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Redistricting demands consistency, not opportunism

The slow demographic changes wrought by population shifts have been given a push by the fallout of the 2005 hurricane disasters, and simultaneously has invited in political opportunism.

Through legislation and legal maneuverings, certain interests in Baton Rouge are trying to get the city’s judicial system redistricted. They argue since 1993, when it was last done to create three majority-white and two majority-black districts, Baton Rouge now has a majority black population.

But there are two problems with that argumentation. First, Baton Rouge does not have a majority black population according to the 2000 census (on which state jurisdictions typically base their districting decisions), only a plurality black majority – non-blacks outnumber blacks by about a thousand. Secondly, voting rights cases typically, but not always, use voting age population as the guideline by which to make these decisions, not total population, and the 2000 census gives whites a majority of around 10,000.

However, another argument is being run that changes brought about by the hurricanes ought to be included into the decision calculus, justifying a 3-2 districting in favor of majority-black. This confuses the issue more because nobody knows what the new census of Baton Rouge would be. The best estimate gives Baton Rouge about 28,000 more people, but where are what people of what racial background living, and how many plan to stay?

Even if these necessary details could be ascertained (how and at whose expense?), it would create an unusual precedent, redistricting between censuses. Even in the recent case of Texas doing it between censuses, it has been justified because boundaries had been drawn by courts outside of the normal process. And there are many larger jurisdictions across the country adding both higher raw numbers and percents of population than Baton Rouge and they do not change districts in mid-decade.

Yet, if despite all of this the supporters and plaintiffs argue that this must be done, then it must be done consistently and fairly. That is, the rest of the state’s judicial and legislative districts should be redrawn because of the population changes from the disasters. Otherwise, there can be no justification for such a move made in isolation in Baton Rouge for political or legal reasons other than blatant political opportunism that disserves the citizenry.


Landrieu publicity stunt demonstrates powerlessness

Sen. Mary Landrieu is mad again. This time she’s threatened Wednesday to block President George W. Bush's appointments requiring Senate confirmation until "significant progress" is made toward restoring the flood protection damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Is this just a political stunt, or can it actually work?

The answer is “yes,” a bit of both. As her 2008 election date nears, Landrieu needs to rely on bombast such as this to deflect attention from her long record of ineffectiveness in Washington, particularly on the flood control issue itself, especially when her narrow margins of victory now live in Texas. Simultaneously, she is engaging in a long-time Senate practice, of putting a “hold” on a Senate action.

But not all holds are equal. It is up to the Senate leadership whether to respect that senator’s wishes – and the leadership now of course is in the hands of Landrieu’s opponents. Traditionally, when the action is a nomination for a position essentially within a senator’s home state and comes from a senator of the president’s party, it universally is respected. Otherwise, there are no guarantees.

Being that Landrieu’s is blanket in nature, it’s unlikely that the leadership will defer. Then Landrieu’s only other option is to go for a filibuster, but that would succeed only if at least a handful of Democrats will go to the wall with her each time and almost all of the party consistently would have to vote to allow it to be maintained. Given election year politics, that seems highly unlikely. Further, if for some reason everything does align to make this a workable strategy, Bush simply can make a recess appointment if he feels the situation warrants.

In short, there’s little to this threat. Democrats would have to make her complaints a centerpiece of an obstructionist strategy in an election year – admittedly, the only strategy a party bereft of ideas popular to the American public has, but probably not the issue around which to build it. That Landrieu has said she will engage in such tactics only reaffirms her utter powerlessness and growing sense of panic.


Black Shreveport council Democrats play for keeps

In revisiting the battle over unionization of Shreveport city employees, the rookie city council member got caught up in the fallout.

Last year, the council approved of an ordinance to allow unionization of city employees by a 4-3 vote. Joining the three black Democrats on the council in favor of the ordinance was white Republican Mike Gibson, who, being the executive director of the local contractors’ association, had sympathy towards unions. However, Democrat Mayor Keith Hightower wisely vetoed the measure which, because it required five votes to do so successfully, was not overridden and the ordinance did not go into effect.

But Gibson departed for greener pastures and his replacement, picked by the Democrat majority on the council, Cynthia Robertson, found herself thrust into a rehash of the decision. Again, the black Democrats pushed the issue – indeed, they timed the vote so that all of the favorable votes would be present. However, none of the prior year’s opponents indicated they would change their minds, and Robertson herself signaled that she would vote against the measure.

