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23.12.10

Numbers show coming clash of LA redistricting plans

Now confirmed that Louisiana will lose a seat in the House of Representatives beginning in 2013, the redistricting issue involved that did not seem so unclear may get much murkier when the results get released in February, 2011.

Conventional wisdom would assert that today’s Third District, with freshly-minted Republican Rep.-elect Jeff Landry to take the helm within a couple of weeks, would be the odd man out. The Second District, currently just the black-dominated areas of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, will have to stay majority-minority to satisfy legal requirements but, because of population loss, also expand. It can’t head north across Lake Pontchartrain because geographically boxed-in First District is mostly there, except for grabbing white dominated areas of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, the latter particularly important because its incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Scalise resides in Metairie.

So, only two real choices exist. One would be for the Second to head south and west, taking in parts of the Third. The Seventh would move east as it would be shaved from the north by the Fourth and Fifth reaching down. The latter also would impact the Sixth which would expand all but to the north, in fact being pushed down from there, also impacting the Third. Dismantling the Third also seems likely because of Landry’s freshman status where all other members of the unprotected districts, Republicans like him, have at least a term’s seniority on him and presumably more clout with state policy-makers making the reapportionment decision.

Using 2009 estimates, with six seats each district equiproportionately would have about 747,000 residents, and using the White v. Weiser standard (even as the judiciary has never laid down a single, determinate formula that signifies malapportionment) with a population variance of ±4 percent from that, except for splitting Jefferson along the lines it is presently, the other 63 parishes can be fit into six districts meeting this qualification and this plan (as well as the judicial standards of compactness and contiguity). But from the perspective of some legislators, the problem may be that the Second, which also would have all of Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Lafourche, St, James, and St. John the Baptist Parishes, would have a black majority of only about 21,000. Despite it being a very friendly district to Democrats with a 9:2 ratio of them to Republicans, some black politicians may think this is cutting it too close to ensure that a black politician wins, especially after outgoing Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao managed to win (under admittedly special circumstances) prevented that with even less favorable numbers.

Perhaps in response, one of these black Democrats, House and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Rick Gallot, who will be one of the most important figures in redistricting, suggested an alternative which would create, in essence, a north Louisiana district and a coastal district although the reason he cited was along the lines of another judicial standard, “community interests.” He argued the present Fourth would have to gulp in Calcasieu and Cameron, while the Fifth would reach to the borders of East Baton Rouge. The former isn’t necessarily the case – it can be done without those two parishes but with Jefferson Davis – but he’s basically correct on the latter, which would curve around and take in Point Coupee and the Felicianas. The question here becomes whether Jefferson Davis has all that much in common with Caddo and Bossier, as opposed to Calcasieu, and whether the Felicianas do with Ouachita relative to East Baton Rouge or Livingston.

Gallot hints that maybe a more tortuous Second, snaking up the Mississippi River, might work. This would then require a coastal district because then St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Lafourche must be accounted for, and also a snaking (presently) Sixth District as well. This would end up creating a sprawling district in the middle of the state with potentially huge community of interest questions – do any of Jackson, Tensas, St. Helena, and Jefferson Davis have that much in common?

It’s much more complicated than this because of side deals – trading support for a Congressional plan in exchange for it for one dealing with legislative districts, for example – but, all things equal, this sets up the potential conflict. If the path of least resistance is followed, the ending of the Third as far as plans go creates more contiguous and compact districts and fits the community of interest stricture at least as well as the alternative. Whether interests such as black or southern state legislators agree is another matter.

22.12.10

Resignation may complete GOP legislative takeover

When waiting upon the switching of parties didn’t prove to be fast enough, perhaps Gov. Bobby Jindal thought he might accelerate the process of a Republican takeover of the Louisiana Legislature by dangling appointments in front of sitting senators who were not Republicans.

First, Troy Hebert got tabbed for state government, although his exit merely got expedited as he had said he would not run for reelection. But with the announcement by state Sen. Nick Gautreaux that he would head out to take over the Office of Motor Vehicles, this removes a Democrat who previously had given no indication he would resign or not run for reelection anytime soon.

Still, that Gautreaux was rumored to be a switch possibility gave a hint that another Democrat domino was to fall in the Senate which his departure now sets up a probable 19-all tie between the two major parties in the upper house early next year as long as the seat remains unfilled (if there are no more switches). This comes on the heels of the latest, most opportunistic switch that gave the GOP the lower house majority of 53 (versus 48 Democrats and four independents).

