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Will evacuees return to Louisiana to vote? Politicians' agenda in at least two states hang in the balance.

Will the majority of those relocated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita decide to make their temporary homes permanent? "That's the $64 million question," says Ron Walters, a University of Maryland political scientist. A lot of politicians' futures are riding on the answer. Franklin Jones, who chairs the political science department at Texas Southern University, says black evacuees could potentially upset the balance of power in some state legislatures and congressional districts in the Gulf region.

Although scattered throughout the nation, the majority of displaced blacks have relocated to other parts of Louisiana (primarily Baton Rouge), Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama. Louisiana has seen a whopping 523,149 evacuees apply for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while 383,840, 156,895, and 109,840 have applied for aid in Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama, respectively. According to Southern University professor Frank Ransburg, employment and education will likely be the deciding factors when people consider whether to return home.

Ransburg says the most significant impact would be in states where the population is primarily Mack and white, unlike Texas. "Texas has three groups of people: whites, blacks, and Hispanics. In such a triumvirate, African Americans alone will not have much of an impact unless they unite with Hispanics to [form] a major force in Texas politics, just as in Louisiana, where Cajuns and African Americans generally vote the same way," he says.

Elected officials who won by narrow margins in the affected states, such as Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Sen. Mary Landrieu, could see their political fates go either way, says Jones.

Louisiana's state officials are still sorting out many election details, such as whether New Orleans' upcoming mayoral election will be postponed. They are also considering changes to election laws to address the large number of displaced voters, and the possibility of allowing absentee ballots. Though any changes will have to be approved by the federal government under the terms of the Voting Rights Act.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) has introduced The Displaced Citizens Voter Protection Act, which would give evacuees the same voting status as military servicemen and women to secure their federal voting rights in Louisiana and other states impacted by the hurricanes. "I hope legislatures in those states will follow suit," Davis says. We're trying to protect the rights of evacuees."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is cautious about predicting how those who relocated to her state might impact voting patterns there. "Anything I say is based on our commitment to their ability to go home with the resources they need to rebuild their lives. We have a committed mission to not alter or skew the population of Louisiana," she says. "It's obvious that 150,000 potential new voters who may in fact be African American would be enthusiastically welcomed in the political landscape of Texas, but my focus is that they possibly return to Louisiana to be engaged in that political landscape."

Many observers are worded about how the relocations will affect political outcomes, particularly for Democrats and Mack lawmakers. "It's an open secret that the old line political leadership in New Orleans has been trying to regain control of the political structure," says Jones. "They controlled New Orleans before black folks took over and they still control the economic base. They were responsible for [the election of] Mayor Ray Nagin, who is among a new wave of black political leaders who tried to tie themselves into the economic forces to talk about restructuring the city. It may become, 'If we don't need your political base, we don't necessarily need you and we can move in the direction we want.'"

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Title Annotation:temporary homes for hurricane survivors
Author:Jones, Joyce
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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