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|Jindal got his way|
When five Republican members of the state's congressional delegation sent Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal a letter over the weekend declaring their desire for the Legislature to abandon congressional redistricting in the special session and tackle it next year, you can rest assured the delegation and the governor didn't expect the Legislature to thumb its nose at the delegation's request.
That's exactly what happened evidenced by the Legislature's persistent diddling with congressional redistricting once lawmakers signed off on redistricting plans for themselves. As soon as state legislative redistricting was out of the way Monday, lawmakers turned their attention to piecing together a plan to do away with one congressional district, dropping the state's presence in the U.S. House of Representatives from seven seats to six. Abolishing a congressional district was necessary because the state's population growth from 2000-2010 didn't match population growth in states such as Georgia, Florida, Texas and others across the country. Remember, the U.S. House must be reapportioned every 10 years following the Census to reflect shifts in population throughout the United States. States that experienced significant growth in population over the past decade are awarded more seats in the House. States that lost population or exhibited less than robust population growth over the past 10 years, such as Louisiana, lose seats in the House.
The source of contention over congressional redistricting centered on efforts to preserve two congressional districts based in northern Louisiana running vertically throughout much of the state. The remaining congressional districts would carve up southern Louisiana including the state's lone minority district based in New Orleans. The lone minority district must be preserved to adhere to the federal government's dictate that minority voters cannot be disenfranchised under any circumstances. Since New Orleans is home to the largest concentration of minority voters in Louisiana, it goes without saying that New Orleans must serve as the base for a minority congressional district.
Earlier in the special session, which got under way March 20, lawmakers seemed inclined to go along with a redistricting plan that preserved the state's two congressional districts based in northeastern and northwestern Louisiana. The two districts in question are the 4th District represented by Congressman John Fleming, R-Minden, and the 5th District represented by Congressman Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman. Alexander is the dean of the state's House members. He also is a high ranking member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Something occurred along the way that prompted the Legislature to develop an attitude that it was its prerogative to redraw the state's congressional districts as it saw fit. On the surface, that's exactly how redistricting should evolve.
We live in Louisiana, though, where the governor – constitutionally – carries the biggest stick of all sticks at the capitol. Furthermore, the Legislature, traditionally speaking, defers to the congressional delegation to tell us how to redraw the state's congressional districts.
Anyone who has paid attention to redistricting would know Gov. Bobby Jindal made it known many weeks ago that he would veto any congressional redistricting plan that did not maintain the two northern Louisiana districts. Though some media outlets reported Jindal's veto threat last week as if it was new news, Jindal has held that position from the onset of the special session on redistricting.
Veto threat or not, the Legislature plowed ahead earlier this week, working diligently to approve a redistricting plan by Wednesday, which marked the last day the Legislature could meet in the special session. The congressional redistricting plan favored by Jindal and the five Republican members of the state's congressional delegation was going nowhere. A redistricting plan fancied by Senate President Joel Chaisson and others, including Republican Congressman Charles Boustany, showed signs of life. The Chaisson plan satisfied Boustany, who desired a district based in Acadiana that best suited his re-election in 2012. In exchange, the 4th District and the 5th District in northern Louisiana would become Democrat-friendly at the expense of Alexander and Fleming.
By midday Wednesday, the Senate had come to its senses and embraced a redistricting proposal advocated by Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia. Eventually approved by the House and Senate and en route to Jindal for his signature as the session came to a close late Wednesday afternoon, the Riser plan preserved Alexander's and Fleming's districts for the most part, ensuring that northeastern and northwestern Louisiana would maintain congressional districts anchored in Monroe and Shreveport. Riser and his allies rose to the occasion when it mattered most.
That congressional redistricting panned out in a manner that was acceptable to Jindal should serve as a reminder to lawmakers that their needs and wants on something as important as congressional redistricting literally are irrelevant as long as the governor gets his way.