Louisiana Politicians Already Talking Redistricting

Posted June 8, 2009 at 6:33pm

There’s still one round of Congressional elections to go before the post-2010 redistricting battle takes center stage, but in some states, including Louisiana, hypothetical lines are already being drawn.

Earlier this year, the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative interest group affiliated with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, released a redistricting plan based on the widely held belief that Louisiana will lose a seat in the Congressional reapportionment process following next year’s Census.

That map combines most of the majority-black 2nd district based in New Orleans with most of the south-central 3rd district, which is currently represented by Louisiana’s lone House Democrat, Rep. Charlie Melancon.

The seat would still be a majority-minority seat so as to comply with certain requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph— Cao (R) currently holds the 2nd district seat, but Democrats and most unbiased political observers believe the 64 percent black district will revert to Democratic control next cycle.

Since the Louisiana Family Forum released its six-district map, Democrats have assailed it as a blatant attempt to gerrymander as many Democratic voters as possible into one district while drawing the other five seats to heavily favor Republicans for the coming decade.

Louisiana Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington dismissed the Family Forum plan for being based on two-year-old data.

“We will support a fair and equitable redistricting plan based on updated census numbers,— he said Monday.

Independent political analyst and demographer Elliot Stonecipher, who has been crisscrossing the state lobbying for a less political redistricting process, was skeptical of the Family Forum map.

“That of course is useful in the sense that it’s nice to have on the table the extreme right’s view of this issue,— Stonecipher said.

Meanwhile, counter maps are already being created to push back against the Family Forum map. One of those maps made its way onto a Louisiana political blog on Monday. That map sought to retain both the 2nd and 3rd districts by combining most of Melancon’s district with nearly all of Republican Rep. Charles Boustany’s 7th district seat to form a new 3rd district.

Another early idea being tossed around by some Democrats involves creating a six-district map by combining a portion of northern Louisiana’s 4th and 5th districts and dividing the southern parts of those districts among the four remaining districts.

But one Louisiana Republican on Capitol Hill argued that such a plan would be unlikely considering the fact that Louisiana has not lost population equally across each of its seven districts. In fact, some districts have seen growth as large numbers of people have moved around the state in the wake of the major hurricanes that have hit Louisiana in recent years.

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans was hit hardest in population loss. But parts of southern Louisiana and Baton Rouge have also been negatively affected.

Meanwhile, some statistics have shown that parts of Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R) 1st district near New Orleans and the Shreveport-based 4th district of Rep. John Fleming (R) have actually experienced growth.

As such, the Louisiana Republican operative argued that any map redraw will likely center on Melancon’s 3nd district and the Baton Rouge-based 6th district of freshman Rep. Bill Cassidy (R). The eastern part of Boustany’s 7th district and southeast part of Rep. Rodney Alexander’s (R) 5th district could also be affected to a lesser extent.

Stonecipher — who continues to believe that there’s an argument to be made for Louisiana to keep seven seats — said that a six-district map would likely see the dismantling of the current 6th district seat with pieces being divided out to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th districts.

Stonecipher also predicted that with a Democratically controlled Congress, White House and Justice Department, Melancon will be the key player in the next round of the redistricting process, despite being the lone Democrat in the state delegation.

“I would say he also has the strongest ability to influence the process. I think his relationship with the White House ought to be plenty enough to make sure that those interests — whether they be the Democratic Party interests, the African-American interests — will be heard.—

Bernie Pinsonat, an independent pollster in Louisiana, noted that any new map will have to be approved by the Justice Department under terms of the Voting Rights Act. “If I were a Democrat, I wouldn’t be that concerned,— he said.

Despite the increasing chatter in state political circles, national officials say it’s a bit premature to start drawing maps.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), who is heading up the National Republican Congressional Committee’s redistricting task force, said that new technology is certainly making it easier for the average political junkie to get into the redistricting process.

“Everybody’s getting in the game,— Westmoreland said. “I’ve had several Members from several different states say there’s this Web site or there’s that Web site that has maps drawn.—

But he said that there’s little point getting into the mapmaking business before the 2010 data are available. “Until you get those census numbers back broken down by voting blocks, it’s very hard to draw them.—

Pinsonat agreed, saying the Louisiana Family Forum proposal “is probably the first of a hundred— maps.