Legislature Passes Congressional Redistricting Bill, GOP Star Is Born (REVISED)

Editor’s Note: Thanks to the strange way HB6 was posted on the legislature’s website, and the fact that posting didn’t keep up with the three amendments to the bill which were made on its way to its final passage today, some of the conclusions in the original version of this article based on the maps and statistics we operated from (which turned out to have been outdated) were wrong.

This version is based on the final maps and statistics.

Based on the way the redistricting process has gone, it’s a surprise of no small note that a congressional remap was passed at all.

It’s an even bigger surprise that both houses were able to pass a bill that Gov. Jindal is likely to sign and that the state’s congressional delegation is happy with. But it appears that’s exactly what happened.

The final congressional remap bill, HB6 originally written by Rep. Erick Ponti (R-Baton Rouge), had been chopped to pieces in the Senate and Governmental Affairs committee Tuesday. But at the last minute, when it was clear the map which cleared the committee and made it to the Senate floor wouldn’t pass in the House or survive a trip to the governor’s desk, the process was saved and a map amenable to both houses and Jindal appeared.

The final map, which came into being thanks to an amendment on the floor by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and another small amendment by Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Kenner), passed with 25 votes in the Senate and 63 in the House. It achieved bipartisan support in both houses – there were six Senate Democrats (Gautreaux, Guillory, McPherson, Mount, Nevers and Thompson) who voted for it and 18 (Abramson, Anders, Armes, Arnold, Bobby Badon, Billiot, Danahay, Doerge, Fannin, Franklin, Hill, Johnson, Sam Jones, Montoucet, Ritchie, Roy, St. Germain and Thibaut) House Democrats in favor.

Two Senate Republicans – Fred Mills and Norby Chabert – voted against the bill. In the House, five Republicans (Simone Champagne, Patrick Connick, Gordon Dove, Joe Harrison and Ricky Templet) voted against it.

“We are not happy, but this is the best we can do at the end of the day,” Ponti told the House after Riser’s and Martiny’s amendments finalized the bill in the Senate.

Chabert’s objection, stated on the Senate floor, was that Houma and Thibodaux are split between the 1st District and the 3rd. “I’m beginning to know what the Christians felt like in the Coliseum, surrounded by lions,” he said.

Martiny’s amendment changed a point of contention in Riser’s version – namely, that part of Kenner was in the 6th District represented by Bill Cassidy, and it moved those 25,000 people back into Steve Scalise’s 1st District. After a bit of compensation among those two and a few other districts in the southern part of the state, the bulk of Riser’s amendments to Ponti’s bill ultimately achieved passage.

Jindal said he’d sign the bill. “I will sign the congressional redistricting bill when it gets to my desk,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “We have said all along that we wanted legislators to work together across party lines and across chambers to come to a consensus plan. No one thinks this plan is perfect, but it is a good compromise. We will sign it and send it to the Justice Department. We are glad the legislature got House, Senate, Congressional, and PSC redistricting plans done that represent the interests of the entire state.”

It appears there are a few key winners with the final map…

1. Neil Riser. Without Riser pumping out maps, it looked like the congressional remap process wouldn’t have a Republican champion following Senate and Governmental Affairs chairman Bob Kostelka, a Republican, losing control of his committee. Kostelka’s original congressional plan couldn’t even get out of the committee despite being largely agreed upon by the state’s delegation, and things went straight downhill when he got in a few untidy arguments with black senators – punctuated when he addressed Karen Carter Peterson as “little lady.” From that point on, the word goes, Senate President Joel Chaisson had Kostelka on a short leash, threatening to remove him from his chairmanship. And from that point on the maps being discussed in S&GA and on the Senate floor were Democrat-produced maps – almost all of which sprung from the cartographic prowess of Shreveport’s Lydia Jackson.