It does come off as dramatic and Machiavellian that Jindal might orchestrate the GOP takeover opportunity by dangling appointments in front of senators who not labeling themselves Republicans. Yet it’s a good strategy if that really is the intent. The appointees realize that if Jindal as expected wins reelection they have at least five years on the job if as expected Jindal finishes his second term. But even if a Democrat emerges as the next governor at some point they, as former Democrat senators, might be expected to keep their jobs. Even a GOP replacement for Jindal may not want them out. And, from Jindal’s perspective, the strategy works if the people elect Republicans to replace them.

In the case of Hebert’s 22nd District, that seems to be the case. When qualifying closed last week for that Jan. 22 contest, only Republicans and no-party individuals qualified. The two major ones from the GOP, state Rep. Simone Champagne who switched parties in June and state Rep. Fred Mills who switched only days ago, are the heavy favorites to win. (Whether whoever wins will have a successor from his or her district also with the GOP is another matter as both districts have a large plurality of white Democrats with almost equal representation of black Democrat and Republican registrants in Champagne’s 49th and a 3:2 black Democrat-Republican ratio in Mills’ 46th.)

And that also may be true for Gautreaux’s 26th District. Both are below 20 percent in Republican registration, and it could be argued that the 22nd actually would have been the more difficult of the two for the GOP to pick off given its proportion of black Democrats registered is about twice that of the 26th. But if the GOP can get the 22nd, there doesn’t seem to be any reason it couldn’t grab the 26th.

Some politicking could have resulted in trying to fill the 22nd upon Hebert’s resignation. Democrat and Sen. Pres. Joel Chaisson, realizing which way the winds blew, might have tried to hold up on that election to prevent his party’s majority from falling. But with another special election needed in the House, if he had thought this way too much momentum existed to piggyback the elections on cost and fairness considerations. Delaying the special election for the 26th seems even less possible since both scheduled special elections look likely to go to a runoff on Feb. 19, so if Chaisson very soon calls for the election on that date, qualifying for it can begin in early January.

And this means even if a runoff were necessary if the GOP scores here as well that by the time the special redistricting session launches the party would control both chambers with pluralities if not outright majorities, for the first time in the post-Reconstruction era. This will enable only greater protection of Republican gains through redistricting, and the 2011 election then may confirm that Chaisson will be the last Democrat to lead a chamber courtesy of his party’s majority for a long time. Regardless of whether Jindal primed the process, the historic transformation one way or the other seems about to be complete.

21.12.10

Switch highlights need for vigilance by conservatives

The latest party switch that gives the GOP an official majority in the Louisiana House of Representatives brings a lot of irony for the nakedness of the ambition behind it that contradicts the ideological realignment behind why the majority coalesced.

State Rep. Noble Ellington made it official by calling himself the 53rd Republican in the House, but the irony is that policy views appeared to play a minor consideration in the decision. Over the past three years, using the ideology/reformism index from the Louisiana Legislature Log, Ellington scored 50, well below the average Republican House score of 71.96 and not too much more moderate than the House Democrat average of 44.10. (However, Ellington is the chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is composed of state legislators who back principles of free enterprise, limited government, and federalism.)

Compared to all the party switchers since the end of this year’s session still in the Legislature, Ellington is the only one who was not at or above the chamber’s average Republican score, so theirs could be argued as the correction of a misalignment in identity to label. Yet this clearly is not the case with Ellington, even as it gained him laurels from the state Republican Party’s Chairman Roger Villere who hailed the switch – again, with irony since Villere did not aggressively welcome most of the other switchers as, while they did not make a majority, they have behaved more consistently (at least in the last three years) with the party’s platform.

Rather, ambition appears as Ellington’s main goal as he has spent about three decades in elective office with plenty of opportunity to build support. He tried for the Speaker Pro-Tempore spot this spring and lost narrowly to Joel Robideaux who was backed by Speaker Jim Tucker. With Tucker facing term limits at the end of next year, Ellington has proclaimed he’s like to take that job.

Robideaux, an independent (in yet another irony, because of internecine Lafayette politics ran under that label instead of as a Republican initially and has stuck with it), if reelected probably has a better chance of getting Tucker’s spot if, as trends suggest, even more and more conservative Republicans get elected next fall who will view his conservative/reformist three-year current score of 80 much more to their liking. But with personalistic politics still playing a significant role in these kinds of decisions within the Legislature, and with a good-old-boy grandmaster like Ellington tacking with the political winds better than winners of the America’s Cup with the real thing, who knows how it will turn out?

