happen to believe it's a very clear case of violating the Voting Rights Act."

Republicans Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell and Rep. John Stefanski of Crowley who shepherded the redistricting process as chairs of the committees that first considered the bills asked members to override the governor without "rehashing" the debate, as Stefanski said.

"In my heart of hearts, I do believe these maps are the best maps and comply with the law," Hewitt said. "We can't make a decision based on party or race."

Black Democrats in both chambers spoke at length before the votes.

"I don't feel human today; I don't feel seen; I don't feel equal," said New Orleans Sen. Karen Carter Peterson. "Again, I'm being ignored just like my ancestors."

Monroe Sen. Katrina Jackson said she was saddened the votes broke along party lines. "I feel like we no longer see each other as people; we see each other as party," she said.

"The fact is this body continues to disregard simple math — one-third of six equals two," Democratic Rep. Royce Duplessis said. "The simple fact is this bill violates the Voting Rights Act."

In the House, all three Independents and Democratic Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi voted with all 68 Republicans to meet the 70-vote threshold needed to override the veto. Republicans already comprise a super majority in the Senate and didn't need any crossover support.

House GOP Chairman Blake Miguez of Erath came home to the Republicans after blistering the map because it split some parishes and Morgan City in Acadiana.

"After weighing my concerns with the current version of the bill, I ultimately decided to vote to override," Miguez said in a statement. "This was the better choice of the options presented to maintain continuity of representation among the congressional district."

Republican Rep. Beryl Amedee of Houma was also a question mark, having voted against the map in the Special Session. But in the end, she joined the rest of the GOP.

"Today I voted with a super majority of the House and Senate to override the governor's veto so that we could present a congressional map that aligns with both the Voting Rights Act and the equal protection close," she said.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.