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Why it failed part I: reapportion brinksmanship

One reason the nearly-now-concluded 2024 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature failed was Republican Gov. Jeff Landry and the GOP-supermajority in each legislative chamber scored an own goal in congressional reapportionment that, instead of ending litigation, only will increase it with them in a weaker position.

The main reason for the session Landry stated as congressional reapportionment, in response to a Middle District of Louisiana court case where, at present, the presiding judge said that unless the state acted to change its current distribution of one-out-of-six majority-minority districts, in a state where the population is about a third identifying as black, a trial on the merits of the existing map would occur and likely end with the judge voiding it and imposing her own plan. That configuration likely would have followed closely the preferred plan of the special interest plaintiffs which would have created districts more in violation of traditional principles of reapportionment than any from the past 30 years which almost certainly would see GOP Rep. Julia Letlow ousted in favor of a black Democrat.

Landry and his two main water carriers for his plan SB 8, its author Republican state Sen. Glen Womack and House and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Beau Beaullieu, surrendered to this viewpoint of judicial inevitability. Braying over and over that it would be better to pick their own poison, SB 8 capitulated to the two M/M scheme but instead reconfigured districts to put Republican Rep. Garret Graves at risk, who is on the outs with Landry by working behind the scenes to put up an opponent against him in last year’s election and with other members of the state’s GOP congressional delegation because he worked against the eventual process that brought on a Louisiana Speaker of the House.


Landry's gamble: remaps to sink closed primary?

If he continues to pursue bills that hurt the electoral chances of his party, Republican Gov. Jeff Landry may find he sabotages the chances of his own desired bill that probably helps the GOP.

The 2024 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature focuses on three items: congressional reapportionment, state Supreme Court reapportionment, and changing the electoral system. Landry backs doubling the number of majority-minority districts among the six for Congress to two by a reshuffling to produce a majority black district running from Shreveport along the Red River then branching off to Lafayette and Baton Rouge; doing the same for the seven Supreme Court districts by splitting north Louisiana among three districts and moving lines for the present Sixth District in the south; and to institute closed primary elections for federal and state offices, leaving local elections as blanket primaries.

The first wish is a byproduct of federal court decisions that soon could alter forcibly the present single M/M lineup that could threaten the seat of Landry ally GOP Rep. Julia Letlow, where Landry’s preferred solution would put into electoral difficulty rival Republican Rep. Garret Graves. The second faces litigation, but to date jurisprudence finds the current district layout constitutional and to rule otherwise would take a major shift from that. The third has no legal actions shaping it.


Landry's gamble: court-imposed nightmare

Republican Gov. Jeff Landry’s first big move as Louisiana’s chief executive is more likely to blow up than pay off.

An imperative to provide some rational alternative to the state’s present congressional map provided the main impetus for the Legislature’s special session currently in session. A federal district judge declared that the district plan which contains only one of six majority-minority districts unconstitutional, and jurisprudence for the moment dictates that the state must come up with a plan that at the very least creates an additional opportunity district – one that has a plurality of residents who identify racially as least partially as black – or an additional M/M district. If that doesn’t happen by Jan. 30, by default in February the court will draw its own map, with the court’s ideological leanings likely making it a two M/M outcome.

The state has two options here: either capitulate to draw the two M/M districts or to produce a map with fewer constructed in a way to probe outstanding constitutional questions on the matter. Two of those loom large: a partial dissent to the U.S. Supreme Court decision opening the door to elevate race above other reapportionment criteria such as maintaining continuity of representation and keeping community of interests together that if directly challenging that use as timebound would negate it, and conflicting rulings by circuit courts of appeals whether non-government groups can challenge government reapportionment choices that eventually the Court will have to sort out.

Landry has backed surrender by signaling support for SB 8 by Republican state Sen. Glen Womack. The bill would convert the existing Sixth District into M/M status mainly by shifting the westerly northwestern Fourth eastward and south to connect parts of Shreveport with Alexandria and to the doorstep of Lake Charles, attenuating the reach of the central to northeastern Fifth from the south and west but connecting Monroe to Baton Rouge, and lopping off the southern end of the Baton Rouge-south-to-the-coast Sixth in favor of extending it from inner-city Shreveport down the Red River to gulp in parts of Alexandria then splaying southward to pick off parts of Lafayette and Baton Rouge while removing Baton Rouge precincts from the Second.

Like a plan favored by special interests and Democrats that makes likely Democrats can win the two M/M seats, it grants narrow black majorities in each. The difference is the Democrat-favored plan, which the district court probably would try to impose in absence of legislative action, would rejigger lines to make the Fifth M/M.

Landry appears to prefer SB 8 because in part it protects the electability of GOP Rep. Julia Letlow, the state’s only female member and of one of just nine GOP congresswomen in the deep south, but mainly as it threatens GOP Rep. Garret Graves, who has stirred resentment not only of Landry but by other members of the Republican congressional delegation. Graves indirectly supported an opponent of Landry’s and worked against the leadership aspirations of the top two leaders of the House of Representatives, Louisianans Republicans Speaker Mike Johnson and Majority Leader Steve Scalise.

If choosing SB 8 as the option, essentially the state forfeits any chance of retaining its current single M/M lineup, not only by its discarding but also in that it forgoes the chance at the constitutional challenges. By no means is it a sure thing that a single M/M plan, even with another opportunity district, would prevail, so Landry’s strategy could be seen as setting aside the chance to reflect better the will of the voters and Legislature in favor of a sure thing that also achieves other purposes, although it would rankle some members of his party that has a supermajority in each chamber.

