This column was published in the Ouachita Citizen in May 2011.

The primary consideration that should be given to drawing congressional district lines is to ensure we maximize Louisiana’s ability to compete in Washington.

For at least the past three years, most people who cared about congressional redistricting expected that the new lines to be drawn would eliminate the third congressional district pitting that member (who turned out to be Jeff Landry) against seventh district Congressman Charles Boustany. In fact that was one of the primary motivators for former Congressman Charlie Melancon to vacate the third district and challenge Senator David Vitter last year – he knew his district would disappear.

And those same people also knew that from a Washington perspective, it made more sense to have two vertical north Louisiana districts than to have one horizontal one. (Keeping Barksdale Air Force Base and Fort Polk in a single congressional district, which could be represented by someone on the House Armed Services Committee, is one of the critical, often overlooked reasons to have the two vertical districts.)

With all due respect to my friends in the state legislature, it is the congressional delegation, especially our veteran members of the delegation, who have a better handle on what that means than do state legislators. Sure, it is the responsibility of the legislature to technically draw those lines, but why not defer to the congressional delegation just as the state House often defers to the state Senate on their lines and vice versa?

In point of fact, there is a better way to handle redistricting – we should take a cue from Iowa.  In that state, the legislature has the ultimate responsibility for enacting both congressional and state legislative district plans just as in Louisiana, but the non-partisan Legislative Services Bureau has initial responsibility. A five-member commission, made up of four civilian members chosen by each caucus in the legislature, and a fifth chairperson chosen by the commission, can advise the bureau, but only upon their request.

LSB must develop up to three plans to be accepted or rejected by the legislature. The plans are criteria-driven, so that the districts will be based on clear, measurable criteria. The four criteria are: 1) population equality; 2) contiguity; 3) unity of counties and cities (maintaining county lines and house districts within senate districts and senate districts within congressional districts); and 4) compactness.

If the legislature does not approve the first three plans by the bureau, it must itself approve a plan by September 1st, or the state Supreme Court will take responsibility for the state districts. The Governor has veto power over both plans. Additionally, three public hearings are required to be held on the first proposed plan from the LSB.

Louisiana is just now building seniority again after having lost John Breaux, Billy Tauzin, and Jim McCrery in recent years. Mr. Boustany now chairs a powerful Ways and Means Subcommittee; Congressman John Fleming is also a subcommittee chairman; and Congressmen Steve Scalise, Bill Cassidy, and Rodney Alexander are senior members of their respective committees. Political infighting can ultimately undermine that seniority.

I have only met Congressman Jeff Landry once, and he is clearly a smart, focused, driven individual who will do great things for Louisiana. I do know Mr. Boustany, and he is definitely a bright, insightful, politically astute man who is already doing great things for our state. I don’t know who will win a Republican primary race between Boustany and Landry, but I do know there is a place at the table for both men to lead our state in some capacity. Interestingly, if Mr. Boustany had not gotten involved in the Republican primary back in 2010, which pitted Landry against Hunt Downer, we might have been able to handle the redistricting process without all of the political theater of the special legislative session.

Iowa’s process appears to eliminate the political temptations of its politicians.  Louisiana could do the same, but then again we wouldn’t have as much fun either.

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