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|Riser presses to preserve districts|
Sen. Neil Riser was busy Wednesday afternoon at the capitol in Baton Rouge working to iron out differences over his redistricting plan that maintains two congressional districts based in northern Louisiana, extending north to south throughout much of the state.
Riser took a break from negotiations shortly after noon Wednesday to speak with The Ouachita Citizen. He described his handling of a congressional redistricting bill as "the toughest piece of legislation I've had to deal with since I got elected" in 2007.
The Legislature convened a special session on redistricting March 20. The special session must adjourn sine die April 13.
Riser took the lead two weeks ago to move a congressional redistricting plan that maintains two northern Louisiana districts – the 4th District and the 5th District – while carving up the remainder of the state among four congressional districts, one of which must be a minority district based in New Orleans. The minority district in New Orleans must be preserved to adhere to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"I'm still working with members to find something that provides for two north/south districts, protects the coast, protects the capitol area (Greater Baton Rouge) and protects the minority district in New Orleans," said Riser, R-Columbia.
"It also must satisfy the concerns in the 1st District, which is a suburban New Orleans district that extends to the coast as well," he said.
"In the two north/south districts, we want to protect the 5th District, which is one of the largest agricultural districts in the country," Riser said. "In the 4th District, we have two very large military bases in Barksdale Air Force Base and Fort Polk."
"Though the 4th District and the 5th District have much in common geographically, they also have separate, very distinctive concerns," Riser continued. "The coastal area, the capitol area and the New Orleans area have separate, very distinctive concerns as well."
"We have to weigh all of those concerns and work out our differences for what's in the best interest of the state as a whole," Riser added.
Tuesday afternoon, Riser's congressional redistricting measure failed to secure 20 votes it needed for passage in the Senate. Instead, the Senate approved a redistricting plan sponsored by Sen. Lydia Jackson of Shreveport.
Jackson's redistricting plan calls for the 4th District, which is represented by Congressman John Fleming, R-Minden, to extend across northern Louisiana from the Louisiana/Texas border to the Mississippi River. It would extend from the Arkansas/Louisiana border in far northeastern Louisiana to as far south as northern Concordia Parish.
The Jackson plan would place all of the Shreveport/Bossier City area in the 4th District while Ouachita Parish would be split between the 4th District and the 5th District, which is represented by Congressman Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.
Under Jackson's plan, the 5th District would extend from the heart of Ouachita Parish through the central region of the state to as far south as Beauregard Parish in southwestern Louisiana, St. Landry Parish in Acadiana and St. Helena Parish in southeastern Louisiana.
In Ouachita Parish, the 5th District would include about half of Monroe and half of West Monroe, according to Jackson's redistricting proposal.
Wednesday morning, though, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected the Jackson plan.
In the meantime, Riser said he would continue to meet with legislators to find some common ground on his redistricting proposal that maintains two northern Louisiana congressional districts. If he feels he has the votes to pass it, he will ask the Senate to reconsider it some time Thursday (today) afternoon.
"It all depends," Riser said.
Riser's efforts to convince the Legislature to approve his redistricting plan are aided by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Jindal is on record in support of maintaining two congressional districts in northern Louisiana, running north to south.
Jindal says he will veto any congressional redistricting plan that does not maintain the two northern Louisiana districts.
The 2010 Census revealed the state's population growth lagged behind much of the nation. Because congressional districts must be reapportioned every 10 years to reflect shifts in population across the country, Louisiana must drop one congressional district beginning with the 2012 congressional elections to account for population growth in states such as Georgia, Florida and Texas.
That means Louisiana's presence in the U.S. House of Representatives will fall from seven seats to six seats.
"Any time you have to lose a congressional district, everyone from all over the state is affected by it," Riser said.