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|Kostelka vows to protect 5th congressional district|
State Sen. Bob Kostelka says he won't stop fighting for northeast Louisiana to retain its congressional seat, which the region could lose once redistricting is settled following the 2010 U.S. Census.
Kostelka, R-Monroe, is chairman of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which, along with the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, will be tasked with redrawing congressional and state legislative district lines following next year's census count.
Due to the lack of population growth over the past 10 years when the last census was conducted, Louisiana is expected to lose a congressional seat.
Current population estimates suggest that congressional and state legislative districts as well as local governing districts will change due to the population shifts in the state, including population shifts resulting from the 2005 hurricanes.
After the census is conducted in April, population figures will be reported around December 2010. At that time, states will be told how many members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be allotted for each state, Kostelka said.
"We know it's going to be six," Kostelka said. "They will take one away."
Kostelka was referring to a widely held assumption that Louisiana will lose one congressional seat following the 2010 census. At issue, or what the Legislature must decide in time, is how the state's congressional districts will be drawn to accommodate changes in population.
Meanwhile, Kostelka took issue with comments Shreveport demographer Elliot Stonecipher made about Kostelka in a published interview. Stonecipher said Kostelka was doing the state a disservice in demanding that northeastern Louisiana should maintain a congressional seat following the 2010 census.
"I represent this area," Kostelka said. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Of course, No. 1, he's from Shreveport," Kostelka said. "So he's going to look at it from Shreveport's angle, but, No. 2, what does he want to do? Have one congressman up here and give all the other five to south Louisiana?"
"That's what he's saying," Kostelka continued. "Get real. The guy doesn't make sense."
"If he's worried about Shreveport being represented, then does he want just one congressman for all of north Louisiana?" Kostelka added.
Stonecipher spoke with The Ouachita Citizen on Monday. He said he was not defending Shreveport or Caddo Parish by any means in light of his remarks concerning Kostelka.
"Shreveport and Caddo should lose, too," Stonecipher said. "They've had the same population since 1980."
"All of north Louisiana has been devastated," Stonecipher said, referring to population losses in the region. "Yet, we never do anything about it. We never fix these problems. The census should be a gut check."
Stonecipher also said he didn't want Louisiana to lose a congressional seat and he's working with others to make sure it doesn't happen. He called on Kostelka and other officials to join the effort to save the congressional seat the state is poised to lose.
While Louisiana won't know its exact population figures until the 2010 census is completed, Kostelka said officials "feel certain it will be six (U.S. congressional) representatives instead of seven."
"We've only got 435 (congressional districts) in the country, and when you start counting illegal aliens in California and Arizona, they are going to get more (representatives)," Kostelka explained. "Well, where are they going to come from? They've got to cut somewhere, so they'll cut the smaller states."
He said census data is gathered by counting people regardless of whether they are citizens or incarcerated and unable to vote.
"They count by head," Kostelka explained. "They don't count by citizenship, voting or anything else. It's by numbers, and we're going to be outnumbered, so that's why we're losing at least one congressional seat."
Efforts are under way to convince the U.S. Census Bureau to include a question concerning citizenship collecting population data, Stonecipher said.
Legislation is under consideration in the U.S. Senate dealing with the issue, Stonecipher said. He also believes a lawsuit will be filed in federal court to "make sure the Census Bureau does this right."
He said proponents of having the citizenship issue included in the 2010 census need to put pressure on the Census Bureau by the end of the year.
"This process is critical for our state, and it's got to be fair," Stonecipher said. "To lose two congressional seats in just 20 years, that's a huge hit, and it will hurt our state. That's for sure."
He said Louisiana would be hit on several fronts if the state loses a congressional seat. First, the state would lose political clout in Washington. That could lead to a loss in federal funding since Congress relies on the census for allocating funds through the various federal agencies and the programs the agencies administer.
State officials figure each congressional district needs at least 775,000 people to justify having a representative in Congress.
"Just put the numbers to it in Louisiana," said Kostelka. "The biggest population is below Interstate 10. If we are to have any representation in north Louisiana, I think we deserve more than one congressman for all of north Louisiana."
"Mr. Stonecipher is right about one thing — there's going to be conflict between the south and the north over where the congressmen come from, but what he's talking about is just having one congressman for north Louisiana, and that would put the other five below I-10," Kostelka explained. "It doesn't make sense to me, and I don't understand where Mr. Stonecipher is coming from."
If the northeastern Louisiana region loses its congressional representation, Kostelka said it would negatively impact the area.
"Everything in Washington is run on seniority," Kostelka said. "(U.S. Rep) Rodney (Alexander) has fought and gotten on the Appropriations Committee, which is a very important committee. He would have been in line for chairman of the committee except it's a Democratic-controlled Congress."
U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, was first elected to the House in 2008. He lacks the seniority of Alexander, Kostelka said.
"Rodney's got seniority, so if you want representation for north Louisiana, we need Rodney Alexander," he said. "But, I'm not doing this for Rodney, I'm doing this for the northeast Louisiana area.
"This area has notoriously been under-represented, so why Mr. Stonecipher has been upset about keeping two congressmen up here rather than one, I don't know. We should be working together to get two congressmen up here, not one."
Regardless, Stonecipher said the loss of population in northeast Louisiana has been so severe that it's impossible "to think you can maintain a congressional district with one in Monroe and one in Bossier/Shreveport."
"When we have these losses in a state, it's virtually impossible for those areas that have suffered the most loss to retain their home congressional member," Stonecipher said. "If either the chairman of the House or Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee decide to make it happen, even though the math doesn't support it, then we will end up with unfair, unbalanced reapportionment. We have the chairman of these two committees who want to keep their congressman despite having the most population loss. They are in the position of defending their home area rather than being the chairmen of their committees. I'm asking them to serve the state."