The Legislature continues the process of wiping out Southwest Louisiana’s 7th Congressional District this week. When the plans are finally completed, the 110-year-old district with a proud history will probably be gone forever.
The state lost the 8th Congressional District after the 1990 census.
Is this going to become a trend for this state?
State Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, asked a question during the current special session that offers a lot of food for thought.
Marionneaux said Louisiana didn’t lose population. He said he understood the state wouldn’t have lost a congressional seat this time around if illegal immigrants hadn’t been counted in the 2010 census.
States like Texas, Florida and California have many illegal immigrants and they are the beneficiaries, he said, because they will be gaining seats.
Then, Marionneaux posed a question for Louisiana’s sitting U.S. House members who attended a Senate committee hearing to protect their own seats. He wanted to know if they could start working on a census procedure that doesn’t count illegals.
The congressmen didn’t have much to offer about whether illegal immigrants should be counted. They simply said the census counts everyone living in this country regardless of their status.
Constitutional issues are involved, of course. U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, and others were unsuccessful in getting illegal immigrants excluded from the count.
End is near
So it’s time to start saying goodbye to the 7th District and wonder whether the 6th District will be the next to fall.
Gov. Bobby Jindal and north Louisiana legislators are fighting to keep two congressional districts in the northern part of the state, even though the population numbers don’t justify the effort.
When the 8th District disappeared, no one was protected then. Sitting congressmen faced one another in two districts because of the way a second minority district was created. That minority district was later declared unconstitutional, but the election was over by the time the ruling was handed down.
A counterstruggle is also under way to keep as much of the former 7th Congressional District together as possible. Advocates for that cause have good reason to keep the area united because it has so much in common.
Lake Charles attorney Arsene P. Pujo became the first congressman from the 7th District. He was elected in 1902, the same year the district was created.
Pujo served five terms and brought numerous federal offices and benefits to his district. He was best known for serving as chairman of a congressional committee investigating the concentration of this country’s wealth in the hands of a few Americans.
The probe was known as the Pujo Money Trust Investigation and it led to reforms in the federal banking system.
Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards and former U.S. Sen. John Breaux also served as congressmen from the 7th District.
Edwards served from 1965 until 1972 when he was elected to his first term as governor. Breaux succeeded Edwards and served until 1987 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Lake Charles had one other congressman. Vance Plauche served one term (1941-43). He didn’t run again so he could join the effort to end World War II.
Seven others who served the 7th District were from Washington in St. Landry Parish, Ville Platte, Opelousas, Crowley and Lafayette.
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, was first elected in 2004, and is serving his fourth term. It appears he will have to face U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, so that two north Louisiana congressmen won’t have to compete against each other.
If that sounds unfair in light of the population numbers, that’s because it is. Those northern districts are reaching into the southern part of the state to get the population they need to keep their two congressmen.
The two are U.S. Reps. John Fleming, R-Shreveport, who represents the 4th District, and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, who represents the 5th District, based in Monroe.
This isn’t the first time northern districts have raided the southern part of the state. The 7th District earlier lost Allen and Beauregard parishes. Beauregard ended up in the 4th District and Allen was split between the 4th and 5th Districts.
Most of the congressional redistricting plans that have survived committees keep both parishes in a northern district. Unfortunately, the numbers are still short so Jeff Davis is now in their sights.
We are talking about three parishes here that have historical links to Imperial Calcasieu Parish, which was created from St. Landry Parish in 1840.
Cameron Parish was separated from Imperial Calcasieu in 1870. Allen, Beauregard and Jeff Davis were also part of Imperial Calcasieu. They became separate parishes in 1912, the last time any new parishes were created.
Efforts will be made again this week to keep Jeff Davis with parishes along the coast, but the odds don’t look good. Fighters for the cause made valid arguments in committee, but they were mostly ignored. Similar battles are being waged by legislators in the southeastern part of the state, but they, too, aren’t making much headway. Size it up anyway you want, but it appears the South (Louisiana, that is) is going to lose again. But coastal residents shouldn’t give up hope until the dastardly deed is done.
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].