Legislators Show Independence On Redistricting

The Legislature demonstrated it wouldn’t be bullied by Gov. Bobby Jindal and five Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation when it voted Wednesday for new election lines for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jindal and U.S. Reps. Rodney Alexander of Quitman, Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, John Fleming of Minden, Jeff Landry of New Iberia and Steve Scalise of Metairie asked lawmakers to put off congressional redistricting until 2012.

A letter from the five congressmen requesting the delay wasn’t signed by U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, RLafayette, and Cedric Richmond, DNew Orleans. Boustany represents this corner of the state.

The letter and Jindal’s agreement to seek a delay didn’t go over well in the House and Senate. Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, spoke for many legislators who resented the interference.

“We are not going to let five congressmen tell us what to do,” Chaisson said. “We are going to pass a congressional plan.”

And pass one they did.

Governor is next

The congressional redistricting plan heads to Jindal’s desk, and his office said late Wednesday he would sign the legislation. A spokesman said earlier in the session the governor supported the bill by Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, that was eventually approved.

The governor insisted throughout the process that he wanted to keep two congressional districts in north Louisiana, and the Ponti bill does that.

Calcasieu, Cameron and Jeff Davis parishes will be in a new 3rd Congressional District. Other parishes in the district will be Acadia, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Martin, St. Mary and Vermilion, along with a small part of St. Martin Parish.

Allen, Beauregard and Vernon parishes are in the 4th Congressional District.

Complicating the process during the special session that ended at 6 p.m. was the need to reduce the number of U.S. House members from seven to six.

Losing a congressman makes it almost impossible to get a new election map out of the Legislature. The problem is that there are so many interests involved, it is difficult to agree on a compromise.

Louisiana didn’t lose population over the last decade, but it didn’t grow fast enough to hold on to its seventh member of the U.S. House of Representatives. It is the second time in the last 20 years the state has lost a congressman.

The 2000 census required that each of the state’s seven congressional districts have a population of 638,425. Reducing that to six House members raises that required district population to 755,562.

Higher numbers have to come from somewhere, and that was the major stumbling block during the special session.

Voters don’t like Congress as an institution, but most love their own congressman. However, somebody has to go.

Let’s start with our corner of the state. Citizens of Southwest Louisiana wanted their district to stay as close as possible to what it has been for 110 years. They made that clear at a public hearing held in Lake Charles and it came close.

North Louisiana doesn’t have the population to justify having two congressional districts without reaching into the southern part of the state. However, it does have the governor on its side. Jindal said he would veto any legislation that didn’t make that possible.

Baton Rouge legislators wanted to keep their area parishes together in what has come to be called the Capital Corridor, but it now has three congressmen.

Voters in central Louisiana wanted to keep Rapides in one congressional district.

The rapidly growing areas north of Orleans and Jefferson parishes wanted to keep their parishes together.

Some lost out

Residents of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes made it abundantly clear at a public hearing they wanted to be linked in any congressional district. However, their parishes were split.

Black legislators and Democratic Party officials wanted to create a horizontal district in north Louisiana that would make it easier to elect another minority congressman. Most of them in the House and Senate voted against the Ponti plan because it doesn’t achieve that goal.

The Tea Party of Louisiana pushed a plan that put Calcasieu Parish in a congressional district based in Shreveport. Its goal was to even the odds for Rep. Landry, their candidate who is headed for a 2012 re-election contest against Rep. Boustany.

The Louisiana Republican Party got into the act when it called one congressional proposal the “Nancy Pelosi plan.” Officials were talking, of course, about the former U.S. Speaker of the House who is probably the most unpopular national figure in this state and elsewhere.

As you can see, satisfying all of those competing interests is virtually impossible. Some areas weren’t happy with the final product, but a compromise made it possible to come up with a new congressional redistricting plan.

Southwest Louisiana fared well, thanks to hard work by members of the Lake Area legislative delegation. They insisted all along that the people they represent are their highest priority, and they delivered for the folks back home.

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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