Congressmen, Gov. Jindal ask for delay

Published 11:56 pm Saturday, April 9, 2011

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A majority of the state’s congressmen, along with Gov. Bobby Jindal, are urging state lawmakers to scrap attempts to redraw Louisiana’s congressional boundaries in the current special session, where the remapping effort had grown increasingly bitter and threatened other redistricting work.

“Five of the seven members of the congressional delegation have sent a letter to us asking us to postpone finishing the congressional map for one year, and we’re asking the Legislature to concur,” Kyle Plotkin, a spokesman for the Republican governor, said Saturday.

Lawmakers will decide whether to agree to a postponement when they return to work Monday.

Email newsletter signup

They are in an angry stalemate over how to design the congressional map and shrink the delegation from seven to six members to account for population shifts over the last decade, according to federal census data. Disputes involve political parties, regional ties and racial divides.

Legislative leaders had hoped to work out a compromise over the weekend and before the special session must end Wednesday night, but with the congressional delegation split over how to draw the map and lawmakers allying with their local congressmen, reaching such a compromise had proven difficult.

“Congressional redistricting efforts are at an impasse,” Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge said in a statement Saturday. He added, “The responsibility for redistricting rests with the Legislature and the governor. Hopefully postponing fresh ideas and fresh positions can create a compromise which achieves the best results for the people of Louisiana.

The letter sent to Jindal, obtained by The Associated Press, was signed by Cassidy and Republican U.S. Reps. Rodney Alexander of Quitman, Jeff Landry of New Iberia, Steve Scalise of Metairie, and John Fleming of Minden.

In the letter, the congressmen describe the state and nation’s fiscal challenges and say Louisiana lawmakers need to focus on budget troubles right now, not reshaping political boundary lines.

“Now is not the time to rush through a congressional plan with so many fiscal issues waiting to be addressed in the next few days. We also feel that the people of Louisiana should have more time to think about their future and their needs and how those needs could be affected by congressional redistricting,” they wrote.

Jindal chief of staff Timmy Teepell said the congressional map could be decided in a January special session after the new legislative terms begin in 2012.

“We’ve got time. We can do it next year,” Teepell said.

Republican leaders, who are pushing a map that hasn’t gained support from the Senate, know that term limits will wipe out several long-time Democrats in the Senate, including Senate President Joel Chaisson. Waiting a year could help GOP chances of getting their map approved.

The two delegation members who didn’t sign the letter included Democrat U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans and Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette. Richmond’s office said the congressman continues to support efforts to redraw the congressional map in the special session, and Boustany agreed.

“I’ve said all along that the Legislature ought to get this done in the special session to give certainty to the people of Louisiana about their congressional representation,” Boustany said. “I think they should continue working and work it all the way to the deadline. I think the situation was close to being resolved.”

Boustany suggested Jindal sought the letter from the congressmen, wanting a postponement of the matter. Teepell said Alexander’s staff asked for the delay after a last-minute meeting among the congressmen couldn’t reach a consensus. Teepell said the governor’s office said they would support the delay if a majority of the delegation requested it in a letter.

While they have a tight timeline on drawing districts for the state House and Senate because of fall elections, Louisiana’s lawmakers have more time to craft a congressional plan. The next round of U.S. House elections isn’t until 2012. Teepell said it’s been difficult to negotiate a map since people know the districts don’t need to be drawn for another year.

“When you have a year to discuss it, it’s hard to get people to consensus or compromise because they’re holding out for their perfect district,” he said.

Whatever maps are designed will govern elections for the next 10 years.

The state House and Senate each had approved a version of a congressional remapping in the three-week redistricting special session, but the Senate version was opposed by Jindal and the governor said he would veto it.

Attempts to craft a workable version of the House-approved map were running into opposition from several south Louisiana congressmen, and the war of words grew publicly heated late this week when Fleming charged Boustany with supporting a map that would help Democrats just to preserve his own seat.

Two congressional remapping bills remain in play, one by Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and the other by Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge. Both await debate in the Senate. Jindal supports them because they each maintain two north Louisiana-based districts.

The House passed Ponti’s map that keeps the two northern districts, one anchored in Shreveport and the other containing Monroe and Alexandria. But the Senate backed a map by Chaisson that runs an east to west district in the north, along Interstate 20 and containing Shreveport and Monroe. A second horizontal district would contain central Louisiana.

Jindal threatened a veto, so Riser was trying to get traction for his map, which keeps the two north Louisiana-based seats.

Retaining the two north Louisiana districts would protect the GOP congressmen in those seats, Fleming and Alexander. It also would require stretching both seats further south because of continued population losses in much of the north, and it would have ripple effects across the southern districts.

The Senate-approved map would keep Fleming and Alexander in separate districts, but they would be significantly different than the ones they now represent and could be seen as threatening the congressmen’s re-election bids. Fleming has said his revamped district could cost the GOP a congressional seat.

In all of the plans, a New Orleans-based minority district, as currently represented Richmond, would be maintained, though it would extend westward into Baton Rouge to adjust for post-Hurricane Katrina population shifts. Each map also would put Boustany and Landry into one district that more heavily favors the makeup of Boustany’s current district.