Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Louisiana

So much can be written about Louisiana in any election cycle given their penchant for corruption and unique pecadilloes intrinsic to that state. Importantly, they have a Governor now who has avoided scandal and corruption. Given his handling of the BP oil spill and his incessant, commonsense attacks on the government’s bureaucracy in responding to emergencies that affected his state, his status in the state is at an all time high. There is also the fact that he maintains a high national profile and, to some, illustrates the changing face of the GOP along with the likes of Marco Rubio, Susanna Martinez and Nikki Haley. Hence, his role in support of Republican candidates in Louisiana will be very important this election cycle.

Redistricting in Louisiana is a hotly contested issue. Normally when one party dominates the other in the congressional delegation, one would expect the majority party to suffer the most ill effects, especially if no incumbent desires retirement. This is not the case in this state. The bulk of the population decrease in Louisiana is the direct effect of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav and the minority population in the greater New Orleans area. As one remembers, the Democrat representing New Orleans was defeated in 2008 because of scandal. Hence, Congressman Gao, a Republican, managed to eke out a victory only to be defeated in 2010. When a state loses a House seat and no incumbent retires, usually this pits one incumbent against another, usually in neighboring districts. Since the GOP dominates, that would most likely pit one Republican against another Republican. The state will drop from seven to six districts in 2012 with the current delegation 6-1 Republican.

First, under the Voting Rights Act, the 2nd District, which is a black majority district, is essentially protected. But, the problem is this district lost 120,000 blacks because of displacement due to natural disasters. Therefore, any change to maintain its minority-majority status involved some pretzel logic and the likely target to draw in more blacks was from the parishes south of New Orleans. In this way, 2nd District Congressman Cedric Richmond is basically protected and ensured reelection. He is also Louisiana’s sole black representative in a state that has a black population of 33%. However, like in other states, civil rights groups practically demand that another black majority district be drawn in order to enhance the chances of another black winning a seat. In that way, one third of the delegation would be black and more representative of the state’s population at large. Really? They ignore the fact that although 33% of the state’s population is black, the majority of that black population is located in and around New Orleans and they, in essence, have their black representative already.

Regional politics also played a role in redistricting. For example, residents of southern and central Louisiana correctly note that these areas lost fewer population than the northern part of the state and that they are therefore entitled to retain their two districts- the 3rd and 7th. This battle pitted northeast Louisiana against the southeast region of the state. Northern Louisiana wanted to retain their two districts represented by the population hubs of Shreveport and Monroe. The end result is that the 3rd District was basically eliminated. To summarize the new map, the 1st District remains the suburbs of New Orleans while the 2nd remains New Orleans proper although it now reaches into Baton Rouge to capture more of the black population. The 4th is still centered around Shreveport, the 5th around Monroe and the 6th around Baton Rouge although the core of that city was carved out and given to the Second. The difference is the 3rd which is the majority of the old 7th across Lake Charles and Lafayette. The remainder was parceled out to other districts.

The result is that the new 3rd District is now poised to be a battleground between Republican incumbents Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry. When the district got dismantled, Boustany got 575,000 of the residents he originally represented while Landry got only 180,000 of his residents giving Boustany a huge advantage. Of the old Third District, 29% ended up in LA-1, 28% in the new LA-3, 24% in LA-6 and 18% in LA-2. Because of this, Landry would likely have a better chance in the First District.

So where is everyone running and who are the opponents? The 1st goes to Republican Steve Scalise and he would be favored to win reelection assuming Landry does not challenge him here. Even if he did, the winner of the GOP primary would win the general election as there are no declared Democratic candidates, nor are there any on the horizon. When reconfigured, this district would have given Obama only 25% of the vote in 2008. The 2nd would be Democratic incumbent Cedric Richmond who may face a general election battle against conservative sexual abstinence advocate Gail Dignam, although an are, when reconfigured, would have given Obama 74% of the vote and GOP chances are slim to none. For now, the 3rd would face a primary battle between incumbents Jeff Landry and Charles Boustany with Boustany having the inside track. Regardless of who wins the primary, they would be sent back to DC. The 4th would be represented by Republican John Fleming who faces no primary or general election opponent. Although some believe that the district became slightly more Democratic in the process, it should remain in GOP hands for the remainder of the decade.

Rodney Alexander in the 5th and Bill Cassidy in the 6th should win handily against any potential Democratic opponent. In June 2011, the Justice Department cleared the House districts in Louisiana and the state rejoiced. The worry is that the Holder Justice Department would have required a second black majority district, but they did not. In reality, had Holder required that, it would have set up a serious constitutional challenge to the VRA as a whole because then you would have a case of the federal government demanding a second minority district when the minority population of the state actually decreased. That would have set the VRA on its head and Holder wisely decided against this strategy.

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 99 electoral votes to 131 for GOP nominee;
Net gain 2 Governors
Net Gain 3 Senate seats;
Net loss 7 House seats.

Next: Mississippi