Thursday, 24 March 2011 17:42

Little Lady Kostelka Shows Big Bias In Louisiana Redistricting Hearing

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by: Lamar Parmentel

Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 11:39:40 AM CDT

"The process is driven by numbers."

That's the phrase continuously lobbed around to attempt to excuse the obvious political machinations of the redistricting process. Since last year, those words have stood for everything from why New Orleans will lose multiple State House districts, to why North Louisiana needs two Congressional district. 

Tags: Kostelka, North Louisiana, Little Lady, Karen Carter Peterson, redistricting, Louisiana legislature, African American, Republican, Democrat

Now we know that simply isn't true. State Senator Robert Kostelka (R-Monroe), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Senate and Goverment Affairs, has also dipped in the 'numbers' excuse several times to avoid substantive discussion of projected redistricting plans. But now that the rubber has hit the road, Kostelka's 'numbers defense' is wearing a little thin. 

Kostelka's committee began sorting through the competing plans for Congressional, and Senate,redistricting yesterday and things got ugly. With the chamber stocked with four of Louisiana's Republican Congressmen, Kostelka led a discussion of his Congressional redistricting plan, SB2. Among other things, Kostelka's plan maintains the senselessness of having two North Louisiana districts, and basically follows the current configuration. Congressman Cassidy, who supports this plan, benefits from avoiding any dealing with Jeff "Teabags" Landry. Rep. Boustany is given the honor of a potential battle with Landry, but decidedly from Boustany's home turf. Kostelka's plan includes Lake Charles and Lafayette, while splitting up Terrebone and Lafourche Parishes. This splits Landry's base and makes his survival as a Congressman very unlikely. 

Unfortunately for the Congressmen, and for Kostelka (who bragged that the Governor supported his plan), Senator Lydia Jackson introduced a far superior, and more logical plan. When she asked that testimony be taken on her plan, SB3, as had been taken on Kostelka's, the chairman quickly angered:

Kostelka asked about Jackson’s SB3, “Have you discussed it with any of the other congressmen, like I have for months?”

No, I didn’t know that was a requirement,” Jackson said. “The bill is based on the testimony we heard from citizens after traveling the state.

Senator Jackson is right. This process should, of course, be driven by principles that focus on the opinions of the people, not those of backroom deal-makers. Kostelka grew even more heated:

But Kostelka's frustrations were visible and audible as other senators pressed their alternative bills, which the chairman had not distributed or scheduled for debate. He peppered Sen. Lydia Jackson, a Shreveport Democrat advocating for the more racially balanced district, with questions about her plan, asking, "How many congressmen have you talked to?" and "What about the governor? Have you heard what he said about my plan?"

But then Kostelka crossed the line:

Chairman Kostelka, R-Monroe, several times snapping at his colleagues, many of them African-American Democrats, who are pushing an east-west oriented north Louisiana district that would be more racially balanced than what Kostelka proposes.

At one point, he sought to quiet Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, addressing her only as "little lady."

It makes you wonder: Would Kostelka have said that if Peterson weren't an African-American woman? His dismissive attitude and tone toward another State Senator is an embarrassment, and especially relevant considering one of the major components of this process is the ability to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

It also creates questions about whether he's the right man to lead this committee. If he can't keep his cool when alternative plans are brought forth, is he really suited to guide this process moving forward. Questions for the Senate President to answer. 

Over on the House side, it looks like Speaker Tucker's plans are also drawing significant fire:

House Democratic Chairman John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, stopped short of accusing Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, of an overtly partisan agenda in crafting legislative districts in the lower chamber. But he noted that several of the open questions -- the debate over the number of majority nonwhite districts and whether two New Orleans-area Republicans are drawn into the same district -- could end up playing into GOP hands.

"I'm not ready to scream yet," he said, though he conceded that some of his members feel more strongly about the matter.

Respectfully, Representative Edwards, screaming wouldn't do much good. Tucker plays a strong hand in the House, and Edwards might want to begin to do more than wring his hands before its too late.

"It is obvious what is happening," said Rep. Jerry "Truck" Gisclair, D-Larose. Democrats "are secondary. It is being driven by the majority party, and that has an influence, why people are jumping parties."

One of the chamber's new members, Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, said, "I hope that is not the final die that is cast. I was elected to the House of Representatives, not the House of Republicans or the House of Democrats."

Well said, Representative Bishop.

First Published on The Daily Kingfish


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