This meant that it would not pass, much less survive a mayoral veto. Yet the black majority timed the vote so that Robertson was absent on a natural break and thus the vote was 3-3, not giving Robertson a chance vote against it. In be able to do so, she may have gained credit with her constituents when she faces election in the fall. Most of her Democrat colleagues (one, Monty Walford, consistently has voted against unionization) by this move seemed set on preventing her from getting political credit.

This tells us equally about the attitudes of the black members of the council concerning their views of Robertson and her chances of winning election. It confirms that these members wanted somebody they thought would be good as a placeholder, not somebody who could become a rival, and somebody they believe has so little chance of election that they won’t even help her out on a cause lost anyway. Or, they don’t want to see a white woman, even if she is a Democrat, as an ally.

If Calvin Lester, Theron Jackson, and James Green really were concerned about party building, they would have done what they could to get a Democrat, regardless of skin color, in a position to “steal” a district that normally could be expected to elect a Republican. Instead, they probably are pinning their hopes of capturing Walford’s swing district, by the fall having a slight black Democrat majority, and throwing him overboard, too, in order to get a black majority Democrat council. Welcome to the evolving Shreveport.


Lower, but significant, Orleans turnout projected

It’s a good question, what will turnout be in the New Orleans’ municipal elections on Apr. 22? As my political science colleagues rightly point out, good luck on a good guess. But at least let’s try. As a starting point, consider that overall turnout for the primary election in 2002 was about 46 percent, with whites at about 50 percent, blacks at about 45 percent, and other races around 29 percent.

First, it’s unlikely to be where it was in 2002 (which is what might be implied by some pie-in-the-sky estimates). Using data I have much more confidence in – from my recently-presented paper to the Louisiana Political Science Association at its annual meeting – assuming only historical absentee ballot voting rates (using the 2002 proportion of just 1.625 percent of total ballot being absentee) and the most recent weekly statistics for Orleans, produces a rough figure of 58,023 voting (of which 57,095 will enter Orleans voting booths) of 298,091 registered, or a dismal 19.46 percent.

However, consider the rate of requests (from 500-1,000 per day) for absentee ballots, keeping in mind just 2,171 were cast in 2002. It would not be surprising to have 10 times that number eventually come in, given the rate of requests and, ordinarily, almost all would get cast. But this may not be the case in 2006 because of the presence of satellite voting centers; a number of requesters may end up trooping to one of these locations anyway. So let’s assume that ten times the previous figure, or 16.25 percent or 9,278 get cast absentee (in addition to the projected 57,095 on the ground in Orleans).

The real wild card is the presence at the satellite centers. The most sense Democrat Secretary of State Al Ater has made sense during his time in office, where he has appeared to act more partisan than impartial, has come when he argued the amount of money the state has spent on defending the itself over lawsuits incredibly arguing the state hasn’t done enough to create ballot access, “For the money they've spent on legal bills, and made me spend on legal bills, we could have sent a cab after all of them.” No doubt a number of organizations will spend considerable resources to provide transportation to these. With around 150,000 displaced Orleanians out there registered to vote (out of about 275,000 total), let’s be generous and double our assumption here, to say 32.5 percent of on-the-ground turnout will be by satellite locations, or 18,556.

(Note that with these estimates, assuming all absentee ballot come from displaced people, that over 6 percent and over 12 percent of all displaced people would be voting absentee and through satellite centers, respectively. By historical absentee standards, these are rather optimistic.)

That gives a total of 84,929, or a turnout of 28.49 percent. Using historical figures, votes on the ground in Orleans will have blacks just below an absolute majority, but taking the secretary of state’s office’s 70 percent figure of absentee ballot requests coming from blacks and also applying it to satellite voters, blacks will represent about 55 percent of the total voters in this election, as opposed to 61.6 percent of the electorate in 2002. As for the general election four weeks later, totals should be around these, perhaps a little higher.

Were this how the scenarios play out, it hard to argue anything would be unfair about these elections. But if a black candidate doesn’t win by May 20, look for some interest groups to make exactly this claim even if these numbers are realized.