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Intriguing redistricting options appear on LA's horizon

As if the stakes needed any more raising for this year’s elections, U.S. Census Bureau estimates released late last month confirm that the next governor and state legislature will fight a tremendous redistricting battle – making the outcome of those elections even more crucial.

Almost a year and a half ago a Cabinet member predicted that by the 2010 census New Orleans would contain perhaps 375,000 people. The latest figures suggest that might even be a hard target to reach. With a state population loss of almost 220,000 (net migration actually 241,000), compared to the most recent estimates that the four most affected parishes of Hurricane Katrina have lost about 254,000 people, considering some have relocated elsewhere in the state it’s hard to see Orleans Parish having more than 200,000 people (close to the estimate of late last year) as of now.

The trend of 18 months ago now seems confirmed, meaning the state will lose as congressional seat. As I have pointed out before, given electoral geography and judicial rulings on the subject, Louisiana well may lose its only black-majority district, the Second. The only way to keep one would be to draw a crazy-looking district primarily on the basis of race the concept of which has been invalidated by the courts.

Enthusiasm to tempt the courts may be tempered by who wins the 2007 elections. This is because 2010 results will be released about the time the 2011 regular session kicks off, allowing redistricting to proceed. Chances are not good the state would force the issue if Republicans manage to win both majoritarian branches. But all it really would take would be a Republican governor to veto a Democrat Legislature’s choice, or the threatened use of a veto, to produce a GOP tilt to the process.

The political situation becomes even more convoluted when considering the 2011 session also would determine the districting for state offices. Just as the Second District may disappear as a result of the demographic changes, so may several Orleans-area legislative districts, disproportionately lowering black and even Democrat representation in the Legislature. Republicans can maximize this if they control the chambers.

Even more intriguingly, the resolution of this may come through a rupture on racial lines to the detriment of the Democrats. Again, especially if a Republican occupies then governor’s office, he could bargain between white and black Democrats in what still means the loss of a Democrat seat. Given existing numbers, to the white legislators, he could offer carving up the Second District and move black Democrats into the Third (strengthening the narrow electoral majority Democrats currently hold in it, the only district with a white Democrat elected to the U.S. House). To the black legislators, he could offer to carve up the Third in an attempt to create a district that may not be majority black but wouldn’t be far off. By separating support for each other for each set of Democrats, the new Louisiana would continue to have six GOP seats but just one Democrat seat regardless of which side prevailed.

And, holding out state legislative district majorities as a bargaining chip gives the governor still more power, particularly since the Legislature will have a relatively close partisan balance. A skilled governor would be able to let the opposition have more of one kind of seat in order to get the other kind for his party. A Democrat gubernatorial win probably would not preserve the loss of a Congressional district by its party, given the post-storm demographic realities, but it could blunt GOP gains in legislative redistricting. A Republican win would just accelerate them. Thus, the stakes in the upcoming governor’s contest go even higher.

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