Each state will go through redistricting this year, but four of them will tackle the process early thanks to off-year elections. Virginia, New Jersey, Louisiana and Mississippi could not be more different when it comes to drawing new lines for Members and state legislative districts. Virginia legislators will put together the state’s plan during a special session, while New Jersey will handle the lines through a bipartisan commission and split the process in two so the state legislative races are ready by the fall elections. Down South, Louisiana legislators must draw lines to factor in a one-seat loss due to population decline. In Mississippi, it could be a partisan showdown since Democrats control both chambers of the state House but Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has the ability to veto their plan.
Almost every factor that could complicate redistricting will complicate redistricting in Louisiana. In addition to having an accelerated timetable because of state legislative elections this year, the Pelican State is losing a seat and must satisfy Voting Rights Act requirements to protect minority groups. The state Legislature also has term limits, leaving a few state-level politicians considering their next steps as they redraw the lines.
Louisiana has just one Democrat, freshman Rep. Cedric Richmond, in its House delegation, and because of the need to keep at least one black-majority district, he seems likely to keep his seat. That may leave nearby freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R) in jeopardy, as legislators decide how to carve up the shrinking area around New Orleans.
The ongoing debate is whether the Gulf Coast is best represented by two Members or just one. Landry and four-term Rep. Charles Boustany (R) represent the coastline now, and Boustany has been preparing for a tough battle in the next round. At the end of 2010, he had $561,000 in cash on hand and no debt, having been unopposed in the general election. Landry, however, had a close race to replace Rep. Charlie Melancon (D), who lost a Senate bid. Landry’s campaign finance report reflected the difficult campaign — he had less than $1,000 on hand but $82,000 in debt. Boustany lives in Lafayette, which is on the eastern edge of his current district, and Landry lives in New Iberia, just a half-hour’s drive southeast of Lafayette.
A February special election gave Republicans control of the state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction, so the GOP now controls both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion. Their process began with public hearings around the state in mid-February; the last of those were set to be held in Monroe and Alexandria today.
Next, state legislators will hold a special redistricting session beginning March 20. During that session they’ll draw not only legislative and Congressional lines, but also court, public service commission and school district lines. By late April or early May they must submit at least the state legislative lines to the Department of Justice for preclearance. Depending on whether the lines are cleared, the process could become more complicated after that, but the state legislative lines must be approved by Aug. 29 so candidates can qualify for the ballot in early September.