Every four years, Louisiana voters choose their political leaders. Every 10 years, Louisiana politicians choose their voters. Officially, the latter exercise is called redistricting, but the process of drawing new district lines amounts to letting state lawmakers pick their constituents — and those of Louisiana's congressmen, judges, utility regulators and state education board members.
It's never a pretty process.
Legislating is often compared to making sausage — bloody in the making but tasty at the table. That's a charitable view, one often espoused by lawmakers themselves. The bloody aspect of that metaphor applies all the more so to redistricting.
There were many battles and almost as many battle lines in the redistricting session that ended last week. Topping every legislator's list of priorities, of course, was self-preservation. Beyond that, most decisions turned on the oft-conflicting interests of political parties, race and geography.
For most, the results were mixed — kind of like the ingredients in a good sausage.
Gov. Bobby Jindal can claim victory on one level, but he got his head handed to him on another. His victory came when lawmakers sent him a congressional plan that keeps Louisiana's two northern districts and thereby protects GOP incumbents Rodney Alexander of Quitman and John Fleming Jr. of Minden. Because of Jindal's role in wresting that plan out of lawmakers, the governor's stock in D.C. will rise. Ultimately, that's the only stock that matters to him.
Locally, however, Jindal is burning political capital like a kid at a bonfire. That's especially true in south Louisiana. His congressional plan chops up the Northshore and the northern parts of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, and he broke his word early and often on his pledge to avoid partisan fights.
Jindal's first broken promise was his heavy-handed order to Republicans to support an amendment to the House redistricting bill by Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie. Jefferson Parish lawmakers rightly felt their parish was being chopped up by the plan that was about to pass, but the ensuing interparish fight with Orleans lawmakers turned into a statewide bloodbath after Jindal made it a GOP line in the dirt. The Ligi amendment narrowly failed in what became a House smackdown of Jindal. But, as mentioned above, Jindal could care less about state politics; his primary metric is how he looks nationally.
Probably the biggest winner was U.S Rep Charles Boustany of Lafayette. He got the most compact district of Louisiana's seven (soon to be six) congressmen, and the new district excludes areas that would have favored his likely opponent, freshman Congressman Jeff Landry of New Iberia, also a Republican.
Besides the loss sustained by the Jefferson delegation, which saw its parish sliced up in both the House and Senate plans, the Legislative Black Caucus has lots to complain about. The caucus supported a single north Louisiana congressional plan, but that plan was bottled up — several times — in a House committee. Elsewhere, the House redistricting plan created only 29 black-majority districts. That's an increase of two over the current 27, but it's far shy of the 32 districts black lawmakers felt they should get. Thirty-two percent of Louisiana residents are African-American, according to the 2010 census.
But that fight is far from over. The caucus served notice the day after adjournment that it will challenge all the new districting plans before the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which must approval the plans under the Voting Rights Act. Whatever the DOJ decides, the plans may well wind up in court.
Which means we could be making a lot more sausage in the days to come.