Thursday, 31 March 2011 11:44
Louisiana Senate Stymies GOP Redistricting Power
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Written March 30, 2011

So we assume that the Louisiana Republican Party’s state elected officials want to use their legislative and gubernatorial majorities to ensure redistricting favorable to their future electoral chances? Then why, after yesterday’s activities revealed, did they stop short of this?

To maximize, its legislators had to draw boundaries that did not help the fortunes of other parties’ candidates, specifically Democrats, for the state House, Senate, and Congress. For Congress, they succeeded: the plan that emerged from the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, creating two north-south districts, made for districts that had fewer black residents, who are very reliable Democrat voters, than did the Democrats’ plan of northern- and central-banded districts in the same area. The net effect is zero – as many seats remain favorable to Republicans and black Democrats as before.
For the House, also mission accomplished. It created two additional black majority-minority districts but did not go for a third and backed away from a plan that would have actually pitted three GOP sets of incumbents against each other compared to one of Democrats, ending up reversing that. It almost rescued the remaining pair of its incumbents having to face each other this fall, but concerns that this would dilute minority voting power too much ended up in the narrow defeat of an amendment to do so. The net effect is zero – overall Republicans gain as many seats as Democrats, although white Democrats become less competitive to uncompetitive in four seats.
But the GOP pulled up short in the Senate. That body approved a plan that threw only two black Democrats together, but created two more black M/M districts elsewhere and a presumably Republican-leaning district near Baton Rouge, but erased a Republican-held district covering Jefferson Parish and the Northshore in doing so. In essence, with this arrangement Republicans may have allowed themselves to become competitive in fewer districts than their present holdings. This is despite the presence of another plan that would have increased the numbers of both M/M districts and those leaning Republican.
While several reasons suggest explanations for their apparently going against their own interests, none seem terribly convincing:
  • Out of all the convolutions, overall more competitive districts emerge. If that’s the case, the numbers sure don’t reveal that; although there may be some idiosyncratic, localized politics that may permit this, they sure aren’t obvious.
  • It’s part of a deal to allow the favorable House and Congressional maps to go through. Perhaps so, but it was unnecessary. Simply, Senate Republicans had more than enough numbers – 23 to 16 after all the recent special elections and party switches essentially reversing those numbers – to impose something less unfavorable. And while some of the recent switchers could be less reliable on important issues to the legislative party, redistricting should not be one of them – why assist the very organization you just cut ties with?
  • It’s a way to prevent Voting Rights Act Section 2 challenges. One could imagine a scenario where Republicans agreed with Democrats if the former got two preferred plans through and the latter one neither would file a suit after Section 5 preclearance against anybody’s plans. But the problem here is neither party can make that kind of promise because any citizen in a presumably affected area can sue on the basis of discriminatory intent – and some Senate Democrats threatened this before the bill even passed.
  • Republicans plan to sandbag Democrats. Maybe Republicans feel threatened that their other two plans could be derailed so they promise the 2-for-1 deal to ease tensions, let them all get to Gov. Bobby Jindal, and then he vetoes the Senate version, or maybe he signs everything and then Republicans launch a Section 2 suit on the Senate version. But, why waste all this time and effort, which might involve another, rushed special session or litigation that drags things out with an uncertain resolution? Why not just get it right, so to speak, the first time, especially as they have the numbers to do it?
  • The GOP plans to make more favorable modifications in the Senate. This is highly unlikely given the norm that neither chamber changes the other’s plan and would invite the Senate to retaliate on their preferred House plan.

No sensible rationale presents itself as to why Republicans did Democrats favors on the Senate plan. Regardless, there it is and, unless it's mistaken judgment on the GOP's part on one or more of the above considerations, it leaves the perhaps as the only way to understand this outcome is as a loss of political nerve and/or lack of willpower and/or the product of interpersonal relations that place those sentiments before the benefiting partisan and majority voter interests.

Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. His blog is Between the lines

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Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines

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