Despite GOP control, Louisiana redistricting proves a cruel mistress

at 04:13 PM ET, 04/06/2011

This is the 17th in a weekly Fix series that focuses on the decennial redistricting process in key states. We call it “Mapping the Future.” The series aims to look forward to how the maps in these states could be drawn and what the best and worst outcomes for each party might be. Today we take on Louisiana. (And make sure to check out the first 16 installments: Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Nevada, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Utah, North Carolina ,Wisconsin,Maryland. and Michigan.)

Redistricting can be a maddening process, even when one party controls all the levers of the process.

That reality is what Louisiana Republicans, who must shrink the state’s congressional delegation from seven to six, are facing right now.

A bill supported by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal was torpedoed by the Republican-majority state Senate at the last minute Tuesday in favor of a Democratic-backed bill that some in the GOP say could cost Republicans a seat.

Multiple sources say Rep. Charles Boustany (R) played a key role in killing the Jindal-backed proposal and passing a plan authored by Democratic state Sen. Lydia Jackson that he sees as more favorable for his 7th district.

Four state Senate Republicans voted against the initial Jindal-backed bill, which fell one vote shy of passing; then seven Republicans crossed over to support Jackson’s bill.

Jindal threatened Wednesday to veto the state Senate bill. But then a committee in the GOP-controlled state House rejected the bill before it could reach the House floor.

Ensue standstill.

The main question in Louisiana’s redistricting process had long been whether northern Louisiana will have two vertical districts or two horizontal districts. The House passed a bill with two vertical districts – Jindal’s preference – while the Senate-passed bill had two horizontal districts, which would significantly alter the seats of two northern Louisiana Republicans.

But the key difference now appears to be not in the north, but in the southern part of the state.

With the state losing a seat, Boustany’s southwestern 7th district will almost certainly be combined with freshman Rep. Jeff Landry’s (R) 3rd district in the southeastern corner of the state. The combined district will be mostly Boustany’s territory, but sources say he’s trying to cut out as much of Landry’s base as possible to avoid a tough race.

The bill with two vertical northern districts infringed more on Boustany’s territory, which pushed him further into Landry’s district.

(To follow along on the congressional map, go here.)

Boustany’s office would only confirm that the congressman has been asserting his influence to keep two main areas of his southwestern district – Lafayette and Lake Charles – intact.

“His goal in this process remains that coastal Louisiana has adequate and fair representation,” Boustany spokesman Paul Coussan said.

Boustany appears to be wary of a tea party challenge from Landry, who upset the state House speaker in his congressional primary last year with strong support from grassroots activists.

But most think Boustany, with a solid conservative record and four terms under his belt, would be a heavy favorite even with the map Jindal prefers. “It is really an uphill battle for Landry,” said Louisiana political expert John Maginnis of the Louisiana Politics website.

The problem with the Senate bill, from the perspective of the state’s Republicans, is that it would create a potentially tough reelection race for Rep. John Fleming (R) in the state’s northernmost 4th district.

Republicans currently control six of seven congressional seats (all but the New Orleans-based 2nd district). With Boustany and Landry likely to be folded into one district, they concede they will lose a seat but hope to control five of the six newly-drawn seats for the foreseeable future. Losing two seats with Republicans in control of the process is not acceptable.

Despite the state’s conservative politics, though, most of its districts have been seriously contested in recent years, and Democrats actually competed for Fleming’s district and held Landry’s district and Rep. Bill Cassidy’s (R) 6th district in recent years. That means Republicans are wary of changing things up too much for fear that new constituencies would vote for the right kind (read: conservative) of Democrat.

David Wasserman, a redistricting expert at the Cook Political Report, said Fleming’s district would become more than 40 percent African-American – up from 34 percent currently – under the Senate plan. Fleming beat a conservative Democrat by just 350 votes in 2008, largely because of the presence of a significant amount of black voters in his district voting for the Democrat.

Outside the northern part of the state, the two maps are pretty similar.

Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond’s 2nd district in New Orleans will have to be stretched west to Baton Rouge in order to pick up black voters after population losses in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His district remains the only majority-black district in the state and the only Democratic-leaning district.

(There was a Democratic plan for the state to have two majority-black districts – one stretching from Monroe in the north all the way down to Baton Rouge and one taking in New Orleans and Lafayette. Since the Voting Rights Act requires black districts to be drawn in some cases, the issue could be litigated. But Republicans aren’t terribly worried about that.)

Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R) 1st district, which includes both the northern part of St. Charles Parish west of New Orleans and the more rural areas north of Lake Pontchartrain, will likely take in much of Landry’s old territory in the southeast. Scalise’s district is so safe that his only concern is probably in the primary from someone north of Pontchartrain (he is from south of the lake, just outside New Orleans) so he could be even safer after yielding much of that territory.

Cassidy’s 6th district is likely to get safer as well, taking in those very conservative areas north of Pontchartrain while ceding Democratic parts of Baton Rouge to Richmond’s new 2nd district.

Rep. Rodney Alexander (R), who is very popular and hasn’t faced much of a challenge since winning his seat — as a Democrat — in 2002, inhabits the state’s other northern district, the 5th. Depending on the map that is adopted, he will either have a northeastern district running from Monroe down to Alexandria or the highly rural north-central district based in Alexandria, which would take in pieces of Fleming’s 4th, Cassidy’s 6th, Boustany’s 7th and Landry’s 3rd.

The Senate is now supposed to take up a bill passed by the House, which was similar to the bill the Senate rejected Tuesday, or the rejected Senate bill again. So Republicans maintain hope for the two vertical northern Louisiana districts.

But getting to that point hasn’t been easy so far, and especially in Louisiana — where politics are a blood sport — things should be interesting in the days ahead.

The deadline for passing a plan is one week away.

 
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