Ups And Downs At The Redistricting Session

The redrawing of election lines that is taking place at the Legislature has brought out the best and the worst of the human condition. We have seen examples of the good, the bad and the ugly over the past two weeks.

Republicans hold a majority of seats in both the House and Senate, so they pretty much rule the roost. And it doesn’t hurt to have GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal on their side. He’s that proverbial “700-pound gorilla” in the room.

Democrats have won some battles, but their victories haven’t come easily. However, they saw an unselfish Republican come to their aid, and it represents probably the best we’ve seen so far.

Three major reapportionment plans are under consideration because of population shifts in the state over the last decade. They involve the redrawing of congressional and state House and Senate election district lines.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Public Service Commission lines are also being redrawn, but no major controversies are expected in those two areas.

Two plans OK’d

Both the House and Senate completed realigning their own election districts this week. Those plans go to the opposite chamber for concurrence in the changes. If tradition is followed, the two plans will pretty much stay intact. Neither chamber wants the other monkeying around with its plans.

Rep. Rick Nowlin, R-Natchitoches, was the hero of the hour in the House. His seat was protected under the original House plan, but it affected eight districts surrounding his area. Some are held by Democrats.

After much give-and-take during the week, Nowlin stepped forward with a compromise. He volunteered to run in a newly created minority district.

“The end result is it helps all the districts,” Nowlin told the House. And he added that he would go back home and tell all of his friends, black and white, that “we’re together.”

Rep. Chris Roy, D-Alexandria, one of those affected, called Nowlin a “true statesman” for offering the compromise.

Two Southwest Louisiana legislators benefiting from the compromise are Reps. James Armes, D-Leesville, and Frank Howard, RMany.

Everyone isn’t happy with the way the House and Senate plans were drawn, but they didn’t have the necessary votes to call the shots.

The Legislative Black Caucus has threatened to file suit over the House’s decision to eliminate a 30th minority district in Shreveport created by a House committee. Whether that decision will affect the way the U.S. Justice Department views the plan remains to be seen.

Republicans wanted the district wiped out because it put two GOP House members in the same election district.

Jindal said early on it would pretty much be “hands-off” for him during this entire reapportionment process. However, as he has done in the past, the governor changed his mind.

Spokesmen for Jindal made it clear they wanted that new Shreveport minority district wiped out to protect those two Republican House members. And they succeeded.

New Orleans and Jefferson Parish legislators had their usual disagreements.

Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, wanted to save Jefferson Parish districts. Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, spoke for the opposition.

“This is wrong,” Abramson said. “This is just slicing and dicing New Orleans up. This is about one parish trying to carve up and slice up one parish at the expense of another parish. This is ramming it down someone else’s throat.”

Ligi lost the vote, but he insists the fight isn’t over.

Black legislators were also unhappy with the Senate’s final election plan. They complained majority districts weren’t compact enough.

Defenders of both legislative plans argued that the House increased minority districts from 27 to 29 and senators boosted theirs from 10 to 11. Even so, black lawmakers voted against both plans.

The next big fight comes over the redrawing of the state’s congressional districts. The loss of one of the current seven seats complicates that effort.

A Senate committee approved one of four bills there and it goes to the floor for debate. Unfortunately, it has two major drawbacks.

Jeff Davis and part of Acadia Parish are being torn from their Southwest Louisiana roots and aligned with a congressional district based in Shreveport. Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes are also split up, and that goes against the sentiment in Southeast Louisiana.

GOP carries day

Nevertheless, four Republicans had the votes to get the bill out of committee.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said he likes the legislation because an amendment of his keeps the eight parishes surrounding his city intertwined economically and culturally.

OK, but what about Jeff Davis and Acadia and Terrebonne and Lafourche? They also like the idea of being intertwined with parishes in their part of the state.

Republican legislators in north Louisiana are also determined to keep two congressional districts up there even though the population numbers don’t support their case. With Jindal’s support, they are reaching out in every direction to save their own skins.

The messages here are clear: “We’ve got ours. You’re on your own.”

Thank goodness for Nowlin’s statesmanship. It shines brightly among the selfishness of others in this sometimes disgusting reapportionment process.

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

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