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Census numbers reveal natural, anticipated districts

As census information comes trickling in, some Louisiana House members acted way ahead of the curve, a few ponder their next step, and one acted perhaps too hastily.

Of course, reapportionment has brought a certain amount of chaos to the political futures of those representatives especially to parishes that lost almost third or even about half of their residents due to the hurricane disasters of 2005. Every Orleans-based district save two lost at least 29 percent of its residents. One of these, the 102nd at only 18 percent represented by state Rep. Jeff Arnold who is eligible to run again, looks set as most likely to preserve his seat.

Some saw it coming and planned for a post-legislative future. The other relatively low-count loser, state Rep. Walker Hines whose 95th shed 21 percent, saw the handwriting on the wall. Already dealing with a substantial minority population, Hines switched parties from Democrat then declared he would not run for reelection, while mentioning a Secretary of State bid in the offing. Even being only the second-worst hit, that district remains a prime candidate for dismantling in order to shore up other, particularly majority-minority, House districts, so by his action even the switch apparently would not have curried enough favor to draw it to fit better a Republican.

The 96th lost 43 percent, and its incumbent, after failing to win the U.S. House Second District spot, state Rep. Juan LaFonta, also said he was going to bail out. That’s good news to his 97th neighbor state Rep. Jared Brossett as the two districts may well become one, as that district plunged 40 percent in numbers. Not only does this get Brossett off the hook, it also may have saved the 100th of state Rep. Austin Badon, who felt the heat enough to put in a bid for New Orleans City Council last year at this time.

As well, the 101st just got vacated by the guy who vanquished LaFonta for the Democrat nomination for the congressional seat and who won it, Rep. Cedric Richmond. This leaves its special election winner state Rep. Wesley Bishop wide open to get his space carved up, as this one lost 42 percent of its population. This could be of great benefit to state Rep. Charmaine Stiaes whose 99th lost proportionally more than any in the state, 61 percent, where those two largely could get combined.

If the path of least resistance is followed as defined by 2010 seatholders vacating their places by the end of 2011, the above scenario may transpire. The area is expected to lose three seats but if a Republican Legislature gets ambitious, a fourth and Democrat seat could go, perhaps by slicing away the 98th of state Rep. Neil Abramson, which dropped by 30 percent.

But the most intriguing situation may come outside of Orleans, where the New Orleans East 103rd held by Democrat state Rep. Reed Henderson, which lost 46 percent, may well get thrown with the St. Bernard Parish’s 104th apparently represented by Republican state Rep. Nita Hutter, which lost 51 percent.

“Apparently,” because Hutter, for the intents and purposes of being “domiciled,” seems not to be so in St. Bernard Parish, having lived in Metairie and not in her boarded-up residence down in the parish. This opens her up to the process under state law that, if initiated today, could have her out of office by the time the special session to consider redistricting begins.

Whether that will happen is another matter. Hutter is term-limited, so perhaps nobody will want to bother with just one regular session left for her. The again, if the plan will be to combine the 103rd and 104th – really the best alternative given geography, the depleted Orleans condition, and that next to the 104th the 86th, home of term-limited Speaker Jim Tucker, was down only 6 percent in population and thus serves as a natural barrier to the district heading that direction – GOP interests actually may want to shove Hutter aside. By vacating the office now, the GOP could get an heir apparent to her elected in a special election that would give this person a leg up in taking on Henderson in the fall. If a Democrat won the special election, the GOP could try again and thereby possibly knock out two Democrats.

Suffice to say the intrigue only is beginning courtesy of the redistricting imperative.

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