The congressional redistricting tug-of-war has begun. Louisiana’s seven U.S. representatives, the chairmen of the two legislative committees that will begin the process of redrawing election lines and everyone else with a stake in the outcome is offering advice.
The Tea Party of Louisiana joined the parade this week with its usual swagger, threatening anyone who doesn’t agree with its decision.
“While some in our congressional delegation are fighting for selfpreservation and personal interests, the Tea Party of Louisiana has decided to remind the delegation that it is WE THE PEOPLE in charge and that we demand to be represented according to our values, culture and economy,” said a party spokesman.
“… Our members are closely watching how our elected officials vote on this issue, and there will be consequences if they do not follow our position.”
Unfortunately, there are some in the tea party who give no quarter. It’s their way or the highway, and they don’t mind playing the part of the bully in the room.
A local tea party group loves to parade around with its big trailer painted with all sorts of threats to those who don’t agree with its stands on issues. And a tiny segment of the party is downright rude at public meetings.
None of that is a good way to win friends and influence people. It does real harm to those in the tea party movement who are serious about wanting to see change at all levels of government.
What’s the real goal?
What the Tea Party of Louisiana wants is a coastal congressional district stretching all the way from Cameron to Plaquemines Parish. And what its spokesmen don’t say is that would go a long way towards helping the party reelect its favorite son, U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia.
Louisiana is losing one of its seven congressional districts. Six of the state’s House members have come up with a preliminary plan that redraws the remaining six districts.
The congressional plan has two coastal districts and keeps Lake Charles and Lafayette in one of those. U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, benefits under that plan, but Landry doesn’t.
The big question under any plan is who ends up running against whom in 2012, because one congressman has to go.
Phillip Joffrion, Landry’s chief of staff, told The Independent Weekly, “At no point in time did this delegation ever vote or come to a consensus on a set of principles or a redistricting map.”
Joffrion told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, “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.”
In this game of political survival that is played every 10 years, Landry’s views are understandable. Like Boustany and all the rest, he wants to return to Washington.
The six congressmen who put their plan together do have an important ally. He is state Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, who happens to chair the Senate committee that will get first crack at the redistricting plans for Congress and other political bodies.
“From the beginning I was interested in keeping two northern Louisiana districts, especially in northeastern Louisiana,” Kostelka told The News-Star of Monroe. “I feel very comfortable with the basic principles of recommendations, but there will obviously be some adjustments once we analyze the numbers.”
State Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, is the other kingpin in this redrawing of election lines. He chairs the House committee that will construct reapportionment plans to be sent to the full House.
Gallot makes it clear who is in charge.
“I appreciate that they’re (congressmen) engaged, but it’s our job to draw the districts, not theirs. No decision has been made by this chairman. I’ll reserve my opinion on the merits of their recommendations until I see all the data.”
The congressional plan does serve this area well. However, a better plan for all concerned would be to create one district for all of north Louisiana. It would include both Shreveport and Monroe.
Kostelka doesn’t like that idea, but it is the only logical solution based on population trends. And Shreveport and Monroe have a lot more in common than Lake Charles has with either of those two cities or Alexandria.
Cities are linked
Boustany makes convincing arguments for keeping Lake Charles and Lafayette together. Although both have been long-time competitors, they realize that working together they can be a more potent force for Southwest Louisiana and Acadiana.
Lake Charles has only elected two congressmen since the 7th District was created in 1903. It doesn’t have the population numbers equal to those in the Acadiana region, but Boustany has represented the western end of his district better than most who preceded him.
An argument can also be made that Boustany is good for all of Louisiana. He has built up seniority and has political stroke with the new House leadership. Better still, he has a great grasp of the vital issues facing this country.
When some in the tea party talk about “WE THE PEOPLE” with their big, bold capital letters, they forget one important fact. The rest of us are part of those same “we the people.” We can make up our own minds, and we aren’t intimidated by their threats of retribution.
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] com.