District Fairness Questions Are Not New
Starting in early 2018, state policymakers will be looking ahead to the 2021 redistricting process. While many are focused on a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision over alleged partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin, longtime Louisiana politicians admit the concerns that case raises are not new to the Bayou State.
Former Congressman Billy Tauzin says redistricting, also known as “reapportionment," has created the rampant partisan dysfunction in D.C., and here at home.
“Reapportionment continued to re-segregate the country, into all black districts and all conservative white districts,” Tauzin maintains.
Former Congressman Rodney Alexander remembers when he was a state representative, and they were drawing new congressional districts in 1991.
“We designed the snake district that went from Baton Rouge all the way to Shreveport. You have to get the computer to wiggle around and get minority votes that would make a district contiguous,” Alexander explained, illustrating the movement with his hands.
“There was a lawsuit filed, and the court system said, ‘You can’t gerrymander to create a district.’ And we said, ‘Yeah, y’all told us to. That’s the only way you can do it.'”
State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, testifying before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, recalls redistricting in 2001, when she was a brand new member of Louisiana’s House.
“I was invited to tell some of the leaders what I wanted. The question posed to me was, 'What would you like your district to look like?’”
She says it quickly became clear what they had in mind.
“There were deals being cut to make it easier for re-election,” Peterson stated, unequivocally.
As is raised in the Wisconsin case, Gill v Whitford, Louisiana legislators do most of their district line-drawing out of the public eye. But due to this state's history of black voter suppression, Louisiana has for years been required to get U.S. Justice Department approval for its reapportionment maps. That is no longer the case, and it prompted Peterson to suggest a principle for guiding the next redrawing of districts.
“If we start with trying to represent neighborhoods and people’s interests first – and putting politics after – then we’ll have a good outcome.”