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LA Fourth District race may affect redistricting options

With an almost certain retreat of the Sixth District from Democrat back into Republican hands, the outcome of the Fourth District race for the U.S. House of Representatives may have an impact on redistricting in Louisiana after the 2010 Census.

While one commentator argues that the result of the census, which almost assuredly will result in the loss of a congressional seat due to depopulation courtesy of the hurricane disasters of 2005, will cause the Fourth which is centered around Shreveport to gobble up the Fifth, centered around Monroe, this view places too much emphasis on regionalism and discounts the factors of partisanship and race. Perhaps almost 20 years ago, when there were almost no Republicans in the state Legislature and a Democrat-turned Republican governor ruled the state its north-south division might have mattered.

But it will not in the future. One of the outcomes of 1990 redistricting was two majority-black districts, one of which was tortuously drawn and coexisted in north Louisiana with another. Not surprisingly, the racially-gerrymandered district was tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court, bringing the lines largely present today. With just one majority-black district now present around Orleans, black legislators will fiercely protect it even though that is the area which lost the vast majority of population, not the least by threatening voting rights lawsuits.

Republicans will cooperate because geography suggests the easiest district to erase while creating a sufficiently non-convoluted majority black district is the Third, the home of the only other white Democrat, Rep. Charlie Melancon. As trends go, by then Republicans are likely to have a state House majority plus sufficiently large representation in the state Senate, and Gov. Bobby Jindal, to control the process with black Democrats. Now that partisanship matters (just another example is the letter from Republican leader state Rep. Jane Smith praising Jindal for line item vetoes after he was roundly criticized by Democrats, support which never would have been publicly revealed even a decade ago when the GOP was too small), it will be the driving force of redistricting.

Thus, the desire will be strong to retain the Fifth as is with current Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander cruising to reelection now and probably then, too. But the contest to succeed retiring Fourth District Republican Rep. Jim McCrery has a competitive Democrat running which could put the seat into that party’s column this year and in 2010. That would make the Fourth an eligible target along with the Third.

Still, given the coveting of a majority-black district somewhere around Orleans, the geography works about better to eliminate the Third. But what if Melancon, sensing his district will get carved up by 2012, decides to run for Senate in 2010 against incumbent David Vitter? Regardless of what happens, a Republican is more likely to win there perhaps by 2012 making the Fourth the only held by a white Democrat. Then geographical information systems will have to work overtime to fold that district into others while keeping a majority-black Second.

So it may well be true that the outcome of this year’s Fourth District contest will eventually affect representation in the area of the Fifth. But only if certain other things happen that are tied to partisanship, not to regionalism.

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