Symbolically speaking, the confirmation of Republican House rule coming from a marginal believer pursuing opportunism may not feel satisfactory to those who see the Louisiana Republican Party as the best hope for superior public policy, and suggests the possibility that Republicans-in-Name-Only may see switching as the more viable option to exert power than sticking with Democrats. It’s up conservative/reform voters and like-minded Republican candidates to ensure these infiltrators do not dilute the promise of the conservative/reform agenda in Louisiana.

20.12.10

With reform action, Jindal assures himself of reelection

It’ a good question – as we head into 2011, can Gov. Bobby Jindal not win reelection?

Of course, because anything can happen. But as far as anything likely to happen to derail Jindal, the pickings are far and few between. At 55 percent approval in the latest nonpartisan poll, that’s tough to beat, especially when he had at the beginning of this year over $7 million bankrolled for a run. In 2009 he netted over $4 million and his pace only has increased in 2010, meaning $12 million is not out of the question by the end of 2010, which would exceed his entire spending for his successful 2007 run.

Popular politicians can be brought down by scandal, but one look at Jindal and you have to laugh that one off. Does anybody seriously think he’s going to be caught with a live boy or a dead girl? Or that this guy is going to shake you down or sell decisions to the highest bidder?

Natural disaster response took a shaky Gov. Kathleen Blanco and blew her right out of any hopes to repeat. But that’s one of Jindal’s strengths the public learned early on when faced with his own set of potential hurricane disasters.

Really only one thing can damage Jindal to the point that he is vulnerable, and that is the constitutional fact that the burden on cost reduction in government in times of budgetary stress falls upon him. The straitjacketed state fiscal structure forces him to order cuts largely confined to the areas of higher education and health care. Even though it is just as much, if not more, the Legislature’s fault that a large deficit approaches for fiscal year 2011-12, because the Constitution makes him point man not just for budgeting but also in reductions to avoid deficit, Jindal is personified as the one responsible. Even though the state spends too much relative to its actual needs, negating any need for a tax increase, the Constitution and law prevents cutting in many areas lower priority area and thus the disproportionate cuts in the few permissible areas begin to hit higher priority elements.

After his State of the State address earlier this year, I noted here and elsewhere that Jindal needed to act with a certain amount of boldness in addressing the looming fiscal crisis, as, unfairly or otherwise, he would be held responsible. He backed some good legislation but, whether as a result of the oil spill crisis that exploded onto the scene three weeks into the session, he never really followed through in trying to get passed measures that would have enabled more options in response to budgetary difficulties or with negotiating a budget that better positioned the state to deal with this upcoming tough year.

Human nature makes frustrated people want to blame somebody, and their first inclination leads them to the most visible target, in this case Jindal. However, Jindal can deflect that by putting the onus on the Legislature to create the conditions by which to soften the blow, by his support of legislation, some of which would lead to constitutional amendments, to create additional flexibility that would permit better priorities being pursued.

This strategy would require a special session that Jindal could have dictated to make the Legislature act (or not) on the matter. Instead, he defaulted to the Legislature itself and it has called for its own special session. This doesn’t mean that the matter wouldn’t be taken up, but it certainly won’t be unless Jindal applies some pressure.

And perhaps that’s part of the plan, as the session, ostensibly planned for redistricting, is to last three weeks which caught some attention as far as its length. Maybe Jindal and/or the likes of House Speaker Jim Tucker got more time in there to leave room to take care of agenda items such as this. Even if the matter did not get onto the agenda, this does not mean that Jindal’s reelection is imperiled.

Yet if Jindal really wants to seal the deal, if he wants to state definitively to the voting public that he wants to address the crisis, by pushing for these changes essentially he thrusts responsibility onto the Legislature and the public itself. By doing so, he can argue that any negative perceptions from a sharp reduction in spending emanate from the inaction of the Legislature or the public’s own rejection of the solution (which seems unlikely; the main problem is in getting legislators to buck special interests who prefer unmolested funding of their pet services regardless how low priority they may be). He will have demonstrated he had the answer, only to be thwarted, and blame must be apportioned accordingly.

In making the attempt, Jindal can deflect the only potential criticism that does not make his reelection a slam dunk.