The Congressional Redistricting Veto Override Is…Complicated

Following Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of the congressional map on Tuesday, we had a couple of posts here at the Hayride about how overriding that veto is in order. Mike Bayham had one, and Louis Gurvich had the other. It seems that Mike and Louis, who earlier this year had a pitched battle for the chairmanship of the Louisiana Republican Party, nonetheless agree on this topic.

But I’m not sure either are correct. Here’s why.

The thing to recognize is there were two bills containing congressional redistricting maps that Edwards vetoed. One was HB 1, authored by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, and the other was SB 5, authored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, the chair of the Senate Republican delegation.

Louisiana’s Republican congressional delegation was mostly in favor of Hewitt’s bill. But Schexnayder brought his own bill and passed it in the House with less than a veto-proof majority. Why bother doing that?

Without getting too far into the particulars, 6th District congressman Garret Graves wasn’t crazy about Hewitt’s bill. Schexnayder’s bill has a map Graves likes better, but Mike Johnson, who represents the 4th District, and particularly Clay Higgins, who represents the 3rd District, really didn’t like HB 1.

So Reps. Blake Miguez, Gabe Firment and Beryl Amedee voted against Schexnayder’s plan. And so far they’re not really interested in changing their votes.

“The last time I spoke to Congressman Higgins he wasn’t very happy with the process,” Miguez said. “I believe he was treated poorly.”

USA Today Network is seeking comment from Higgins.

Miguez is also unhappy that the 3rd District lost lower St. Martin Parish and part of Morgan City in the new map.

“I haven’t decided what I will do if there is a veto override vote,” he said.

Miguez was one of only three House Republicans to vote against the new congressional map —  Beryl Amedee of Houma and Gabe Firment of Pollock were the others.

“The real question is whether (Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales) can bring any Democrats to the override side,” Miguez said. “Last year the speaker was confident he could bring enough Democrats to override the transgender (sports ban) veto but it didn’t work out.”

Democratic Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi voted for the new map because it preserves the 5th Congressional District with northeastern Louisiana as the hub. Thompson said he will stick with that vote even if it means overriding his Democratic governor.

The final vote on HB 1 was 62-27, with 15 absences. Thompson was a yes, and so was Malinda White. She’s another Democrat, though she’s calling herself an independent these days. Two other independents, Joe Marino and Roy Daryl Adams, also voted for it, though Adams at the time was trying to save his own state House district from being cut to shreds and his vote didn’t do him any good on that front (meaning Adams can’t be counted on for an override vote). If all the 68 Republicans were good on HB 1, the House would override the veto.

And then there’s SB 5. The final vote in the House on that one was 64-31, with nine absences. The bill had been amended to make it look like HB 1, and because of that, Miguez, Firment and Amedee were no’s.

Those three have put themselves in a position to hold up the attempts to override the veto, and Miguez has more or less decided to jack Schexnayder up over the vote. After three years of conservatives getting treated like second-class citizens in the House, he’s fed up with the status quo and he isn’t alone. There are a goodly number of House conservatives who’ve had it with Schexnayder’s triangulation and his playing footsie with the Democrats who installed him in his current chair even if they didn’t take Miguez’ step of voting against the congressional maps.

There are two things to understand here before you get all huffy over the inside-the-rail shenanigans at the Legislature.

First, it does absolutely zero damage if the veto of the proposed congressional map sustains. The new map differs only a little from the current map, and the fighting over it vs. the original form of Hewitt’s map is really just about a few things here and there. None of this is a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

What that means is nobody on the conservative side should really be upset if this fight drags on for months or years. We like the current congressional map, and if there’s no new map agreed on by this fall, so be it – we’ll elect the exact same congressional delegation in October that we currently have. As that’s a pretty good delegation, this is fine.

Besides, whatever they end up doing with the new congressional map is going to be challenged in court by the “civil rights” gang, who care about one thing and one thing only – making more congressional districts that might possibly elect a Democrat. To draw two majority-minority congressional districts is damn near impossible given the way Louisiana’s population is distributed; generally speaking the black population of the state is concentrated in the cities, none of which are large enough to have a congressional district of their own, and the white population is in the suburbs ringing them. Check out the snaky 2nd District, the one majority-minority district we do have, and see what contortions had to be made to link New Orleans and North Baton Rouge to make a majority-minority district, and you’ll realize making another one requires extreme gerrymandering.

Which happens to be illegal, as you can’t use race and solely race as the criterion governing these maps. And while there might be some district judge who tries to legislate a map with a 2nd black district from the bench, at neither the 5th Circuit federal level nor the Louisiana Supreme Court will any such map survive scrutiny. But that’s months, maybe years, down the line.

So even if Schexnayder and Miguez and the rest of the stakeholders got together and figured all of this out on the first day of the legislative session that starts next week, the odds are still pretty good that we’ll be using the old map this fall. Therefore it doesn’t matter whether the veto is overridden.

And the second thing to understand here is that Schexnayder’s problems are once again the fruit of the poisonous tree. He’s had more than two years to course-correct after getting himself elected Speaker with mostly Democrat votes, making the majority of the majority in the House suspicious of him and forcing him to govern without a true base of support, and he’s never done it. Had Schexnayder been smart, he would have recognized that regardless of how he was elected he’s a Republican Speaker of a Republican house and governed exactly like his counterparts in Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Tennessee, among other Southern states, do. And if he’d done that, he would have had a lot easier time with Miguez and the other dissenters.

As it stands, no real damage to Congressional elections is going to be done by Edwards’ veto, but Schexnayder faces the prospect of once again failing to override a veto, this time because he can’t get all the Republicans in line, and if that’s how it goes he’s going to look exceedingly weak.

We shouldn’t be facing these dynamics, but we are. The good news is the only people really affected by them right at this moment are politicians rather than the people. And given the state of things almost nobody should give a flip about politicians’ problems.

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