Louisiana redistricting worries potential Republican candidates for House seat

Uncertainty about Louisiana’s redistricting process has potential Republican candidates thinking twice about running for Rep. Charlie Melancon’s (D-La.) seat.

When Melancon announced his Senate bid, there was early enthusiasm in the GOP about an easy pickup in Louisiana’s 3rd district.

ADVERTISEMENT
But the state is expected to lose a House seat after the 2010 census, and most observers think it’s the 3rd district that will suffer.

Redistricting in Louisiana is a complicated, contentious process that is frequently subject to court challenges. As it stands now, committees in the state House and Senate will draw up a plan after the 2010 census is complete. That plan will then have to be passed by the full State Legislature.

“Most people think the 3rd will get short shrift,” said Pearson Cross, a professor at the University of Louisiana.

Redistricting is “front and center for people who are involved in the political process,” Cross noted. “Second to our enormous budget crisis and what to do about it, it’s the No. 2 topic of conversation in the state.”

There’s plenty of speculation about what a reconfigured district map will look like in 2012, he said, and potential candidates are taking that into account.

“In the back of their minds, potential candidates could be saying, ‘Well, yeah, I could potentially raise a million and a half dollars and run and maybe if I got lucky, then I’d get in, but then I’m probably going to be the odd man out through the districting process and then I’ll be forced to run against [GOP Rep.] Charles Boustany [Jr.] or against [GOP Rep.] Bill Cassidy or against somebody else,’ ” he said. “So I think that’s probably cooling some jets.”

Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere noted that the 2nd district, held by Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.), is the majority-black district in the state. But since it lost residents after Hurricane Katrina, it may need to be combined with some of the 3rd district in order to meet certain requirements in the Voting Rights Act.

“Two congressmen are going to wind up in the same district somewhere,” he said, “and [then] you’re looking at seniority and you’re looking at other factors that could play into” the thinking of potential candidates.

Villere listed political operative Jeff Landry (R), state Rep. Nickie Monica (R) and Louisiana Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Hunt Downer (R) as strong candidates who have expressed interest in running for the seat. But he said none of them has started to raise money for a potential campaign.

“At this time, nobody has seriously made a decision on it,” he said. “You really just don’t know how the seats are going to be divided. I think [the candidates] are looking at that.”

One candidate who has made a decision is Kristian Magar (R), an oilfield services manager from New Iberia who filed to run in October.

Republicans aren’t the only ones concerned about the redistricting process.

John Bernhardt, a senior strategist with the Louisiana Democratic Party, said he doesn’t believe that redistricting will radically alter the 3rd district.

“This district has historically been one for a conservative Democrat,” he said. “Redistricting could favor a moderate Republican, but in no way do I think the district could be redrawn in a way to make a conservative Republican appealing. Or for that matter a liberal Democrat.”

Bernhardt attributes the reluctance of Democrats to enter the race to disorganization in the state party.

“Right now, the state Democratic Party has got leadership challenges, and we’re going through a reorganization right now and it’s critically important that that be resolved in the next 30 to 60 days so that the party apparatus can be in place for the races next year,” he said.

A spokesman for the Louisiana Democratic Party said the party is confident of holding the seat and isn’t focusing on redistricting.

“I think we’re going to worry about one election cycle and one congressional term at a time,” said Kevin Franck, a party spokesman. “We are concerned that because of population shift, we could lose a congressional seat. Folks in Louisiana are going to do everything they can to fight that. But we are focused on finding the Democrat who can best represent the 3rd district in the 112th Congress.”

Republicans hold every House seat in the state expect Melancon’s. So far only one Democrat has entered the race to replace him.

Franck said attorney Ravi Sangisetty (D) is a candidate who’s “off to a strong start.” Scott Angelle (D), who leads the state’s Department of Natural Resources, is also considering running, although he may switch parties to run as a Republican.

Regarding the relatively small Democratic field, Franck said, “Sometimes it’s a matter of quality over quantity.”

Cross said Democrats will face a challenging national environment in 2010 — one that favors Republicans. 

“Whoever comes out of the Republican primary as the leader is going to be the strong favorite to win that district,” Cross said. “I just haven’t heard names mentioned on the Democratic side that can compete.”