Thursday, December 03, 2009

Redistricting Louisiana--When Every Variable Collides

This study by the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna brings together everything that gets me excited about elections and political demography (great maps too). When Louisiana begins its redistricting process after next year's census, its going to have its work cut out for it. As a result of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent out-migration of thousands of Louisianans, the state's population has actually declined. That's a sure fire way to ensure that the state is going to lose one House seat. Thus, its delegation is poised to fall from 7 to 6 members. The process of reshuffling districts in order to remove one is almost always messy.

There are some other variables at play here as well. The state government is currently divided between a Republican Governor (Bobby Jindal) and House (with a narrow GOP majority) and a Democratic Senate. Thus, assuming this division remains, partisan wrangling will run through all of the mapping and deliberations. The current delegation is 6 Republicans to only 1 Democrat. Obviously both parties want to grow the size of their delegation. What either party is able to propose is somewhat limited by another consideration. As a result of the Voting Rights Act, the 2nd District which encompasses New Orleans will likely have to be kept majority-black. I profiled the interesting turn this district took in last year's election. Currently represented by Republican Joseph Cao, this district is likely to swing back to the Democrats next year. The requirement to maintain its racial balance limits the ability of the state to shift its black population into neighboring districts or to move outlying white constituents in.

The district that appears to be most in jeopardy is the 3rd, encompassing the southeastern part of the state. Currently held by Blue Dog Democrat Charlie Melancon, the willingness of state legislators to carve this district up and disperse its constituents to surrounding districts is buttressed by the fact that Melancon is vacating the seat next year to challenge GOP Senator David Vitter. As the study notes, it may be easier to force out Melancon's freshman successor than any of the more senior members of the delegation. If someone needs to lose out, better it be a freshman than someone with more political clout.

The part of the state that seems to be ground zero in both parties' attempts to maximize their electoral chances is the greater Baton Rouge area (also profiled last year). The 6th district has been the most competitive in recent cycles and contains the largest African American population outside of New Orleans. Thus, moving enough whites out into surrounding districts or adding enough African Americans (probably from the 2nd assuming one could do so and still abide by the Voting Rights Act) would seem to be on the Democrats' agenda. Moving more whites in, probably from the 3rd, would help the GOP's chances.

Overlaying all of this is a general statewide trend toward Republicans. John McCain carried the state by 19 points in 2008, an improvement on Bush's 53% and 57% totals in 2000 and 2004 respectively. However, Democrats are able to be competitive in statewide offices. Senator Mary Landrieu is currently in her third Senate term. With an African American population of roughly 33% (with that population being very well dispersed as well), Democrats have a sizable base of support from which to build upon.

Thus, we've got the intersection of dramatic population shifts, partisanship, race, and the interests of individual politicians and their careers--all within a process that must produce a final outcome. Louisiana has always had one of the most colorful politics in the country. 2011 should live up to the state's reputation.

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