Tuesday, 22 March 2011 21:14
Louisiana Redistricting Remap: North vs. South
Written by 

 John Maginnis  Two months ago, congressional reapportionment was settled in the back room of a Chinese restaurant in Washington, D.C. In a dinner meeting there, all but one of the state's seven U.S. representatives agreed on a guiding principle to address the loss of a congressional district: last in, first out.

   They didn't put it that way, but the effect was the same on a map proposed by state Sen. Robert Kostelka, R-Monroe, the head of the Senate panel on reapportionment. It would extend the two districts based in north Louisiana well into the south, and it would carve up the current district of rookie Congressman Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, three ways, leaving him in a district anchored by Lake Charles and Lafayette, the base of Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette.

   Enjoying his meal was the other first-termer, Congressman Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, whose minority district is protected by the federal Voting Rights Act, even if it has to go as far as Baton Rouge to include enough African-Americans.

   Despite Landry's objections to the plan, the rest of the delegation signed off on it, the governor blessed it, and there it stood: six congressmen would have six safe districts in which to run in 2012 and Landry would find other work. It was settled, that is, until the people who will actually make those decisions, the state Legislature, started to pay attention.

   Legislators from more populous south Louisiana began asking why that region was being divided to protect two congressmen from north Louisiana, where population growth is flat. Why not instead, some asked, draw a single compact east-west district in north Louisiana along Interstate 20?

   By when lawmakers convened at the Capitol this week, a regional turf battle had developed that could cause a standoff between the two houses.

   The Senate still seems fixed on two vertical districts based in north Louisiana, accommodating Congressmen John Fleming, R-Minden, and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, the dean of the delegation.

   The House is in more of a jumble. The chairman of the House redistricting committee, Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Grambling, has drawn up what he calls a single north Louisiana district plan, but only if half of Monroe is not counted as part of north Louisiana. His plan would place most white precincts of Ouachita Parish in a huge central Louisiana district that includes Alexander's home in Jackson Parish. It would leave a Shreveport-based district that would be 42 percent minority, and thus viable for an African-American candidate like, say, Rick Gallot.

   Regional questions aside, Gallot's plan is not going to fly because of partisan reasons. With Republicans already giving up the lost congressional seat, why would GOP majorities in both houses leave another Republican vulnerable to a Democratic challenger?

   Another plan gaining steam in the House, though not filed yet, would draw a true single north Louisiana district to include all of Shreveport and Monroe, which would be relatively safe for Fleming.

   Alexander's home would be in a large central Louisiana district with a population center in Alexandria, from where he might draw a challenger.

   A single Acadiana district would include Lake Charles and Lafayette, good for Boustany but not for Landry.

   The three southeastern districts would rotate in a clockwise fashion: Richmond's minority district up the river to Baton Rouge; Congressman Bill Cassidy's capital-based district over to Tangipahoa Parish; and Congressman Steve Scalise's suburban New Orleans district down to the coastal parishes, as far as Lafourche.

   A plan like that, which makes geographic sense while still complying with the Voting Rights Act, is drawing the attention of key House members, including Speaker Jim Tucker.

   If a dispute between the chambers comes down to regional rivalry, the votes are in the south. In that case, Congressman Alexander and Senator Kostelka may need to call on a higher power, and ascend to the Capitol's fourth floor to implore Gov. Bobby Jindal to intervene. He could resolve the matter with a veto threat, but then he would own the plan--and with a rough regular session to follow, he sure doesn't want to.

by John Maginnis

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7. Battles over voter redistricting maps begin as special legislative session convenes



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