By District 22 Representative Gabe Firment
The 2022 Special Redistricting Session of the Louisiana Legislature adjourned Friday, February 18th with new maps drawn for Congressional districts, state legislative seats, the Public Service Commission, and BESE districts. The separate bills now head to the desk of Governor Edwards who can veto the legislation or allow them to become law. Even if the governor allows the bills to become law, it appears likely that lawsuits will be filed on the assertion that minority populations are not properly represented in the new district maps. Although it is difficult to predict if the governor will veto any of the maps, in my opinion the map most likely to be vetoed by the governor is the congressional map which included only one majority black district.
Due to significant population loss in North Louisiana, there were substantial changes to the state House of Representatives and state Senate districts in our area. My House of Representatives seat, District 22, will look very different when elections are held in the Fall of 2023. District 22 currently consists of all of Grant Parish, most of LaSalle Parish, large portions of north Natchitoches Parish, most of Red River Parish except the town of Coushatta, and one precinct in Winn Parish. Under the new map District 22 will consist of all of Grant Parish(approximately 52% of the district population), most of the city of Natchitoches and precinct 4-9 south of the city(approximately 34% of the district population), and a large portion of LaSalle Parish, including Olla, Tullos, Urania, Searcy, and Rogers(approximately 14% of the district population).
The most notable change to area legislative districts was the moving of House District 23, currently occupied by term-limited representative Kenny Cox, from its current location in Natchitoches, Red River, and Desoto parishes to the New Orleans area. Unfortunately, North Louisiana had to lose at least one House of Representatives seat and one state Senate in North Louisiana due to the extreme population loss in the Shreveport area. The District 37 state Senate seat currently held by Republican Sen. Barrow Peacock was moved from Caddo, Bossier, and Desoto parishes to South Louisiana. Based upon 2020 reported census data, House District 23 lost over 4,000 residents over the past 10 years making it a logical choice to be absorbed by neighboring districts. Colonel Cox is a good man who has nobly served his country, state, and community for many years, and it has been a great privilege for me to work with him and befriend him my first 2 years in the state legislature. I look forward to working with him until our current terms end and hopefully we can work together in some capacity in coming years as well.
The new House of Representatives map has most of northern Natchitoches Parish, including Goldonna, Ashland, Creston, Fairview Alpha, Clarence, and Campti represented by District 13 currently occupied by Rep. Jack McFarland of Winnfield. Under the new proposal House District 25 currently held by Rep. Lance Harris would extend from west Rapides Parish into rural Natchitoches Parish, taking in the communities of Natchez, Provencal, Robeline, and Marthaville. As previously mentioned, District 22 would include the great majority of the city of Natchitoches, with the exception of a few precincts on the north and west sides of the city. All of Red River Parish will be represented by District 5 which also includes portions of south Caddo and south Bossier parishes.
My biggest disappointment throughout the redistricting process has been District 22 losing rural communities I currently represent in Natchitoches, Red River, and LaSalle parishes. I have worked hard to establish relationships and work with mayors, council members, police jurors, and citizens to make their communities better places to live and raise families. Of course, I will continue to fight for these communities until my current term ends and beyond if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected. I sincerely believe that we are on the verge of transforming rural North Louisiana through investments in broadband and badly needed infrastructure.
Although I am saddened to lose these rural communities, I am extremely excited about District 22 representing the historic City of Natchitoches for the next 10 years. I have already started making contact with leaders in Natchitoches to form relationships and determine priorities. Should the voters of District 22 see fit to re-elect me in 2023, it will be a tremendous honor for me to work with local stakeholders to see that the City of Natchitoches – “The South’s Best Small Town” – continues to thrive and prosper for many years to come. I sincerely believe that there is unlimited potential for the city that can be realized with vision and a unified effort to succeed.
Of course, the future of Natchitoches and several area parishes relies in large part on our willingness to invest in the future of Northwestern State University. Northwestern is extremely important to me personally – my wife and several family members are NSU grads – and I recognize that the university is the economic engine that drives not only Natchitoches but our entire region. NSU’s impact on the region economically exceeds over $400 million annually, and supports thousands of jobs critical to the citizens in Natchitoches and surrounding parishes. My commitment to Northwestern State University is absolute and unwavering.
There will also be substantial changes to the area state Senate districts for the next 10 years, with Natchitoches Parish being split between District 31 currently held by Sen. Louie Bernard (23,452 Natchitoches population), and District 29 presently occupied by Sen. Jay Luneau (14,063 Natchitoches population). The major changes to the District 31 map include losing a small portion of Grant Parish, a smaller footprint in Rapides Parish, and adding significant population in new parishes such as Caddo, Bossier, Webster, Bienville, and Desoto. All of Red River Parish will continue to be represented by District 31.
Residents of Natchitoches and Red River Parish will see very little change to the Congressional, PSC, and BESE maps. Both parishes remain in the 4th Congressional District held by Congressman Mike Johnson, PSC District 5 held by Foster Campbell, and BESE District 4 held by Michael Melerine. In closing, I would like to say that I am extremely excited about the future of District 22. I have a great relationship with our current area state representatives and senators, and I know that we are all committed to seeing our region thrive and prosper in the coming years. If you have any questions about redistricting or about the upcoming regular session, please contact me at (318)765-9606 or at email@example.com. Thank you and God Bless.