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|Standing by one's word not what it used to be|
It's far too early to say with any certainty what the state's congressional districts will look like when's it all said and done in the special session on redistricting.
We'll have a clearer picture by the end of the week. Maybe.
Begun just over a week ago, the special session was called to tackle redistricting in light of the results of the 2010 Census. The Census told us the state's population grew at a snail's pace over the past 10 years. Louisiana's population grew so poorly that the state will lose one congressional district to accommodate states that experienced significant population growth from 2000-2010.
Remember, there are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Those seats must be reapportioned every 10 years to reflect shifts in population across the country. To put it plainly, states that grew over the previous 10-year period are awarded more seats in the U.S. House to represent them over the next 10 years. States that didn't grow significantly or lost population must give up representation at the capitol in Washington.
The jockeying to do away with one congressional district in Louisiana in order to draw six new ones began months ago. A plan to craft the six new districts supposedly was agreed upon at a Chinese restaurant in Washington. Every member of the state's congressional delegation was in attendance, though one member of the delegation now claims he never saw the redistricting plan in question.
The agreed upon redistricting plan – the lunch bunch plan – entailed the state keeping two congressional districts, running vertically, based in northern Louisiana. Those districts are the 4th District and the 5th District, which are respectively represented by Congressmen John Fleming, R-Minden, and Congressman Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.
The remaining four congressional districts would divvy up southern Louisiana, including the state's lone minority district based in New Orleans, the 2nd District. Congressman Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, currently holds the 2nd District seat.
Richmond's district will be preserved at all costs thanks to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandated that states must not do anything to disenfranchise minority voters. Since New Orleans is the hub of minority voters in Louisiana, Richmond can rest assured his district is safe under any congressional redistricting plan the Legislature entertains.
The lunch bunch redistricting plan placed Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, in an ideal position to be re-elected in the 1st District. The same could be said for 6th District Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.
That left Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Congressman Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, to fill the one remaining seat in the House. Since Landry was the last member to be elected, it was agreed he was the odd man out.
Boustany and Landry may have said they were in agreement with the redistricting plan that was discussed over lunch in Washington many weeks ago, but they've apparently changed their minds. Now they're inclined to embrace any redistricting plan that's favorable to their own self preservation in lieu of standing by their word.
Regardless of which redistricting plan the Legislature approves, it will be the U.S. Department of Justice that has the final say on whether Louisiana can get by with just one minority district among the six congressional districts. Think about it.
When the new Congress takes office in January 2013, Louisiana will hold six seats in the House. Roughly one-third of the population in Louisiana is comprised of minorities. Accordingly, it seems plausible that one-third of the state's congressional districts should be represented by minorities.
Something tells me that's exactly what the Justice Department may tell the state when it submits a congressional redistricting plan for approval. Remember, the Feds must agree to any redistricting plan the Legislature approves, whether it's congressional or redistricting of state legislative districts.
If the Justice Department says no to a congressional redistricting plan that entails just one minority district, the state can do one of two things – it can seek relief in federal court in Washington or the Legislature can redraw the congressional districts to ensure the election of two minorities. The later would require the Legislature to get creative in creating a second minority district, possibly as ludicrous as the one state lawmakers created following the 1990 Census. Remember the old 4th District the Legislature created that sent Cleo Fields to Congress? It stretched from downtown Baton Rouge, northward through the Louisiana Delta and across the top of the state to Shreveport.
A federal court eventually threw out the old 4th District, ruling it was unconstitutional, thanks to a lawsuit brought by Paul Hurd of Monroe, Walter Abbott of Ruston and others.
Hurd, Abbott and others may be called on to do it again.
In the meantime, pay close attention to redistricting. The more you observe it, the more likely you will conclude the Legislature has no business handling it.