Party Fears Steering Redistricting Process

Republican paranoia appears to have a firm grip on Gov. Bobby Jindal and GOP legislators at the state Capitol. They believe Democrats are hiding behind every tree, waiting to take over the state’s soon-to-be six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The situation got so bad last week that the obsession over Democrats spread to the nation’s Capitol. Louisiana congressmen began turning on one another. Things deteriorated even more by Saturday, and five of the state’s seven congressmen asked lawmakers to put off redrawing their election lines for another year. Jindal agrees.

Democrats are always scheming, of course. That is what party politicians do. They would love to increase their state presence in Washington, D.C. However, the possibility that could happen in the near future seems to be remote.

Ask a Republican about those odds, and they will quickly disagree. But the reality says otherwise.

State legislators have been switching to the Republican Party in numbers never seen before. There will soon be 55 Republicans, 47 Democrats and 3 independents in the House. The Senate has 22 Republicans and 17 Democrats.

Nothing like that has happened in Louisiana since the Reconstruction days following the Civil War.

Louisiana Republicans also enjoy a 6-1 edge in the U.S. House of Representatives. If federal law didn’t require at least one minority seat, it could be a 7-0 GOP advantage.

What’s the problem?

A dilemma has surfaced because the 2010 census has forced the state to eliminate one of those seven seats. And that has created an unbelievable game of political survival among the sitting congressmen and their allies in the Legislature.

Gov. Jindal believes the best way to ensure Republicans will keep a firm grip on Congress is to create two vertical congressional districts in north Louisiana. That would protect the seats of U.S. Reps. John Fleming, RMinden, and Rodney Alexander, RQuitman.

In order to do that, northern districts have to search deep into the southern part of the state for more population. One congressional plan, by Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, is Jindal’s favorite. It reached into Calcasieu Parish at one point to put some of its citizens in the 4th District, anchored by Fleming in Shreveport.

That plan was shot down last week, but it could resurface.

The same thing is happening in the southeast. Alexander’s district has to reach into Acadiana to get the population he needs for his 5th District, anchored in Monroe.

One way to get around that power grab is to create one district along Interstate 20 in north Louisiana. And that scares the dickens out of Republicans.

Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, had a plan to do that. It created District 4 with a voting population that would have been 57.2 percent white and 39.5 percent black.

Jackson’s plan was amended, and District 4 became 60.9 percent white and 35.8 percent black. A House committee killed that bill 10-9.

Riser’s original bill had Fleming’s district with a voting population that was 65.8 percent white and 30.7 percent black. He is scheduled to come back with another version Monday that is supposed to keep Calcasieu Parish together in a coastal congressional district.

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, RLafayette, thinks that is the way a new 3rd Congressional District should be created. Since he doesn’t have it yet, Boustany in the interim backed Jackson’s amended bill that had all of Southwest Louisiana in the coastal district.

Rep. Fleming hit the ceiling over that one. He told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that Boustany’s support of the Jackson bill was “an act of double-dealing and betrayal.”

Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, also got into the act.

“Nancy Pelosi must love what she’s witnessing in the Louisiana State Senate,” Villere said. “Liberals in Baton Rouge are scheming for a complete overhaul of our congressional districts that will make it more likely that Louisiana will send a liberal to Washington that will vote to make Pelosi the next Speaker of the House.”

When Republicans start tossing around the name of Pelosi, the former speaker they love to hate, you know the paranoia is at fever pitch.

What has this state come to when congressmen, legislators and party officials vilify a member of Congress like Boustany, who is giving the best interests of the citizens he represents the highest priority?

Put people first

Boustany remained a statesman throughout the fray.

“The Louisiana Legislature must hear the voices of the people of Lafayette, Calcasieu, Acadia, Jeff Davis, Vermilion and Cameron and maintain the integrity of the Calcasieu-Lafayette Corridor,” Boustany told The Times-Picayune.

“At every hearing, the people have asked that the Southwest coastal region remain intact. This is about the rice farmers in Acadia, the sugarcane growers of Iberia and the ports and energy producers along the coast. Economically and culturally, there is no question the ties in this region are strong.”

Boustany has been the overwhelming choice of the voters of Southwest Louisiana at four elections. He won a runoff in 2004 with 55 percent of the vote. He won in the primaries in 2006 and 2008 with 71 percent and 62 percent of the votes, respectively. He was unopposed in 2010.

Now that Boustany is in a position of power in Congress, the citizens he represents want to keep him there. And the people’s interests should always come before those of political parties.

Unfortunately, the political party bickering and stalemates that exist in Washington, D.C., — which no one wanted to see in Louisiana — may already be here.

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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