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Elections matter: GOP redistricting grand slam in offing?

The hammer is coming down. Who operates it and how it will strike remains uncertain, but soon Louisiana redistricting of its Congressional seats and legislature will reveal these power players, and they will work to the advantage of Republicans.

Last week, a balance of interests began ordering in the special session called mainly for this purpose. Republicans seemed willing to go even up in throwing House incumbents together, two pairs for each party, while letting a chance to add an extra electorally favorable Senate seat along with an extra black majority/minority seat go by the wayside, in exchange for creating two north-south Congressional spots rather than northern and central banded districts, where the latter advantaged Democrat contenders.

Then it seemed to fall apart yesterday as enough House members, where the GOP holds a narrow advantage, amended the House plan to force three sets of Republican incumbents together and just one pair of Democrats. Over in the Senate, absent new Republican state Sen. Jody Amedee enabled 4-4 deadlocks, all four regular Republican committee members pitted against the four Democrats, in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee on plans favoring the Democrats’ Congressional north and central banded district plans rather than defeat them. Meanwhile, the Senate plan remained unmolested, ready for floor action.

But, as the day wore on in the House, Republicans seemed to get it together. A late amendment restored the 2-2 balance in its redistricting, and the failure among senators to pass the Democrats’ preferred Congressional plan belied the fact that it could be defeated at any time – either by Amedee’s presence and going with his new colleagues, or by Republican Chairman state Sen. Bob Kostelka employing the unusual tactic of voting both times (by tradition chairmen don’t vote except in the case of ties, and Kostelka was abjuring that).

Intrigue emerged not just from Amedee’s and fellow brand new Republican, southern Louisiana neighbor of Amedee, and committee interim member state Sen. Norby Chabert not voting for the plans (Chabert because of his interim status), but also because Kostelka chose to vote to create ties.

House Republicans seemed to pick up steam when they invited members of the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration, a Republican, to address his preferences. Jindal, who signs or vetoes any of these bills, had his representatives reportedly say they needed a stronger GOP potential majority, which seemed to contradict earlier statements by Jindal that he would not get involved in the chambers’ efforts regarding themselves. Apparently, Jindal had learned his lesson from the 2008 pay raise fiasco where he adopted the same hands-off approach for too long and had to veto this despite a similar non-intervention pledge.

This effort gained support from state Rep. Barbara Norton, a black Democrat who complained the previous change that added the Caddo Parish M/M district would make her extremely safe seat for a black Democrat only safe by reducing black registrants in it from 90 to 69 percent. No doubt she will earn lasting enmity from her co-partisans with providing this political cover and by becoming only one of two Democrats, and the only black one, to vote for the successful amendment,

The trend away from incumbent protection and friendship considerations and towards more partisanship in the exercise looks likely to continue today, as the House may try to undo another GOP incumbent coupling to give it a 1-3 advantage in incumbents being thrown together. Understanding the way the wind was now blowing, a frustrated House Democratic Caucus Chairman state Rep. John Bel Edwards decried the Jindal input into the process, declaring his operatives acted in bad faith.

Which would indicate that Edwards lacks a basic understanding of the democratic political process. To clarify this, paraphrasing Edwards’ national political leader: elections have consequences, and they put Edwards’ party in the minority. Redistricting, no matter how strenuous the attempts in both formal and informal ways at removing politics from it, inherently is political. The rules in Louisiana permit the majority to map anyway it likes provided certain rights of constituents are observed, and it would be foolish for it to limit deliberately the possibility of electoral gains when no such reciprocation could be expected were the party’s positions reversed. This fact is one of the incentives for parties to be responsive to voters, with this ability as a reward. Democrats have not been responsive.

Call the GOP’s drive to control redistricting a failure to be nonpartisan, if you like, but it’s perfectly legal and rational behavior to maximize its chance of policy success. Edwards and Democrats look as if they will need to act like big boys and girls and acknowledge the reality of recent state and national elections: their opposition won, they lost, get it over.

(Note: originally the column had stated that Kostelka had not voted for the measures and Chabert had. Normally I check the committee recordings on votes but for some reason it remains unavailable at the Senate web site and so relied on other media accounts. As it was, the reverse was true, and thus has been changed from the original post.)

1 comment:

Jeff Sadow said...

I can't resist letting readers in on this ... shortly after this posted, a high-ranking state Democrat wrote me, complaining that the sentiment that elections mattered was not, in his mind, factual because no recent state election cycle gave the GOP a House majority.

Of course, the post didn't specify that a particular election contained all the consequences of the Republicans' ability to control the redistricting process. As he seemed incapable of critical thinking on this matter, I wrote to him saying my sharp regular readers didn't need to have the dots connected for them. But, for the LCD reader, let's do it: the 2007 cycle put the GOP at a near majority on the House, then special elections and defections, most triggered by the results of the 2010 national elections, did the rest. In the Senate, the gap was larger, but the same process worked it way to an even larger GOP majority.

State elections, national elections, they all matter. By the tenor and tone of this official, this seems to be a revelation, confusing the state Democratic leadership who by the rhetoric here seems to think their party has a divine right to rule. Maybe if they actually listened to the people and pursue policy consistent with their wishes, it wouldn't have come to this for them. The content of the response I got illustrates why Democrats are losing the contest of ideas.