Louisiana 7th District
More than 200 years ago, French-speaking settlers in Canada were forced to leave their land of Acadie, which the British had taken over and renamed Nova Scotia. They made their way to the wetlands of southern Louisiana. Here, without much notice, they built steep-roofed houses to slough off nonexistent snow and adapted French cuisine to the crawfish and muskrat they found in abundance in the pelican-tended swamps. They are the Cajuns, and the heart of their adopted homeland is around Lafayette, just west of the Atchafalaya Basin, where Mississippi waters pour through bayous and canals. A 30-mile section of Interstate 10 was built on elevated stilts. Cajun country thrived, thanks to the oil and gas plentiful here and just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil rigs are common, and every once in a while the swampy foliage parts to reveal a giant refinery or petrochemical plant. Cajun pride has experienced a resurgence. Cajun French is surviving decades of efforts to eliminate it, even by some older Cajun generations. Cajun music—and its black-influenced variant, zydeco—are popular here and nationally; spicy Cajun cooking attracts food lovers, who learn its secrets and then carry it off, in understated form, to other parts of the United States. About 45% of the people in Acadiana speak French as a second language. Lafayette, with its Acadian Village and plethora of oil exploration firms, features an annual Festivals Acadiens to celebrate music, food and crafts. Unlike New Orleans, its Mardi Gras reveries are still segregated affairs, with an all-white (and sometimes all-male) parade and an all-black parade. Cockfighting remains locally popular, despite efforts in the Legislature to prohibit it. Louisiana was the only state that still permitted cockfighting until it was finally banned in August 2008.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The oil-price crash of the middle 1980s hit Cajun country hard. Rising expectations, and the giddy sense that the oil industry promised lasting prosperity, suddenly collapsed, leaving borrowers overextended and ordinary homeowners unable to maintain the standard of living they expected. In 2005, Hurricane Rita, not Katrina, was the natural disaster with the most devastating local impact. With winds of 120 miles per hour and a storm surge of up to 15 feet, Rita left its own path of destruction 200 and 300 miles to the west of New Orleans. It virtually erased some coastal communities, especially in Cameron Parish. While the nation was spellbound by every development in New Orleans, local residents and officials complained that they were the victims of “Rita amnesia.” Plans were hatched to move some villages along the coast more than 10 miles inland to higher ground. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the area, although with much less devastation, thanks in part to new, stricter building codes.
The 7th Congressional District of Louisiana covers much of the Cajun country, from Lafayette and the Atchafalaya west along Interstate 10 to Lake Charles and the Texas border. Refineries and oil-field-support industries provide many jobs, as do rice and crawfish farming. Some 27% of the population claims either French or French-Canadian ancestry. Politically, Cajun country once gravitated to the Democrats, though it disapproves of the party’s cultural liberalism, so at odds with the Cajun tradition of respecting the authority of the church while tolerating a certain amount of laissez les bons temps rouler spirit. The district voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, as it had voted for Louisiana’s foremost Cajun politician, Edwin Edwards, who was elected governor four times. But it gave George W. Bush solid majorities in 2000 and 2004, and gave John McCain 63% of the vote in 2008.