Redistricting: Keep Acadiana Area Together

Louisiana is losing one of its seven congressional districts, and Calcasieu Parish will lose its current congressman if a coastal reapportionment plan being circulated picks up steam.

State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, is a leader behind the coastal district movement. Cameron and Vermilion parishes would be part of the proposed district, but not Calcasieu Parish.

Calcasieu and Lafayette parishes aren’t technically coastal parishes, but Harrison includes Lafayette in his proposed district. And that is the home of Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, who also represents Calcasieu.

Harrison believes citizens who live in coastal areas from the Texas to the Mississippi state lines have much in common and need to speak with one voice.

If his plan were to succeed, Boustany and newly elected U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, would end up in the same district for the 2012 congressional elections.

The St. Mary Parish Council in Franklin voted unanimously last week to back the coastal plan. Other parish governments along the coast are expected to follow suit.

Linked to Shreveport

If the coastal proposal is successful, Calcasieu Parish would become part of a new congressional district that runs all along the western part of the state from Shreveport to Lake Charles. Allen and Jeff Davis parishes would be part of a district that includes Alexandria and Monroe.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming, a Republican from Shreveport, represents the western part of the state. Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander represents Alexandria and Monroe.

Another plan has surfaced that keeps Calcasieu Parish with most of the current parishes in the disappearing 7th District.

Louisiana Family Forum is behind that effort. It is a non-profit group that calls itself a statewide research and education organization, “dedicated to being a ‘voice for traditional families in Louisiana.’”

The Family Forum plan keeps the Lake Charles and Lafayette metropolitan areas in what would become the new 3rd Congressional District. Parishes in that district would be Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis, Vermilion, Acadia, Lafayette and large portions of St. Martin, Iberia and St. Mary parishes.

Boustany currently represents what is considered to be the Acadiana region, and he has done it effectively. He insists his main goal is to keep Lake Charles and Lafayette in the same congressional district.

Some in the Legislature believe the Family Forum is getting involved in an issue better left to public officials. However, state Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, has been working on the proposed plan with the Forum.

Harrison and the Forum aren’t the only interests that will be involved with the reshaping of Louisiana’s congressional districts.

Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, is chairman of the Senate committee that will handle the reapportionment legislation. He wants to be sure Monroe keeps its own congressional district and doesn’t want his city to be included with the Shreveport area.

The population numbers would indicate that north Louisiana could have only one congressional district, but reality and political desires don’t always coincide.

Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, is chairman of the House committee that will come up with congressional reapportionment plans. He said a coastal district is “an idea worth looking into.”

Unlike Kostelka, Gallot appears to be more reasonable about north Louisiana’s future. He told the Press Club of Baton Rouge a Shreveport-based district would have to go all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. And a Monroe-based district would expand to Plaquemines Parish.

“At that point, it’s no longer a Monroe or Shreveport seat,” Gallot said.

Louisiana has to have one majority-black district, and it will be based in the New Orleans area. Some legislators believe they should redraw the election lines of that congressional district first and work out from there.

Reapportionment is a complicated process, and explaining it isn’t easy. Anyone who has ever tried to piece together one of those jigsaw puzzles containing hundreds of tiny pieces has a good idea of how complicated it can be.

Other plans will surface before legislators take on the job of redrawing election lines at a special session beginning March 20.

Each group’s plan will have its own pluses and minuses and its supporters and opponents. Legislators supporting the coastal plan, for example, are already bragging about major influence they can count on from Senate President Joel Chaisson, DDestrehan.

Two of our own

Reps. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, and Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, will be on the front lines protecting the interests of Calcasieu and other parishes in this corner of the state. They are members of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that gets first crack at drawing up reapportionment plans.

Southwest Louisiana has no members on the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee headed by Kostelka. It will start the redistricting effort in the upper chamber. That puts this area at a disadvantage.

If common sense can overcome political manipulation, the final congressional reapportionment plan will keep citizens with similar interests together. And at this point, the plan advocated by the Family Forum comes closer to doing that for this corner of the state than any other currently on the drawing boards.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press (where this piece originally appeared), has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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