Back in September, when Bill Cassidy was doing his stealth Senate candidacy, he missed a forum at the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Aging.
His absence, however, provided the chance for a very entertaining riff by his opponent, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, on his being afraid of her — she didn’t think she was that scary –— and his being fearful of his own elderly constituents, proof being he skipped this event in his own district.
With U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, by her side and occasionally joining in, the 10-minute routine had the crowd in stitches.
Nobody was cheeky enough to point out that Cassidy’s 6th Congressional District was across the street. And Richmond had no comment when it was brought up later that the venue actually was in his 2nd Congressional District.
Few in the audience seemed to have noticed. All eight of the elderly folks sitting at one table proudly promised their votes to Edwin Edwards, the former Democratic governor who is running to replace Cassidy in the 6th District. They all held up his placard and reminisced about voting for him in younger days. But their homes, they were surprised to learn, now are in the 2nd District.
Redistricting in 2011 changed the 2nd District congressional seat from one primarily based in New Orleans to one that also includes much of Baton Rouge.
The diaspora of New Orleanians after Hurricane Katrina required the Republican-majority Louisiana Legislature to start moving up the Mississippi River to pick up enough black communities in order to keep Richmond’s seat a minority-majority one.
In the process of keeping the 2nd Congressional District filled overwhelmingly with African-American voters, legislators moved another 100,000 or so white registered voters into the Baton Rouge-based 6th Congressional District, making it about 72 percent white, according to the secretary of state.
Though marginally wealthier than other districts, half of the households in the 13 parishes of the 6th District earn less than $50,000 a year, and 14.8 percent — roughly 105,000 people — have no health insurance at all, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
National political handicappers call Louisiana’s 2nd and 6th Districts two of the safest congressional districts in America.
Edwards is likely to win a place in the runoff. (Not to mention in the hearts of pundits across the nation looking for easy stories about wacky Louisiana politics.) But because of whom the Legislature included in the 6th District, the next congressman likely will be one of seven Republicans, all arguingfor less government help, more reliance on private businesses, no Affordable Care Act and forbidding gay people to marry.
In a campaign full of dissimulation, perhaps one moment to remember came during a 6th District forum two weeks ago when Libertarian Rufus Craig asked his fellow candidates to justify why the 6th Congressional District was drawn to let elected officials choose their voters, rather than the other way around.
One by one, the Republican candidates, who have been running on “Obama-bad” rhetoric, called redistricting a partisan abomination that needed to be fixed.
“What the Legislature did in this district is absolutely a disservice to the public,” said Garret Graves, a Republican who lives in Baton Rouge’s Garden District.
GOP candidate Dan Claitor, whose Baton Rouge state Senate district stretches southeast from LSU through well-to-do subdivisions to the tony Country Club of Louisiana, agreed. “It’s not good for the democratic process. It’s drawn in such a way that Republicans don’t have to respond to Democrats and Democrats don’t have to respond to Republicans.”
Candidate Craig McCulloch, a Republican from the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish, says he heard nothing but complaints from Baker city officials, because the district lines go right through the middle of town and “they don’t know whether to call Cassidy or the other one.”
Paul Dietzel, another Republican candidate from predominantly white south Baton Rouge, called on the people “to advocate for making equal districts and fair districts that are not based on partisan politics.”
Apparently tiring of his opponents’ Cassandra tears, Edwards jumped in, “You Republicans and conservatives should not complain about this district. I’m the fellow who might be disadvantaged.”
In an interview, Edwards says he’s optimistic but holds few illusions about a district designed to elect a Republican. He realizes that a lot of voters will be confused on Tuesday and said what voters need to understand is that “if they don’t see my name on the ballot, they need to vote for,” he pauses, vote for “the other one, uh, Richmond.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.