Congressional remap dividing La. delegation

Associated Press State Wire: Louisiana (LA) - Friday, February 11, 2011
Author: MELINDA DESLATTE - Associated Press
Louisiana's loss of a U.S. House district is creating a rift between its congressmen as they haggle over how to redraw the lines and decide which two will be forced to run against each other next year. 

Particularly at odds are two south Louisiana Republican congressmen, Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette and newly seated Rep. Jeff Landry of New Iberia. The disagreement pits Landry against all of his Louisiana GOP colleagues in the U.S. House. 

The state's delegation will shrink from seven members to six for the 2012 elections because Louisiana's anemic population growth hasn't kept up with that of other states. State lawmakers will hold a special session next month to redesign the political boundary lines that will be used for the 2012 elections. 

Rep. Rodney Alexander, dean of Louisiana's House delegation, said five congressmen support keeping six districts anchored as they now are and dividing Landry's 3rd District among the other districts. That would put Boustany and Landry in the same district. 

Landry suggests that Boustany is trying to persuade state lawmakers, who will be drawing the political maps in March and April, to design a district favoring Boustany's 2012 re-election bid, rather than the interests of state residents. 

''I didn't get in some smoke-filled room and decide on some principles,'' Landry said about a gathering of the five congressmen to discuss the re-mapping concept before Landry and Democrat Cedric Richmond took office in January. 

''They said they met, before people were even elected. Think about that. They said they came to these (redistricting) principles. Who did they consult besides themselves? They certainly didn't take a tour around the state,'' Landry said. 

Boustany and other delegation members dispute any suggestion their proposal is about incumbent protection, saying instead they are trying to keep together districts with historic, economic and cultural ties. 

''I think what we did come up with was fair,'' said Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge. 

Alexander said any suggestion that the redistricting plan he's supporting is based on politics is unfair. 

''I hate that he feels that way. It's not the five after Jeff Landry. Jeff may feel that way, and I'm sorry for that,'' Alexander said. 

Several congressmen said a coastal district stretching across Louisiana from the Texas to Mississippi lines, as preferred by Landry, would divide communities that have been represented together for years. 

''I'm interested in helping guide the Legislature in drawing a map that looks at historic and economic divisions and current commonalties, cultural and environmental,'' Boustany said. ''You want to be as least disruptive as possible for the sake of those voters.'' 

Alexander said it's better to have multiple congressmen fighting for hurricane recovery and protection needs than one congressman representing Louisiana's entire coastline. Landry replied, ''We've been having two or three congressmen representing the coast now for as long as I can remember. Are our problems any closer to being solved?'' 

Richmond, the only Democratic member of Louisiana's U.S. House delegation, is avoiding the debate for now, knowing his New Orleans-based district will largely be protected no matter how the maps are drawn. 

Richmond's district is the state's only majority-black congressional district. Members of the congressional delegation and state lawmakers agree they'll preserve that district as minority-dominated to get approval from the U.S. Justice Department, as required. After deciding the District's shape, that will leave the other five districts to be drawn. 

A dozen proposals for redesigning the congressional map are floating around the Louisiana Capitol. Some suggest one north Louisiana district that includes Shreveport and Monroe and runs along the Interstate 20 corridor of northern parishes. Another map would put Landry and Alexander in the same district, while yet another map would put Cassidy and Landry together. 

Traditionally, the wishes of the congressional delegation are considered heavily when state lawmakers draw the congressional district lines. Gov. Bobby Jindal said he'd prefer the congressional delegation to come up with a plan and present it to lawmakers as well. 

Boustany said his primary focus is to keep Cameron and Calcasieu parishes together and Lake Charles and Lafayette in the same district, rather than split as a coastal district would have them. But Landry said the proposal favored by Boustany would divide the Houma and Thibodaux region, an idea to which he objects. 

State Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, chairman of a legislative committee that will lead redistricting efforts, said it's too soon to say which plan will prevail with state lawmakers. 

''It's premature for anybody to kind of dig in, in my opinion, on a particular concept or configuration. Number one, we're just getting the numbers in, and number two, we've not been out to hear from the people,'' said Gallot.