GET THE POLITICIANS OUT OF REAPPORTIONMENT!

February 2nd, 2022

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 GET THE POLITICIANS OUT OF REAPPORTIONMENT!

There’s a lot of wrangling, wheeling and dealing going on down at the state capital in Baton Rouge.   State legislators are presently meeting in a special session to redraw the districts they represent.  Such action is required to take place every ten years under federal law.

Now in countries that have a democratic form of government, and in most states throughout the U.S., voters choose their elected officials.  But not in Louisiana.  No, in the Bayou State, legislators, can you believe, actually choose the voters they want.  That’s how it works in the Louisiana legislature. So the question is should legislators, who have a vested interest in how the redistricting lines are drawn, actually do the drawing?

We always hear the dictum that elections have consequences.  But in Louisiana, they don’t.  The legislature is allowed to reapportion itself, so lawmakers vote for a reapportionment plan that protects their own self-interest. They basically include in their districts voters who either don’t care how lawmakers vote and often don’t vote at all, or by voters who are only concerned about party labels. Yellow dog democrats and knee jerk republicans both come to mind.

Governors have to face the results of their actions. Policies can be put in motion that can affect thousands of lives throughout the state. Mayors also face the outcomes of their policy decisions. But legislators rarely face repercussions of their votes on their in-actions.  Particularly in Louisiana, the majority of lawmakers face little scrutiny and get easily re-elected. They are showered with campaign contributions by a herd of lobbyists that surround the supposed “hallowed halls” of the state capitol.

The problem is one of gerrymandering, where district lines are not drawn to reflect geographical or political balance, but to favor the incumbent or some other partisan choice. When legislators do the redistricting, the norm seems to be that the state ends up with meandering footprints meticulously designed, it would seem, to ensure that no incumbent will face serious opposition regardless of how the political winds are blowing.

When I was first elected to the Louisiana legislature back in 1971, legislative redistricting had taken place just months before.  But the reapportionment plan did not pass federal court muster, and was thrown out just weeks before the primary election date.  Ed Steimel was head of the Public Affairs Research Council at the time, and was appointed by federal judge Frank Polozola to serve as a “special master” to redraw the district lines.  Based on Steimel’s rework, the old plan was thrown out and the new court ordered plan put in place.  There was general agreement that the Steimel Plan was fair and kept district more cohesive and less spread out. (It must have been good as I won my senate seat easily in the first primary.)

So what are the alternatives? What are other progressive states doing to transfer the power of redistricting to a system less driven by self-interest? Fourteen states have assigned the task to officials or panels outside the state legislature. And independent redistricting wears the cloak of good-government reform, as long as a consensus can be built on just who will serve on such panels. How do you pick the members? How can such a system be put in place that assures voters the final result will be fair, non- partisan, and keep local interests balanced?

There are a number of bright people in Louisiana with solid business and educational backgrounds that are capable of taking on this controversial task. The state has several respected demographers, and a number of well qualified professors at Louisiana universities. Retired judges fit the category as well as representatives of some of the state’s good government groups.

One idea would be to create a Louisiana Fair Reapportionment Practices Commission. Let nominations for its members come from the legislature, the Supreme Court, the good government groups like PAR and CABL, the various college boards, and perhaps a key business group or two. Then put all the submissions in a hat, and draw out eleven names to serve as members to begin their work right after the new census data is made available.

The goal for such a commission is simple – put the important issue of redistricting into the hands of less vested interests instead of those who in the past have been allowed to define the terms of their own cartel. Simply put, it’s just wrong for legislators to draw these districts and then run in them. There needs to be a better way.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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