You may not realize it but later this month voters in the Fifth District of Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives will elect a new congressman, or congresswoman. At the very least, voters in the March 20 special election will decide which two candidates out of a field of 12 will advance to an April run-off.
This special congressional election became necessary in late December when Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died from complications of COVID-19. Letlow was 41 and undoubtedly he had a bright future ahead of him on Capitol Hill. His death, needless to say, was tragic.
As tragic as Letlow’s death was, there’s no disputing it created an opportunity for his widow, Julia, to emerge from her husband’s shadow to aspire to become the first female ever elected to the House from the Fifth District. Julia Letlow is accomplished in her own right. She’s a high-ranking official at the University of Louisiana-Monroe and holds a doctorate degree in communication from the University of South Florida.
Letlow isn’t the only female running. Sandy Christophe, a Democrat from Alexandria who finished a close third in last fall’s primary election in the Fifth District race, is a candidate again. Christophe is an odds-on favorite to make the run-off this year simply because she’s the only Democrat in the race. That means she should have a base of support among black voters in a state where a vast majority of black voters only vote for a Republican by mistake. Remember, roughly one-third of the voters in the Fifth District are black.
There are two other females in this month’s special election. They are Sancha Smith and Jaycee Magnuson, both Republicans. Smith is black and may be the most conservative candidate in the field. She earned her chops in conservative circles from her work in the pro-life movement. She’s articulate, too. So articulate that she stole the show a couple of weeks ago when she spoke at a Republican gathering in Ouachita Parish.
There are a host of other Republicans running but none of them has emerged to make the handicappers believe they have what it takes to make the run-off. Chad Conerly, of Alexandria, is very impressive on paper. He’s an Air Force veteran who served in the Iraq War, but Conerly isn’t widely known and it’s a little late in the game to get widely known. Who knows? His military credentials may resonate with voters, assuming any of them take the time to educate themselves about the candidates.
Only Letlow has the financial resources at this point to see a congressional race to the end. She obviously has parlayed her husband’s success in raising money for his campaign into her own success in raising money for her candidacy. That was expected.
Make no mistake. Letlow is benefitting from the sympathy factor stemming from her husband’s death, but Letlow has revealed very little publicly to shed light on what she stands for or how we could expect her to vote on key issues in the House such as gun-control, taxes, immigration reform and so on.
Regardless of who’s elected in this spring’s special congressional election, the new congressman or congresswoman must immediately become somewhat of a lobbyist and begin convincing members of the state Legislature why the Fifth District shouldn’t be diced up when lawmakers convene a special session later this year or early next year to reapportion the congressional districts. Remember, every 10 years the federal government counts the number of people living in America and in light of those findings, states are allotted congressional districts based upon the population in each state. There are 435 of them to allot. States that enjoyed robust growth in population over the past decade are awarded more districts while states that lost population during that time lose a district or districts. Each state is responsible for redrawing its congressional districts to reflect shifts in population in its state.
As it stands now, the jury is still out on whether Louisiana will retain six congressional districts. Though the state will show a slight growth in population from 2010-2020, the growth in population in Louisiana will pale in comparison to California, Florida, Texas and elsewhere.
Assuming Louisiana can hold on to six congressional districts, chopping up the Fifth District represents the easiest path forward in redrawing the state’s congressional districts without causing too much disruption in the First District, Second District, Third District and the Sixth District, all of which are in south Louisiana where two-thirds of Louisiana’s residents live. Making matters worse is the lack of seniority the new congressman or congresswoman from the Fifth District will bring to the table. Simply stated, state lawmakers will find it far easier to say “no” to the Fifth District congressperson instead of saying “no” to someone like Congressman Steve Scalise of the First District.
Of course, if Louisiana loses a congressional district, we can say goodbye to a congressional district anchored in northeastern Louisiana.
Either way, the new congressman or congresswoman from the Fifth District should look for short-term housing when he or she lands in Washington.
Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.