Having interjected himself into congressional redistricting last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal found himself in the unfamiliar position of being unable to get the state Senate to do his bidding and pass a plan he likes. So he took his map and went home.
It was five Republican congressmen who wrote him asking that redistricting be put off this year, but one senses Jindal invited the letter. Even as the Legislature plows ahead, both houses maneuvering and squabbling and reaching for an elusive consensus, the governor, having decamped to West Monroe to give medals to veterans, restated his preference for lawmakers to quit and go home.
He didn’t quite wash his hands of the proceedings, restating he would veto any bill the Legislature might pass that did not have two north Louisiana-based districts.
The governor wants its his way or no way because any plan that does not have two districts running south from Shreveport and Monroe would imperil the re-election prospects of the region’s two Republican congressmen, and, worse, would degrade Jindal’s national standing in the GOP.
That was the reason, more than his affinity for north Louisiana, why Jindal early on committed to the congressional delegation’s plan to preserve the northern districts and protect all incumbents, except for rookie GOP Congressman Jeff Landry of New Iberia, the lone dissenter.
In concept, the top-down plan looked feasible, until Census figures showed it wouldn’t quite work at the bottom. No matter how the configuration was drawn and redrawn in multiple bills, it poached precincts in southwestern Louisiana, divided the twin bayou parishes Lafourche and Terrebonne or shaved off the top of the Florida parishes.
Reactions from Jennings to Thibodaux to Bogalusa were emotional, defiant and at times over the top. From the impassioned pleas by chambers of commerce and ordinary citizens, putting a piece of Acadia Parish in the Shreveport-based district was made to sound as tragic as the British expelling the original Acadians from Nova Scotia and shipping them off to the wilds of Louisiana.
When it came to carving up the North Shore in one late version, the normally buttoned-down Sen. Jack Donahue of Covington went all barnyard. “I’ll fight this plan like a dog,” he snarled.
While House members knuckled under and passed a north-south plan last week, in the Senate, with the ball on the 2-yard line, Team Jindal and Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, could not punch it over. Every change to solve a problem in one region created one in another. On the critical vote of the session last week, enough South Louisiana Republicans defected that the governor’s side to fall one vote short of passing Riser’s bill.
From there matters started getting out of hand. The Senate passed a east-west oriented plan, favorable to Democrats, that forced the governor to threaten to veto the rebel bill before it was narrowly voted down in House committee.
In Washington, the facade of harmony in the delegation was ripped apart when Congressman John Fleming, R-Minden, accused Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, of conspiring with Democrats to kill the Jindal-backed bill and to back the Democratic plan that would make Boustany’s district perfect at the expense of his GOP colleagues.
Boustany’s was the only Republican signature missing from the congressmen’s letter asking for the Legislature to set redistricting aside.
If a north-south plan does not pass, Republicans would have only to blame GOP senators who voted for region over party. Waiting to next year, they would hope the fall legislative elections increase their ranks with sturdier partisan loyalists to take up the unfinished business.
But delayed redistricting might also work against the GOP’s hopes for two north Louisiana-based districts if they become campaign issues in South Louisiana this fall. Instead of coming to the aid of a party that conservative Democrats and independents don’t belong to, South Louisiana voters might demand that legislators, or their challengers, look out for their regions over the interests of some congressmen they never heard of on the other side of the state.
Tip O’Neill had it right: all politics is local. And when locals wake up to what’s being done to them, they might stand with their home ground and not either party, even if that means voting for legislators who will stand up to the governor.