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Messy process best reflected people's remap will

Shreveport and Bossier City had a lot churning around them concerning redistricting, but in the end the messy process provided the best outcome.

While legislative maps for every other major metropolitan area in the state underwent rather substantial changes, with almost all either gaining or losing districts and of those that didn’t having split them in dramatically new ways, this metropolitan area remained an island of calm. A few precincts moved around and, if anything, Bossier City’s House districting looks much more compact and contiguous.

Things turned out this in part because only three vacancies were opening, one of which is Senate District 37 being sought by term-limited House District 8 Republican state Rep. Jane Smith, and in part because of the small amount of population change area-wide and geography hemming in to the west and north. This gave incumbents plenty of incentive to protect their turf and limited spatial options.

Still, much more drastic change could have occurred had the Legislature gone with the map that emerged from committee which would have forced just-seated state Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh out of his district and made it majority-black, in the quest by Democrats to find an additional favorable seat for them. But the majority-Republican Legislature changed that, amid opposition from black Democrats, save the area’s state Rep. Barbara Norton who felt that plan made her position too vulnerable for reelection, who said opposition was discriminatory to blacks and legally suspect – never mind that the plan would run afoul of Louisiana’s own Hays v. U.S.  that prohibits drawing district boundaries primarily on the basis of race.

On this issue, perhaps the loudest voice in calling racist every attempt that did not twist and contort district lines to gerrymander as many favorable districts for black political interests as possible was state Sen. Lydia Jackson. If terming anything you don’t like as “racism” hadn’t already replaced declarations of unpatriotic acts as the last refuge of scoundrels, Jackson certainly brayed loudly and often enough to ensure completion of the transformation. That certainly extended to debate over the Congressional map.

Jackson and her ilk’s first preference, which surfaced in both separate legislation and amendments, would have kept the area intact but sliced and diced enough in other parts of the state in order to create two minority-majority districts – again, in direct violation of the Constitution. The group’s fallback position was to reshape substantially this district, extending it in ways such as splitting Monroe to cull as many black and Democrat voters into it in order to make it more competitive for Democrat candidates.

Despite their whining about how it best preserved communities of interest and allegedly was preferred by residents, their preferred plan actually shattered as many if not more such communities than the version eventually passed, and committee testimony showed Monroe interests actually did not like it compared to the alternative that kept the city whole in another district. This hypocritical line of argument that tried to maintain there was somehow something inherently superior about their idea and that others were tainted by politics itself was an exercise in pure politics designed to give Jackson or others a shot at winning the seat held by Republican Rep. John Fleming.

But Fleming, joined by most of the state’s congressmen, backed the successful version Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal supported, which only incrementally changed Fleming’s Fourth District slightly unfavorably for him. Every plan had its faults – dividing areas historically together, uniting others disparate in distance and culture – and the only difference among them was the majority Republicans had the votes to pass one which favored their electoral interests. Sanctimoniously the losing minority Democrats complained – although in the past they had used their majorities to draw districts to favor them, even the unconstitutional one at the center of Hays v. U.S., and would have done the same had they the power this time.

In any event, even a Democrat-run U.S. Department of Justice could not find constitutional problems with these plans and the campaigning under these new lines at the state level is in full force. About all plans the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus said it planned to file suits against them (an action independent of preclearance judgments), but as it has not happened by now, it's highly likely it has abandoned that effort.

The process led some to call for reform of it, to try to implement some kind of “neutral” commission to draw lines as is attempted in several states. But this is an illusory goal, if not worse than the present system. Where a party controls all parts of government, since the Constitution does not prohibit creating boundaries to favor a political party all other things equal, you may get partisan results. However, at least it is open and reflects, because of ballot box results that determined the balance of power, roughly the preference of the people.

By contrast, no means exist that can fashion a panel that is completely objective. Its members still will have their biases, but they will be unelected and essentially unaccountable to the citizenry. Whatever advantages they draw for whatever interests will remain hidden. So the system of legislatures and governors remapping decennially, for all the cravenness it may display, does the best job of serving the will of the people.

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