La.'s post-census redistricting battle begins

Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks before both the House and Senate Sunday, March 20, 2011, as the 2011 special session got underway, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Arthur D. Lauck, Pool)
Pool,AP Photo/Arthur D. Lauck

BATON ROUGE, La. - Lawmakers opened their once-a-decade special session Sunday to redraw Louisiana's political boundaries based on new population data, in a redistricting that will force some state lawmakers and two congressmen to run against each other if they want to keep their seats.

Battles are brewing about district design after population shifts from Hurricane Katrina, a push for new minority-led districts, a reshuffling of residents to the Baton Rouge area and the need to shrink the congressional delegation by one member. Lawmakers are at odds about whether to redraw seats for the Louisiana Supreme Court and state appeals courts.

Gov. Bobby Jindal urged bipartisanship to lawmakers in a short speech opening the special session. The governor told a joint House and Senate session Sunday that they have a great tradition of working across party lines and should continue that. He also told lawmakers that while the three-week redistricting session could become divisive, lawmakers need to be ready to come back together to work on other issues in a regular session next month.

The Legislature will be reworking the political maps for the state House and Senate, the Public Service Commission, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state's U.S. House delegation and possibly the Louisiana Supreme Court and state appeals courts.

The U.S. House delegation will shrink from seven members to six because Louisiana's population didn't grow as fast as other states. Seeming most vulnerable in the redesign is the state's newest Republican congressman, Jeff Landry of New Iberia. Most publicly unveiled map drafts would throw Landry into a district with another incumbent, leaving him with a difficult re-election bid.

Also on the agenda is the rewriting of several hundred laws tied to state population data, because if unchanged, the laws could apply to parishes and municipalities that weren't supposed to be targeted by the statutes.

Some legislative leaders are questioning whether the work can be finished in the three weeks allotted, and certain maps are more pressing than others. State House and Senate seats are up for election this fall, for example, while congressional seats aren't on a ballot until 2012.

Any redesigned districts must get approval from the U.S. Justice Department to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act, to ensure minority representation in a state with a history of racial discrimination.

The Legislature's black caucus already has criticized House Speaker Jim Tucker's proposed revamp of the legislative districts, saying it should have 30 minority districts, rather than the 29 Tucker proposes.

The session, called by state lawmakers, must end by April 13.