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Numbers show coming clash of LA redistricting plans

Now confirmed that Louisiana will lose a seat in the House of Representatives beginning in 2013, the redistricting issue involved that did not seem so unclear may get much murkier when the results get released in February, 2011.

Conventional wisdom would assert that today’s Third District, with freshly-minted Republican Rep.-elect Jeff Landry to take the helm within a couple of weeks, would be the odd man out. The Second District, currently just the black-dominated areas of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, will have to stay majority-minority to satisfy legal requirements but, because of population loss, also expand. It can’t head north across Lake Pontchartrain because geographically boxed-in First District is mostly there, except for grabbing white dominated areas of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, the latter particularly important because its incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Scalise resides in Metairie.

So, only two real choices exist. One would be for the Second to head south and west, taking in parts of the Third. The Seventh would move east as it would be shaved from the north by the Fourth and Fifth reaching down. The latter also would impact the Sixth which would expand all but to the north, in fact being pushed down from there, also impacting the Third. Dismantling the Third also seems likely because of Landry’s freshman status where all other members of the unprotected districts, Republicans like him, have at least a term’s seniority on him and presumably more clout with state policy-makers making the reapportionment decision.

Using 2009 estimates, with six seats each district equiproportionately would have about 747,000 residents, and using the White v. Weiser standard (even as the judiciary has never laid down a single, determinate formula that signifies malapportionment) with a population variance of ±4 percent from that, except for splitting Jefferson along the lines it is presently, the other 63 parishes can be fit into six districts meeting this qualification and this plan (as well as the judicial standards of compactness and contiguity). But from the perspective of some legislators, the problem may be that the Second, which also would have all of Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Lafourche, St, James, and St. John the Baptist Parishes, would have a black majority of only about 21,000. Despite it being a very friendly district to Democrats with a 9:2 ratio of them to Republicans, some black politicians may think this is cutting it too close to ensure that a black politician wins, especially after outgoing Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao managed to win (under admittedly special circumstances) prevented that with even less favorable numbers.

Perhaps in response, one of these black Democrats, House and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Rick Gallot, who will be one of the most important figures in redistricting, suggested an alternative which would create, in essence, a north Louisiana district and a coastal district although the reason he cited was along the lines of another judicial standard, “community interests.” He argued the present Fourth would have to gulp in Calcasieu and Cameron, while the Fifth would reach to the borders of East Baton Rouge. The former isn’t necessarily the case – it can be done without those two parishes but with Jefferson Davis – but he’s basically correct on the latter, which would curve around and take in Point Coupee and the Felicianas. The question here becomes whether Jefferson Davis has all that much in common with Caddo and Bossier, as opposed to Calcasieu, and whether the Felicianas do with Ouachita relative to East Baton Rouge or Livingston.

Gallot hints that maybe a more tortuous Second, snaking up the Mississippi River, might work. This would then require a coastal district because then St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Lafourche must be accounted for, and also a snaking (presently) Sixth District as well. This would end up creating a sprawling district in the middle of the state with potentially huge community of interest questions – do any of Jackson, Tensas, St. Helena, and Jefferson Davis have that much in common?

It’s much more complicated than this because of side deals – trading support for a Congressional plan in exchange for it for one dealing with legislative districts, for example – but, all things equal, this sets up the potential conflict. If the path of least resistance is followed, the ending of the Third as far as plans go creates more contiguous and compact districts and fits the community of interest stricture at least as well as the alternative. Whether interests such as black or southern state legislators agree is another matter.

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