The U.S. Justice Department signed off Monday evening on new election districts for Louisiana’s congressional and Public Service Commission seats.
The congressional plan calls for six U.S. House of Representative districts, a loss of one seat.
Under the plan, parts of the nine parishes around Baton Rouge would be represented by three different congressmen. The state Attorney General’s Office received word via an email letter from the U.S. Justice Department that Louisiana’s plans had been “pre-cleared.”
“The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified change,” wrote Thomas E. Perez, a U.S. assistant attorney general.
However, Perez added that the failure of the U.S. attorney general to object “does not bar subsequent litigation” challenging the change.
The U.S. Justice Department must approve changes to election procedures for Louisiana — and most Southern states with a history of racially discriminatory practices — to ensure they comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Districts are redrawn after each census and will govern elections for at least 10 years.
The new congressional and PSC election districts won’t be used until 2012 elections.
“Now we will know where we are going to be running and get an opportunity to see a few people before that time comes,” said Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, dean of the House delegation.
Alexander’s district drops south from its Monroe base then curls east around the boot of Louisiana to Washington Parish.
The plan preserves one majority black congressional district. Because of a drop in population in the New Orleans area, the 2nd Congressional District now stretches up the Mississippi River to include many of the black communities in Baton Rouge.
The newly configured 6th District in Baton Rouge now stretches into the northern precincts of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.
Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said the concerns of Lafourche-Terrebonne and other areas added to his district are the same as those in his existing district: the economy and jobs, along with oil and gas, hurricane and coastal protection.
“We are attempting to represent the district now. At some point we will begin campaigning,” said Cassidy, in an interview Monday night.
Cassidy said he had a telephone town hall meeting in the district in conjunction with the opening of the Morganza Spillway and toured Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, so he could get the local perspective combined with that of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The bulk of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes are now in the 1st District, which is includes St. Tammany and other parishes in suburban New Orleans.
Congressional redesign was among the most contentious in the special redistricting session, which wrapped up in April.
A final deal was struck in the closing hours.
The state’s population growth has been slower than other states, which led to the loss of a House seat.
The loss of a seat meant two incumbents would have run against each other.
The congressional plan puts veteran Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, into the same district as freshman Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia.
The remap for the five-elected members of the PSC, which regulates utility and trucking companies, did not attract as much controversy.
The election districts stayed relatively the same, except for the Baton Rouge-based seat.
Population growth in the Baton Rouge area required PSC District 2 to give up some of the Baton Rouge-area precincts in which minority voters make up the majority.
Those precincts went to District 3 in New Orleans, which already represented some neighborhoods in Baton Rouge.
“It’s a little more oriented to the Baton Rouge metro area and the Lafayette I-10 corridor,” said PSC Chairman Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge, of the difference between the old district maps and the newly approved ones.
“We put special emphasis on making the districts compatible,” Field said.
A decision on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education election districts is expected by next week.