Congressional Redistricting Fight Getting A Little Snippy With Special Session A Month Away

Jeremy Alford at The Jefferson Report had a piece yesterday about the back-and-forth on redistricting, a brewing dust-up among the state’s seven Congressmen who will have to agree on carving Louisiana into six pieces in time for the 2012 elections thanks to the state losing a seat as a result of last year’s census.

The article contains a proposed map, shown at left, which is being circulated by state Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), the co-chairman of the committee in charge of drawing up the congressional districts in advance of the special session of the Louisiana legislature on this subject next month. Alford says Kostelka has emerged as a major player in driving the formation of the new districts, and his map looks like it will be substantially approved at the session next month.

But Kostelka’s map is not in sync with another plan being pushed by U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry and many others. Landry is in favor of a single coastal district which would stretch from Cameron Parish in the west to Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes in the east; with Kostelka’s map the coast is split between a Landry or Charles Boustany district and a Steve Scalise district, as shown.

Kostelka has an ally of sorts in U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-Quitman), whose Northeast Louisiana district will be dipping all the way down into Iberville and St. Martin Parishes according to the new map. Alexander, as the dean of the state’s congressional delegation (he’s in his sixth term), is assuming the traditional role of the coordinator of the redistricting process among his peers.

The coastal-district plan has lots of backers; in fact, yesterday POLITICO had a piece on the idea in which it was presented as, if not a fait accompli, a likely event.

The single-district blueprint has gained steam in recent weeks, with the St. Mary, Iberia and St. Martin parish councils — all situated on the dividing line between the two current districts — passing resolutions pledging their support for the plan. Several other parishes are expected to take up resolutions in the near future.

“Conventional wisdom is that this is going to happen,” said James Hartman, a GOP consultant in the state who recently worked on Sen. David Vitter’s successful reelection campaign. “It will be easier to justify having a single voice.”

The plan also carries the endorsement of Rep. Jeff Landry, a freshman Republican who won a seat encompassing the eastern Louisiana shoreline.

“There is a need for one voice,” Landry told POLITICO in an interview. “I think there is a tremendous amount of hunger on the coast for it.”

“I think that the leaders in Louisiana who are looking out for what is best in Louisiana would like to see this pass,” added Landry, who said supporters of the proposal “recognize that having several people legislate for the entire coast has not been entirely successful.”

But in the Times-Picayune today, a different tune was being sung – one more in line with Alford’s Jefferson Report article. The Picayune’s Bill Barrow quotes Alexander’s press contact Jamie Hanks to the effect that Landry is at odds with the rest of the state’s congressional delegation and the single coastal district idea is about to be junked…

Landry is pushing for a single coastal district that spans from St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes in extreme southeast Louisiana to Cameron Parish on the Texas border. That idea presumes that Lake Charles would be included in the 4th District, one of the vertical districts stretching into north Louisiana. The Alexander parameters would certainly necessitate giving some of the eastern portion of Landry’s existing district to Scalise. More importantly for Landry, it also probably would necessitate splitting Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes and the Houma-Thibodaux bloc that gave him strong support.

A preliminary proposal presented by state Sen. Robert Kostelka, R-Monroe, to the House members last month at a dinner in Washington, D.C., before census numbers were available, conforms to the Alexander outline and includes Lake Charles and Lafayette in a new coastal district while dividing the Houma-Thibodaux area.

Saying Landry’s aim is not self-preservation, Joffrion noted that Landry promised during his campaign to try to keep Terrebonne and Lafourche in a single district. “Congressman Landry is not agreeing to anything that was decided before he was sworn in and that does not reflect the wishes of the people he represents,” Joffrion said.

We talked to Joffrion this afternoon, and he reiterated that while Landry didn’t make a particular stink at the January meeting – at which the discussion centered around things which had already been discussed by the previous congressional delegation – now that the census numbers are out he’s sticking by his guns. Landry’s position, which Joffrion is fairly passionate in advocating in his own right, is that you simply can’t make the numbers work out by splitting the coast into two districts.

It’s not just the coast that causes problems, though. The population distribution of the state works very well for seven districts, in which Louisiana can be cut into relatively contiguous territory. For six districts, it just doesn’t. For instance, of Louisiana’s four million or so people 1.5 million live north of Interstate 10. But almost a third of that number is in Baton Rouge, and virtually everyone agrees Baton Rouge and its surrounding area should have a congressional district. Take Baton Rouge away, then, and you don’t have enough population to cover two North Louisiana districts without those districts coming far to the south – which we’re seeing with the current maps being discussed. Fleming’s district is in all likelihood going to come south from Shreveport all the way to a large part of Calcasieu Parish and the environs of Lake Charles, regardless of what is finally settled upon, and Alexander’s district is even goofier – the map he and Kostelka are touting has him in the strange position of representing both Bastrop and Breaux Bridge. While that means the Congressman might well end up “chooting” gators with Troy Landry in next year’s season of Swamp People in an effort to get recognized by his new constituents, it doesn’t exactly make for ideal congressional representation.

And because of this, and the natural instinct for self-preservation and political advantage, the redistricting battle won’t be going away any time soon before the legislature gets it dropped into their lap next month. Landry’s coastal-district plan and his fight to keep Lafourche and Terrebonne together has a lot of support from people and politicians alike in South Louisiana; while it may not have much support from others in the congressional delegation, it’s not clear the fiery freshman is beaten just yet.



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