Reality, as much as they tried to deny it, finally came home to Louisiana Democrats as the Senate finally approved a congressional remap that conformed to what Republicans, especially Gov. Bobby Jindal, wanted. In a larger sense, the surrender confirms the transformation of Louisiana politics.
The House adamantly supported GOP preferences and had its bill HB 6 by state Rep. Erich Ponti forwarded to the Senate, with the argument that, given Jindal’s position that he would sign only a bill like it with two north-south districts, it had the only bill that realistically could go into law. Further, House leaders agreed with Jindal that if the Senate would not agree now to this, they were willing to end the session without this matter resolved. Enough Democrat senators had succeeded in blocking this bill and in passing an alternative that improved their chances of electing Democrats only through the aid of former co-partisans who had defected on these votes in order to satisfy what they saw as regional imperatives.
In the past few days, Democrats and their shills had tried a number of tactics to deflect blame from their obstructionism. They faulted Jindal for insertion of his intentions – ignoring the fact the Constitution gives him an explicit role in the process. They tried to claim somehow their idea of having northern and central bands as districts somehow had some kind of moral superiority – even as theirs’ ravaged at least as many community interests, were opposed by at least as many communities as they claimed supported it, and were at least as partisan as the majority’s plan. They sought to define a session that did not act on a congressional plan as a failure costing taxpayer dollars (despite their wasting of time in acquiescing to adjournments and in supporting resolutions arguing for completion of congressional remapping) – even as if they had bowed sooner to the reality that they did not have the power to pass their partisan plan the session would already have ended with a congressional plan in place.
Yet the Senate in committee took the bill and would not agree to pass it out unless it was altered radically, away from the established preference. That happened only because state Sen. Bill Kostelka, who opposed in principle the alteration, voted to get it to the floor to keep the process alive. This became crucial because House leaders reiterated that a Senate bill similar to the amended version simply could not pass and would not move it, and if that was the best the Senate could do, the session would not produce resolution.
This still did not quell Democrat desperation, born of protest against their new political world where they do not have majorities in any branch of Louisiana government. Perhaps the most persistent objector to the preferred plan was Democrat Pres. Joel Chaisson, who urged the Senate to reject amendments by state Sen. Neil Riser to put the bill essentially back in the form it had come from the House.
But the Senate finally saw it Jindal’s and the House’s way by approving Riser’s amendment fairly decisively. As a point of reference, three of the five switchers from Democrat to Republican in the past four years who had voted against Riser’s bill SB 24 that had been similar to Ponti’s voted for the amendment.
Chaisson basically threw in the towel at this point. But now black Democrats brought up their own previously-defeated, and very likely unconstitutional, two majority-minority districts, and state Sen. Lydia Jackson harangued its membership by saying repeated calls to call the question on the entire bill, which didn’t succeed, were racially discriminatory – as part of a larger kitchen-sink tactic to try to set up a legal challenge to anything that doesn’t fit their plan. Arrogantly, state Sen. Karen Peterson echoed the theme that racism lay behind rejection of that plan (which brought objection of her rhetoric from state Sen. Joe McPherson, even as he said he liked the idea because it would be a good district for him to run for Congress).
However, in the end, all the bullying and posturing amounted to nothing, with the defeat of this amendment and then passage of the bill in the Senate. Later, the House concurred in the Senate changes, sending it to Jindal for his expected signature.
In some ways, the exercise reminds of the scenes in the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where alien life forms come to Earth as seedlings, grow into pods, subsume humans bodily, and then supplant them, although in the end humans prevent them from taking power. When the pod swallows the body was like when Riser’s amendment succeeded, signaling a substantive end for white Democrats as being able to control affairs of Louisiana government. After that, the emergence of the mutated human symbolizes the new Democrats in government, evidenced by their last-ditch amendment and associated rhetoric of now a voting minority party run by its racial minority members, and unable to wield power.
In historical perspective, the way to conceptualize the place of this session, and specifically on the issue of the congressional map, is to see it as the final stage of the transfer of power from Democrats, pursuing a populist, liberal agenda, to Republicans, following a reform, conservative agenda. And while the new majority will continue with its previous agenda, the powers that will run the now-minority will change its agenda. Look for it to become more shrill, based upon casting racist motives on the majority, and even more emotive and less analytical in its argumentation. Thus is the price of progress in improved policy-making in Louisiana.