SADOW: Edwards Map Hedge Seeks To Avoid Wasted Power

Of course Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards won’t commit to vetoing any Louisiana congressional redistricting plan that doesn’t have two majority-minority districts: such a move loses, both politically and practically.

While some Louisianan legislators and special interests have stumped for doubling the number of such House of Representatives districts in the state – meaning, making two out of six – because its black population almost has reached a third of the population, Edwards publicly refuses to join in definitively. As governor, he has a chance to influence the process because he has veto power over the law implementing any reapportionment. Further, while the Louisiana Senate has a supermajority of Republicans that could override a veto, the House of Representatives comes up two seats short.

However, in practical terms any arrangement that squeezes out two of these would face tremendous constitutional problems, as this would violate Supreme Court jurisprudence that does not allow for drawing boundaries making racial composition the primary consideration while ignoring other desirable criteria. If somehow Edwards could strongarm into life such a plan, it would be challenged legally, elections in 2022 would continue under the current map, and eventually the federal judiciary extremely likely would declare it unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the 2023 election almost certainly will put a Republican in the Governor’s Mansion and renew healthy GOP legislative majorities, so regardless of the legal battle’s outcome, a 2024 map it would produce won’t have that kind of district in duplicate, even if the Supreme Court upended decades of precedents to let a plan with that stand. In other words, the odds are infinitesimally small that a map with two majority-minority districts would survive even one election cycle.

As well, politically speaking Edwards knows the odds of such a map ever getting to him hardly are better. Any competent Republican leadership in the House will twist the arms of enough of the handful of white Democrats and no party members, most of whom running for reelection will face significant challenges in districts drawn as they are, into supporting a single-seat M/M plan in exchange for favorable redraws of their districts. Alternatively, or perhaps concurrently, the same can be done with black House Democrats to increase the number and/or safety of M/M districts in the House to goad them into support of that kind of map.

And if all of this still leads to a standoff with an Edwards veto that gets sustained, it falls into the lap of the Louisiana Supreme Court – with which its heavy Republican majority and eye towards constitutionality likely would produce boundaries with just the one M/M district. Thus, if Edwards somehow could send the issue in this direction, he still burns political capital in trying to have his veto upheld for nothing.

Edwards may be a liberal dogmatist and party hack but he’s not a political idiot. He’s well aware the political payoff resulting in two majority-minority districts is so remote that any expense of political capital on his part almost certainly will turn into a waste. He’ll need all that he has to play defense over the last two years of his term. Thus, he says he prefers a two M/M map but hedges and qualifies about a commitment to that. This tries to placate his leftist allies while avoids writing checks with his mouth that he can’t cash with his exercise of political power.

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