Riser was the exception. He had a map which got 19 votes two weeks ago, failing because Southwest Louisiana Republicans Jonathan Perry and Blade Morrish voted against it. And he had another compromise ready to go on Friday which was a mashup of his bill and one of Jackson’s, but Chaisson adjourned the Senate rather than allow a vote on it.

But today’s amendment, which salvaged Ponti’s HB6 after S&GA had Jacksonized it, vindicated Riser. He endured a hellacious last two weeks and yet managed to deliver a map that looked a good bit like the one Kostelka originally drew up and the congressional delegation had agreed on. It’s not perfect by any means, but after the disaster of this session the fact that it’s passable is a significant achievement. And Riser has emerged from the carnage as the one Republican in the Senate whose stature actually increased as a result of the remap. In a state senate remarkably lacking in strong Republicans, that makes Riser a – pardon the pun – rising star.

Along with Riser, Ponti and Martiny deserve credit – Ponti for riding the bill through to passage in the House not once but twice, and Martiny for providing the final change to push it over the finish line in the Senate.

2. U.S. Rep. John Fleming. Fleming didn’t particularly gain anything in the final remap that he didn’t have when the process started. But considering that the Democrats in the Senate were attempting to serve him for breakfast by stuffing his district full of black voters – in an attempt, many speculated, to pave the way for a Jackson congressional candidacy, there is no doubt the Minden Republican is breathing a sigh of relief. The final demographic tally on District 4 has it at 34.9 percent African-American by population and 32.6 percent by voter registration, almost a 10 percent swing from what Jackson was attempting to push through.

3. U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry. Landry was always going to lose his district and be thrown into a cage match with U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany last year, so to call him a winner in the current circumstances is to do so on a relative basis. That said, the New Iberia Republican ended up smelling as sweet as (or even sweeter than) he could have hoped. That’s because after offering an opening gambit of a coastal Louisiana district which was popular in the coastal parishes (including some that will be in the newly-constituted District 3) but nowhere else, he did something really smart – he shut up.

Landry therefore didn’t get any blood on him from the redistricting battles, and in fact probably garnered a lot of sympathy as the guy whose district evaporated. And while he didn’t get any of Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes into the 3rd District – previous versions of the congressional remap gave him 44,000 people in Lafourche, including Thibodaux and 18,000 in Terrebonne – he did get all of St. Martin Parish (52,000) and St. Mary Parish (55,000) into the district. St. Martin and St. Mary were rock-solid Landry strongholds last year; he pulled 72 percent in St. Martin and 65 percent in St. Mary against Ravi Sangisetty in November after waxing Hunt Downer with 83 percent and 76 percent, respectively. The district might still favor Boustany numbers-wise, but on the other hand the latter’s behavior and the perception of it throughout the redistricting ordeal, as described below, should play a factor in the analysis.

4. U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy. Cassidy’s happy redistricting story didn’t come about with final passage today, as the fact he was going to have a good remap was clinched the minute it was announced Louisiana was shrinking from seven districts to six. The most pronounced effect of that downsizing was that a majority-minority district based in New Orleans would have to eat into Baton Rouge’s black community. And because that happened, Cassidy was always going to go from the Republican with the largest percentage of black voters in his district in the country – around 35 percent – to the second-least in the state behind Scalise.

Cassidy’s district changed as Ponti’s bill changed, though. Initially he was going to represent Washington Parish and northern Tangipahoa Parish, including Hammond, but that went by the boards (Hammond is now in Scalise’s district, while Washington and the northern part of Tangipahoa will now be represented by Rodney Alexander). Instead of going east, he’s going further south now, with 42,000 people in Terrebonne and 50,000 in Lafourche in his district. That’s actually favorable for Cassidy, though, as he’s built a very solid record on oil and gas in his time in Congress and he has a valuable spot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee which ought to ingratiate him with the huge percentage of the oil patch folks down there.

The main losers?