Not entirely willing to go along apparently is Republican state Rep. Mike Echols, whose HB 14 would make both the Second and Sixth opportunity districts with black voting-age residents at about 48 percent. The Sixth would stop its northern reach into part of Alexandria and still gulp in part of Lafayette, but it keeps Baton Rouge almost entirely together and does less splitting of metropolitan areas than does either Landry’s or Democrats’ preferred alternatives. Best of all, it keeps alive the possibility of resolving the constitutional question of whether opportunity districts would stand.

Keep in mind that a separate challenge concerning Louisiana’s legislative maps already has brought forth the constitutional question about whether using race so aggressively in reapportionment, despite wording in the Voting Rights Act that declares proportionality in population is not mandated to translate into proportionate seating, can continue to be applied. Resolution of that case could kick out the rationale behind both a two M/M congressional map and one with two opportunity districts.

But the problem in going with SB 8 over HB 14 is the district court could invalidate the SB 8 two M/M map and then impose the Democrats’ preference. The Sixth District in SB 8 in characteristics is too much like the “slash” Fourth District in Louisiana’s second attempt to reapportion after the 1990 census, which was declared unconstitutional in placing too much emphasis of race at the expense of other reapportionment principles.

If this happens, Landry and the GOP majorities lose both their second-choice map and preference in protected Republican congressional incumbents, immediately. The state could challenge in that circumstance, but that past jurisprudence suggests it would lose and makes less certain that the judiciary wouldn’t impose the Democrat-preferred map in time for 2024 elections and beyond. Depending upon the constitutional questions it doesn’t ask finding their resolution by other means and how quickly that happens, Louisiana could be stuck with its third-choice map – but Democrats’ first choice – up until 2032 reapportionment after the 2030 census.

By contrast, backing HB 14 produces more desirable outcomes. At worst, the district court and special interest plaintiffs accept it, giving Landry’s party a shot at winning both opportunity districts, but if not likely ousting their preferred GOP sacrificial lamb, until such time the Supreme Court could axe race’s preferred position in reapportionment before 2032 reapportionment generated from the 2030 census that if happening before then the state could go back and perform a mid-decade reapportionment back returning to the first-choice plan.

If either the district court or plaintiffs disagree, then the state could initiate legal action that pushes the desired constitutional questions towards quicker resolution, all the while much likelier preserving their first-choice map for 2024 and perhaps permanently with favorable Court resolution by 2026. Indeed, because not only is the HB 14 plan better on all reapportionment principles than SB 8 it’s also better on these than any Democrats’ preferred plans, excepting potentially on racial distribution, it stands a good chance of Supreme Court validation should the timebound question either not have been addressed by then or decided that it didn’t apply, or can ask that itself.

By tying themselves to SB 8, Landry and the Republican majority unnecessarily gamble, where while this may increase the chances of Graves not returning to Congress compared to HB 14 it also increases the chances of having a map imposed that loses Letlow instead while decreasing the chances of achieving sooner their first-choice map. Odds are greater if they pursue that course that they will be saddled with their least-preferred choice.


Closed primaries corrective to what ails LA

Some Louisiana special interests and media outlets entirely miss the point when they criticize Republican Gov. Jeff Landry’s inclusion of instituting closed primaries in the ongoing special session of the Louisiana Legislature.

This subject matter invites the Legislature to replace the state’s blanket primary system, where any voter regardless of party label can vote in what’s actually a general election where all candidates run together regardless of any label, with a closed primary system. The system used nationally for presidential elections, in a closed primary only voters who record affiliation with a party, or who are unaffiliated with any party but who are allowed by a state party to participate, may vote only for a nominee from that party. The general election then features nominees and no party candidates.

Particularly for Louisiana, advantages of closed primaries are many and supposed criticisms are unconvincing. Perhaps the most overwrought is that voters who don’t affiliate with a major party are “disenfranchised.” This is ludicrous: any registered voter would be able to participate in a general election comprised of party nominees and any no party candidates, just not able to participate in the most important decision a party can make of which candidates to present to voters. And if a voter felt it important to influence a nomination, he simply and easily can register with that party to participate in that process.


Maggio key to ensuring good contract for BC

If Bossier City Republican Councilor Vince Maggio has any ambitions beyond his current political perch, he has an opportunity to enhance those by putting the brakes on the runaway train of a Manchac Consulting no-bid contract renewal to run city engineering and other services.

The politics and legal dubiousness of granting Manchac yet another shot at an uncompetitively-sought deal for this service are well-known. Even though the contract doesn’t expire for four-and-half-months, the existing language – technically the original contract with a half-dozen amendments to be extended by another – mandates renewal within the week or else it can’t add on an extra $26,000 monthly for additional unspecified duties, hence the rush.

Of the many legal questions hanging over this approach, all but a question about whether the contract’s limitations violate the city charter’s empowerment of the mayor to hire and fire a permanent city engineer, could be resolved by formally withdrawing from a renewal and issuing a request-for-qualifications within the next couple of months. If no action is taken, the contract automatically renews next month at the current $169,000 per month level, although the city would have to follow ordinance – which it never has done regarding the Manchac contract thereby violating its own law – in (dubiously) declaring this service subject to a single source provider for that to be legal.