Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Every district for elective office at the state, regional and local levels are about to be redrawn. What happens in the next three months will chart our future for a decade.


The day of reckoning is nigh. For the past three years Shreveport-based demographer Elliott Stonecipher has predicted the impact that 2010 census data will have on Louisiana’s political landscape. Among his prognostications: the aging and shrinking of our population as the young and the restless continue to leave Louisiana for better jobs and education opportunities outside the state. The population shift southward from I-20 to the employment-rich 10/12 Corridor.  The final tally of the post-Katrina exodus from New Orleans. The specter of losing a seat in Congress and the gerrymandering it will spawn so that Louisiana maintains two minority majority districts among the seven that remain. Profound restructuring of the legislature as the state grows even less purple and more red.
 
By law, political boundaries are redrawn following the census every ten years. The outcome affects political clout, and the money and influence it brings, at every level of government. On February 2, the official 2010 numbers will be announced. It’s a foregone conclusion that we’ll lose that Congressional seat, although apparently by a scant two-percent. Makes you wonder whether the national movement among right-wing extremists to boycott the census may have taken its toll on us here.

The big buzz in Acadiana is the possibility of a coastal congressional district that might pit Lafayette incumbent Charles Boustany against newly-elected, fellow Republican Jeff Landry from New Iberia. Bruce Conque, v-p of governmental affairs for the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, says he has seen two proposed coastal plans, only one of which includes Lafayette, and both Lake Charles and Houma/Thibodaux are hoping to share a district with us (mutually exclusive options). Another plan puts Lake Charles in a district that snakes up the Texas border to Shreveport and then eastward to Monroe. 

Final authority rests with the legislature but other elected officials, power brokers, civic organizations and special interest groups across the state are already floating some options and shooting down others. State representatives Taylor Barras and Nancy Landry, who has immersed herself in the process, represent Acadiana on the house side. No senators from our region are on the senate committee, although Sen. Elbert Guillory of Opelousas is pushing a plan that disperses Black majority senate districts throughout the state (they are currently clustered in the metro areas of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport). His unlikely ally in the effort is The Family Forum.

Once the numbers are announced next week, legislative hearings will begin around the state, including Lafayette on Feb. 22. The legislature will hold a three-week special session beginning March 20 to hammer out the boundaries, and the goal is to submit final plans to the Department of Justice in April, where review could take up to two months. If all goes according to schedule, battle lines will be drawn by mid-summer, just in time for incumbents and opponents to get their ducks in a row for the September qualifying deadline.

What are the potential outcomes at the local, state and congressional levels? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option for Lafayette? How can we engage to affect the process? On March 2, our sister publication The Independent Weekly has invited political consultant Tyron Picard to offer his analysis and insight on this important issue at a luncheon lecture at The Crowne Plaza. Information is available at theind.com. The stakes are huge, the questions many. I hope you’ll join us.

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