1. Joel Chaisson. The Senate President spent the last two weeks doing everything he could to resurrect Democrat chances of picking up a seat in next year’s elections, and failed miserably. What passed was unquestionably a Republican plan, and that’s what was always going to pass given that a decisive Republican majority exists in the House and the governor is a Republican.

In engaging in pointless partisan wrangling on the bill, Chaisson did two things to damage himself. First, the arm-twisting he did on a number of Republicans in the Senate put them at odds with their party and the governor, an uncomfortable position which they will be scurrying to remedy in the upcoming regular session as an election cycle sits just a few months away. Those Republicans are likely to buck Chaisson as the regular session nears, particularly given the second effect of what he has done – namely, to emerge in the public eye as the troublemaking Democrat in the state legislature who attempted to flout the will of the voters. Given that he plans on running for Attorney General in the fall, both problems he’s created will likely haunt him. It’s predictable that those Republican senators will be doing what they can to distance themselves from Chaisson in the next session, and he’ll be Bad Democrat #1 (or maybe #2) in the fall elections.

2. Lydia Jackson. The attention Jackson earned for herself over the last two weeks wasn’t particularly good for her. Anyone who watched the S&GA committee hearings had to be scratching his or her head at the idea someone who sounded as though she was on quaaludes and who admitted her ignorance of the geography of the state’s largest metropolitan area could possibly be the primary architect of the Democrats’ congressional maps. But that was Jackson, hammering away at bill after amendment to ratchet up the black voting strength of the Shreveport-based 4th District to the 42-43 percent range despite the lack of any reasonable possibility such maps could ever pass the House or be signed by Jindal.

And at every turn, Jackson accused the congressional delegation of racism for opposing her maps. It is no more racism for Republicans to ask for more conservative – meaning white, if you like – districts than it is for a black Democrat to agitate for increased black voting strength. And given that the 2nd District represented by Cedric Richmond is already an ugly duckling containing only one complete parish (St. James) out of the 10 it comprises as it snakes its way from New Orleans East to North Baton Rouge, the idea that another district should be drawn expressly to favor Democrats in a state which refuses to elect them is difficult to defend.

3. U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany. Boustany ended up with a district that largely looks like he could have expected it to. In that respect, he didn’t lose much on a geographical basis. Boustany might have preferred to have as few people east of Lafayette as possible, and he’s getting a little over 100,000 in St. Martin and St. Mary. But he managed to avoid having to take in Lafourche and Terrebonne, and that was his main concern. So he really doesn’t have much to complain about. And further, Boustany managed to ingratiate himself with many of the folks in Acadia and Jefferson Davis Parishes, some of whom were initially going to be split off into Fleming’s 4th District before he made a stink about it (though it must be said Boustany was fine with shedding some of Acadia and Jeff Davis in the initial deal and got himself sideways with a few people with that initial acquiescence).

But Boustany took such a hard line and was perceived as doing so much lobbying in favor of Jackson’s bills which kept all of Terrebonne and Lafourche out of his district that he ends up a loser anyway even with the favorable final map. Essentially, he got what he was always going to get and in the process he alienated Fleming, Bill Cassidy, Scalise and Rodney Alexander – all of whom plus Landry wrote a letter to Jindal expressing a preference for waiting until next year to draw the districts rather than pass the map Boustany had lobbied for. Not to mention it got out that Boustany had told a room full of Senate Republicans “F*$k the Republican Party,” which is a disaster for a Republican Congressman facing another Republican Congressman in an election last year.

The thing to remember in all this is while Landry managed to shock Downer last year by showing surprising strength in Houma and Thibodaux when it was thought those areas were solidly Downer’s (Landry ended up getting 39 percent in Terrebonne and 59 percent in Lafourche in the GOP runoff), his base was always to the western side of the old 3rd District. Landry beat Downer with 83 percent in St. Martin, 76 percent in St. Mary and 79 percent in Iberia Parish; he’s bringing all three into the new district, and that’s 180,000 people. Since Boustany endorsed Downer, it’s not absolutely off the wall to use him as a proxy – and if Landry racks up similar vote totals against Boustany next year as he gained against Downer last year, that strength will make for an unnerving situation for the congressman from Lafayette.

