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Politics / Redistricting

Louisiana Redistricting: A Tea Party Republican Could Lose Out

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

March 4, 2011

Louisiana (-1 Seat)

Redistricting Authority: Republicans

Ideal New District Population: 755,562

 

Current Partisan Breakdown: 6 R, 1 D

2012 Cook Redistricting Forecast: 5 R, 1 D

 

Two weeks ago, a special election for a Louisiana Senate seat handed Republicans control of the state's upper chamber for the first time since Reconstruction. As a result, Republicans will control redistricting in a year that the state's congressional delegation must shrink from seven to six House seats. However, that doesn't alter the fundamental math: after nearly running the table on Democrats in the last decade, Republicans have no more Democrats to target. Louisiana Republicans are a victim of their own success and will have to swallow one of their own.

Louisiana was slated to lose a House seat even before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but the state's increased need for federal assistance in rebuilding makes this loss especially painful. The New Orleans-based 2nd Congressional District, won by Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond in 2010, is the most underpopulated district in the country and will need to pick up an astounding 262,210 residents. Even after Katrina it is 58 percent African-American, and after Democrats lost the 3rd District in 2010, it's the only seat in the state held by a Democrat.

Republicans can't axe the 2nd District for two reasons: its elimination would represent a gross violation of the Voting Rights Act, and no neighboring Republican would want to take on a large chunk of the state's largest storehouse of Democratic voters. State political observers widely accept that Republicans will stretch the 2nd District in a crescent along the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge's black neighborhoods, which would both keep the district an African-American majority district and make Baton Rouge-area GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy's 6th District much safer.

The question then becomes which of the six remaining Republicans will lose this game of musical chairs. Cassidy and 1st District Rep. Steve Scalise, who respectively represent the fast-growing Baton Rouge and New Orleans suburbs, need to pick up fewer than 100,000 residents and can probably breathe a sigh of relief. The four rural Republicans, however, have a lot at stake, and right now it looks like 3rd District Rep. Jeff Landry will be the odd man out.

Of the six Republicans in the delegation, Landry represents the most underpopulated district: his southeastern district includes some of the hardest-hit coastal parishes and must pick up 118,000 people. Landry is also the newest Republican in the delegation and drew the ire of some in the Baton Rouge GOP establishment by defeating a well-known former speaker of the Louisiana House, Hunt Downer, in the 2010 GOP primary for the seat.

What's more, many Louisiana insiders note the awkwardness of Landry, who is closely aligned with the tea party movement, representing the coastline and advocating for some of the largest public-works projects in the country.

So most likely, GOP legislators will parcel out Landry's district in four different ways. Landry's home in Iberia Parish would most likely find its way into Rep. Charles Boustany's Lafayette-based 7th District. The southeastern corner of the state, hard-hit by both Katrina and the BP oil spill, would be added to Scalise's district—most likely St. Bernard, Plaquemines, lower Jefferson, Lafourche, and possibly Terrebonne parishes. The parishes with higher African-American percentages, like St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James, and Ascension, would be added to the Democratic 2nd District. Finally, St. Martin Parish in the 3rd District's northwest corner might be added to either the 5th or 6th districts (see Scenario #1).

Should this configuration pass, Landry would face a choice between running against the popular Boustany, running against the popular Scalise, retiring, or running for something other than Congress. A run against Boustany might make more sense than a run against Scalise because Landry and Boustany would find their homes in the same district. Furthermore, Landry could attempt to claim the tea party mantle in a race against the well-entrenched Boustany. However, Boustany would already be the incumbent in about three quarters of his new district, and Boustany's district might only include about a quarter of Landry's current territory.

Lots of other districts would trade voters under this scenario as well. Scalise, whose home base is Jefferson Parish close to New Orleans, had to fend off primary challengers from St. Tammany Parish on the North Shore to capture the heavily Republican 1st District in 2008. Heavy growth in St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes threatens to make the 1st District a predominantly North Shore district over time; in fact 59 percent of the district's residents now live on the opposite side of Lake Pontchartrain from Scalise's home. So Scalise might be all too happy to give Tangipahoa Parish (Hammond) and perhaps some of St. Tammany Parish to Cassidy's district and pick up more of Jefferson Parish and some of the coastal parishes in Landry's 3rd District.

GOP Rep. John Fleming's 4th District and GOP Rep. Rodney Alexander's 5th District, both anchored by cities in northern Louisiana, would need to expand as well, and they would have nowhere to go but further south into Acadiana. One Louisiana insider explained that even fewer Cajun Country voters will be able to decipher their congressman's accent after redistricting. But whatever lines Republicans decide to draw, they will ensure that no Democrat has a chance at a seat other than the 2nd District. Under the most likely scenario we've mapped out below, every one of the five non-New Orleans districts gets even more Republican than it is now:

 

Louisiana Scenario No. 1: 3rd District Eliminated

 

To no one's surprise, Landry has expressed his displeasure with a map that eliminates his district, and is pushing (along with several coastal parishes) for a coastal-only district stretching from Cameron Parish in the west to St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes at "the toe of the boot" in the east. It's unclear how many legislators in Baton Rouge share this view, but Acadiana legislators who are uneasy about the prospect of being thrown into the northern Louisiana districts might be sympathetic to Landry.

A coastal district would merge the 3rd and 7th districts more evenly and threaten the Lafayette-based Boustany by shifting Calcasieu Parish (Lake Charles) into a district stretching almost the entire length of the Texas border to Shreveport. Landry might have an advantage in a primary against Boustany under the lines below, though this map is less likely:

 

Louisiana Scenario No. 2: Merged 3rd & 7th Districts

Another alternative Louisiana insiders mention involves merging Fleming (who some regard as a bit of a political loner) and Alexander into one "I-20" district stretching across northern Louisiana from Shreveport to Monroe. However, this district would be slightly more favorable to Democrats than either the current 4th or 5th districts and both Fleming and Alexander would fight its creation, so this scenario is less likely.

Some residents argue this merge would make more geographic sense, but it might force other districts to stretch awkwardly into northern Louisiana. For example, Boustany's district would have to take on more rural parishes along the Sabine River, Landry's predominantly coastal district might need to stretch to Alexandria in central Louisiana, and Cassidy's Baton Rouge-dominated district might need to stretch into poor, rural parishes along the Mississippi River.

 

Louisiana Scenario No. 3: Merged 4th & 5th Districts

 

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