Yesterday, the Louisiana House of Representatives had a full day of debate on a plan to remap its 105 districts according to a plan passed out of chairman Rick Gallot’s House Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday.
And it was a bad day for the state’s Democrats.
Gallot’s plan, which creates 30 minority districts and throws several Republican incumbents together – perhaps most notably Alan Seabaugh and Rich Burford in the Shreveport area – passed out of committee on a 10-9 vote, with a pair of Republicans (George Cromer and Brett Geymann) providing the deciding votes.
But there were complaints about the plan, as one might imagine.
The 30th minority district was slated for the Shreveport area, a problematic choice given that the area – which is 52 percent white and 48 percent black – already is represented by three white House members and three African-Americans. A 30th black district would shift that balance to 4-2, and move the Democrat-to-Republican mix in the same direction.
Seabaugh offered an amendment to kill the new black district, and found a surprising ally in Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport. Norton was incensed about the new plan, she said, because her resulting district would go from 88 percent black down to 69 percent black in the process, and she spoke passionately against it.
“This cuts it and guts it,” Norton said of the committee-approved changes to her district. “I don’t have trouble with a minority district (being created) but I don’t want you to cut me and gut me to get it.”
Norton’s objections provided an opening, and the House leadership had invited a couple of representatives from the Jindal administration – specifically chief of staff Timmy Teepell and Executive Counsel Stephen Waguespack – to a meeting with Republican members to discuss the House plan. Teepell later told the Times-Picayune what he told the Republicans in the meeting, which essentially was that Gallot’s plan stinks…
“I am concerned about the whole makeup of the House,” Teepell said. “By getting involved, if we can improve legislation, we will get involved.” Teepell said that he was not only concerned about the possible loss — or no gains — in Republican seats, the administration was concerned about the loss of Norton’s seat in the Shreveport area.
He agreed with Norton that the creation of the 30th district could lessen her chances of re-election and possibly other minority incumbents in the Shreveport area.
That was all the Republican caucus needed. After a little more debate, Seabaugh’s amendment passed on a 57-46 vote that largely followed party lines – and the 30th black district went by the boards.
That brought the Democrats out of the woodwork. Two main complaints were offered; first, that Jindal said he wasn’t going to be involved in redistricting and now he’s involved, and second, that the process is now partisan.
Boil both of them down to whining that they’re not in control anymore, and you’ve captured the essence of it.
The chairman of the Legislative Democratic Caucus accused the Jindal administration Monday of injecting Republican politics into the House redistricting plan after preaching to lawmakers a week ago that the process should be non-partisan.
Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said that Jindal Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell and Executive Counsel Stephen Waguespack met with members of the Republican Legislative Delegation 30 minutes before the start of Monday’s session to vote on a House plan.
“He didn’t ask to see the the Democratic Caucus that was meeting across the hall at the same time,” Edwards said. “It flies in the face … of being non-partisan.”
Edwards’ whining gets even worse…
Edwards said Jindal’s involvement flies in the face of what the governor promised in a speech that opened the redistricting session.
“That’s par for the course though with this governor. His public and private statements are rarely in harmony,” said Edwards.
Legislative Black Caucus chairman state Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said there was consensus among black legislators on creating as many minority districts as possible.
She said the Jindal administration should have approached black and Democratic legislators if there was concern about the minority district proposal.
“That’s an unbelievable statement for them to make as to why they were even there,” Smith said.
This stuff is entertaining. First of all, Smith certainly has a lot of nerve to suggest that because there was a “consensus” among black legislators in favor of creating as many minority districts as possible that somehow it was a fait accompli they’d get everything they were looking for. Why is it OK for black legislators to agitate for as many black districts as they can get (and it is perfectly OK for them to do that, by the way) but not OK for Republican legislators to agitate for as many Republican districts as they can get? It turns out that the Republicans have a majority in the House, and the majority rules.
As for the admonition that the Governor should have gone to the Legislative Black Caucus with complaints that a 30th minority district was problematic, Smith doesn’t offer any reason why that would have been worth Jindal’s time. It turns out there were a lot more votes to beat the district and the resulting 4-2 Democrat majority in Shreveport by approaching Republicans than black Democrats, who in all likelihood would have told Jindal to get stuffed in the first place.
As for Edwards, he’s not just complaining that Jindal is meeting with the Republican majority and not the Democrat minority. His gripe is that Jindal is involved at all. Gallot echoed that complaint, saying “This (meeting) gives the appearance the governor is involved.”
And that’s laughable as well.
None of these plans become law without Jindal signing off on them. The idea that Jindal won’t have any involvement isn’t possible legally. Jindal might have advertised his non-involvement, but it would have been far more surprising and disappointing had the governor stood by and allowed the Democrat minority a free reign to cook the district map in their favor while there was time in the legislative process to fix it. Doing so would have put Jindal in a position of blindly signing off on a remap that infuriates the people who elected him in the midst of an election year – or vetoing it and sending the whole controversy back to the drawing board.
That was the message Teepell and Waguespack gave to the Republicans – essentially, you control this House, so control it. It may be a bit disappointing the message was needed, but it’s hardly surprising that somebody came along and delivered it.
From their statements Edwards, Gallot and Smith expected to control the House remap. They expected wrong. They’re finding out that elections have consequences – and they don’t have the numbers anymore.
And we’re finding out that just like in Washington, the Democrats’ definition of “bipartisanship” is when Republicans agree with Democrats. “Partisanship” is when Republicans have a majority and expect it to matter.