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|5th District survives redistricting shuffle|
With only hours to spare Wednesday before the expiration of a special legislative session, lawmakers in Baton Rouge approved a congressional redistricting plan that maintained Monroe as the hub of the 5th District of Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, who represents the 5th District, commended the Legislature for its work and singled out one state senator in particular.
"It's strange how things come around full circle, but it is almost identical to what we all started out with and was handed off to Neil Riser," said Alexander, R-Quitman, referring to the Republican state senator from Columbia.
"He's done an excellent job handling this," Alexander said.
Riser took the lead a couple of weeks ago in advocating a redistricting plan that preserved two congressional districts based in northern Louisiana extending vertically toward southern Louisiana.
Alexander noted the constant changing of the various redistricting proposals as lawmakers jockeyed to maintain districts favorable to their constituents.
"It has changed shapes and directions about 25 times, but it is, in the end, pretty much what we started with," said Alexander.
At least four times during the three week session, the state House of Representatives and Senate passed competing plans to redraw the state's congressional districts.
Every 10 years, the state must undertake the task of redrawing voting districts to reflect population shifts. The 2010 Census found lackluster population growth in Louisiana and that translated to the loss of one of the state's seven congressional districts.
Moving from seven districts to six meant that the state's delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives each would have to absorb an additional 100,000 residents into geographically larger districts. The resulting plan, known as the Riser Plan, accomplished a number of the goals initially laid out, according to Alexander.
"We maintain the Gulf Coast region, a capitol region, two north-south in the north, a central region and the minority district," said Alexander.
Though he is not completely satisfied with the new congressional map, state Sen. Mike Walsworth said the districts were "the best we could do" to reflect the loss of a district.
Walsworth noted one major change in northeastern Louisiana under the redistricting plan approved by the House and Senate Wednesday. That was the loss of Union Parish in the 5th District to the 4th District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. John Flemming, R-Minden.
"I'm disappointed about Union Parish but we couldn't get it changed," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe.
"It was a great compromise," Walsworth said. "Toward the end we looked like we were going to lose the two north-south districts but we didn't."
The congressional redistricting bill approved by the Legislature was a heavily amended version of what was called the Ponti Plan, named after state Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge.
The Ponti Plan originally had northeastern Louisiana divided along the Interstate 20 corridor. However, a pledge by Jindal to veto any redistricting plan that did not include two north-south districts based in northern Louisiana sent legislators scrambling to find an acceptable compromise.
The compromise entailed amending the Ponti Plan to reflect the redistricting proposal advocated by Riser.
Riser said he was "more than pleased" that legislators succeeded in passing a bill the governor would sign into law.
"After all the deliberation and debate, this district is the best we can do by Louisiana," said Riser. "Every congressional district is represented the best way we can draw them."
Besides losing Union Parish to Fleming's 4th District, Alexander will pick up portions of several parishes on the southern border of his current district. Flemming's district also will extend further to the south.
A new, more centralized district based in Acadian resulted in two incumbent Republicans facing each other for re-election.
U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry will be placed into a single congressional district.
Also, Riser's redistricting model solidified representation along the Gulf Coast, protects the greater Baton Rouge area district and further solidified the state's lone minority district based in New Orleans.
Jindal is expected to sign the congressional redistricting plan approved by the Legislature Wednesday. Once that happens, the plan must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure minorities were not disenfranchised under the plan approved by state lawmakers.
Alexander said he was hopeful the Justice Department would sign off on the congressional redistricting plan some time by June.