Guest Commentary: Elections matter – GOP redistricting grand slam in offing?

Uncategorized — By on March 30, 2011 9:01 am
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The hammer is coming down. Who operates it and how it will strike remains uncertain, but soon Louisiana’s redistricting of its Congressional seats and legislature will reveal these power players, and they will work to the advantage of Republicans.

Last week, a balance of interests began ordering in the special session called mainly for redistricting. Republicans seemed willing to go even up in throwing House incumbents together, two pairs for each party, while letting a chance to add an extra electorally favorable Senate seat and ethnic majority/minority seat go by the wayside. This would be in exchange for two new north-south Congressional spots rather than northern and central banded districts, where the latter advantaged Democrat contenders.

Then it seemed to fall apart yesterday as enough house members, where the GOP holds a narrow advantage, amended the House plan to force three sets of Republican incumbents together and just one pair of Democrats. Over in the Senate, absent new Republican state Sen. Jody Amedee enabled 4-4 deadlocks, all four regular Republican committee members pitted against the four Democrats. The prevailing senate plan remained unmolested, ready for floor action.

But, as the day wore on in the House, Republicans seemed to get it together. A late amendment restored the 2-2 balance in its redistricting, and the failure among senators to pass the Democrats’ preferred Congressional plan belied the fact that it could be defeated at any time – either by Amedee’s presence and going with his new colleagues, or by Republican Chairman state Sen. Bob Kostelka discarding his unusual tactic of not voting either time (by tradition chairmen don’t vote except in the case of ties, and Kostelka was renouncing that).

Intrigue emerged not just from Amedee’s absence, as fellow brand new Republican, southern Louisiana neighbor of Amedee, and committee interim member state Sen. Norby Chabert managed to vote against the plans, but also because Kostelka chose not to vote. If Chabert, like Amedee with a possible preference for the Demorcrats’ plans because it kept more of southern Louisiana together, stepped up to make a tough vote against his recent colleagues’ desires, why didn’t Amedee? And why didn’t Kostelka vote? Either could have stopped the plans for good and allowed the committee to move forward on north-south district plans.

The answer could lie in the already-approved state Senate map redrawing (Pres. Joel Chaisson’s SB 1). Kostelka and allies may wish to keep the pressure on to accept their version of the map (SB 27 by state Sen. Elbert Guillory), which creates 12 ethnic majority minority districts at the expense of areas of presumed Democrat strength, due to be heard in committee today. In effect, they won’t eliminate any options relevant to Congress in order to create strategic ambiguity to lever their preferred plan to supplant the one already released to the chamber. They need time to get support for their plan because they have to be sure if they send it to the floor that it will triumph.

House Republicans seemed to pick up steam when they invited members of the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration to address his preferences. Jindal, who signs or vetoes any of these bills, had his representatives reportedly say they needed a stronger GOP potential majority, which seemed to contradict earlier statements by Jindal that he would not get involved in the chambers’ efforts regarding themselves. Apparently, Jindal had learned his lesson from the 2008 pay raise fiasco where he adopted the same hands-off approach for too long and had to veto this despite a similar non-intervention pledge.

This effort gained support from state Rep. Barbara Norton, a Democrat who complained against the previous change. She added that the Caddo Parish ethnic majority minority district would reduce self-described black registrants, in her otherwise extremely safe seat, from 90 to 69 percent. No doubt she will earn lasting enmity from her co-partisans with providing this political cover and by becoming only one of two Democrats to vote for the successful amendment.

The trend away from incumbent protection and friendship considerations and towards more partisanship in the exercise looks likely to continue, as the House may try to undo another GOP incumbent coupling to give it a 1-3 advantage in incumbents being thrown together. Understanding the way the wind was now blowing, a frustrated House Democratic Caucus Chairman state Rep. John Bel Edwards decried the Jindal input into the process, declaring that his operatives acted in bad faith.

Which would indicate that Edwards lacks a basic understanding of the democratic political process. To clarify this, paraphrasing Edwardsnational political leader: elections have consequences, and they put Edwards’ party in the minority. Redistricting, no matter how strenuous the attempts in both formal and informal ways at removing politics from it, inherently is political. The rules in Louisiana permit the majority to map anyway it likes provided certain rights of constituents are observed, and it would be foolish for it to limit deliberately the possibility of electoral gains when no such reciprocation could be expected were the party’s positions reversed. This fact is one of the incentives for parties to be responsive to voters, with this ability as a reward. Democrats have not been responsive.

Call the GOP’s drive to control redistricting a failure to be nonpartisan, if you like, but it’s perfectly legal and rational behavior to maximize its chance of policy success. Edwards and Democrats look as if they will need to act like big boys and girls and acknowledge the reality of recent state and national elections: their opposition won, they lost, get it over.

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University, Shreveport. The original version of this article first appeared on Sadow’s blog, “Between the Lines.”

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