And the other thing to remember is that if Landry could go into Lafourche and Thibodaux and neutralize Downer last year, there’s no reason why he can’t go into Lafayette, Lake Charles, Abbeville, Rayne and Crowley and do the same thing to Boustany. Particularly when “F the Republican Party” is part of the public’s conscience in a race that will likely be decided between two Republicans. If Boustany was the spicy Cajun man-of-the-people guy rather than Landry, he might be able to leverage that line to pull Democrat support. But while Boustany has proven to be very, very good on oil, Obamacare and even the AARP of late, he’s known as the Republican insider with a good relationship with House Speaker John Boehner and connections to K Street. That will make him a tougher sell to the working-class Democrats in the district.

All of which makes the Boustany-Landry race an enormously interesting one to watch, whereas before it was considered a likely easy win for Boustany.

Neither a winner nor a loser in the final analysis is Jindal. He’ll be criticized for getting involved in the process late, which he did. The governor ultimately whipped the Senate vote in Riser’s favor and in so doing moved Blade Morrish, Jody Amedee, John Alario and Jonathan Perry, four Republicans who had been voting for Jackson’s maps, into Riser’s column. In the case of Morrish and Perry, whose districts were affected in part by the finagling of the borders between Fleming’s and Boustany’s districts, the switch of Jeff Davis and Acadia into Boustany’s district as a whole in Riser’s amendment was key and it removed most of the reason why Boustany’s opposition existed. The four-vote Republican swing in the Senate due at least in part to the governor’s involvement an indication of Jindal’s strength in the Senate, and as such it’s a victory of sorts.

It’s also clear, though whether it’s a positive or negative depends on your perspective, that the cozy relationship with Chaisson Jindal has had so far is gone as a result of the remap vote today. That might make things more difficult for Jindal in the regular session. But on the other hand, the Senate does have more Republicans in it than Democrats, so it’s possible Chaisson ends up with the worst of that confrontation.

But Jindal is likely to be castigated for getting involved in the final remap vote, particularly by the legacy media and the Democrats. That will come off as a negative, since he made the mistake of declaring he wouldn’t get involved. Jindal, of course, was always going to be involved – no remap bill could become law without him signing it, so to say he wouldn’t be involved was laughable in the first place. On the right, the governor is going to be criticized for letting so much blood fall to the floor in the Senate before he started making calls – particularly since the final map is more or less what he would have gotten had he jumped into the fray two weeks ago. And you’re going to see lots of reports about how state legislators are upset with the governor’s role in this process, regardless of whether they think it was too much or too little, Jindal isn’t likely to come off worse than the legislators themselves – both houses came out of the process looking like gaggles of fools.

All’s well that ends well, though, and for most of the state the final map looks acceptable. Certainly the folks in Houma and Thibodaux won’t be happy that the two cities are split, but as the process went along it looked like it would be incredibly difficult not to have that happen. The north-south nature of the two “vertical” districts, particularly the crazy dogleg into the Florida Parishes of Alexander’s district, will grate on many. But any horizontal drawing of North Louisiana districts had been so poisoned by the partisan Democrat plans offered by Jackson that an “I-20 district” was never going to be viable, regardless of how artfully drawn. And the integrity of the Capitol Region was largely compromised by splitting it between Cassidy and Richmond, but given that such a split was going to happen in every single map the legislature was considering as the session went on, at least the final map makes some demographic sense.

Most of all, though, the simple passage of a bill is a major achievement after a process so chaotic and such a shambles that a big chunk of the state’s dominant power structure thought it would be best to lay it on the table for a year. While that might have ultimately produced a satisfactory result, the effect of a failed congressional remap on a legislature that will have to resolve a $1.6 billion deficit later this month would have made for a very difficult ride ahead.



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