Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Next year is shaping up to be a divine one for politiphiles.
By Walter Pierce

Now that we’ve dispensed with 2010 — a decent political year in Lafayette punctuated by annexation squabbles, the creation of the charter commission, school board elections, a meltdown at the Lafayette Housing Authority, a city-parish councilman’s staggering legal/financial problems and a contentious battle over science in public schools — we can begin looking forward to ’11. If you’re a political junkie like me, there’s much to look forward to.

It begins with qualifying Jan. 12 for the open state Senate District 26 seat formerly occupied by Nick Gautreaux, who left the Legislature in late December to serve as commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles. The district spans all of Vermilion Parish, plus parts of St. Landry and Acadia parishes and the western third of Lafayette. First-term GOP Rep. Jonathan Perry of Abbeville has already announced his intention to run; we’ll have to wait and see if any aspirants from Lafayette Parish emerge.

Spring is when things really warm up, first with state lawmakers convening March 20 to redraw Louisiana’s U.S. House districts. The federal redistricting — Louisiana will lose one of its current seven U.S. House districts — is likely to lead to the creation of a district that combines in some fashion Districts 7 and 3 to create a coastal district. That would pit, should both choose to seek the position, Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette, the three-term Republican in 7, against newly elected Republican (and tea party-embracing) Rep. Jeff Landry of New Iberia, who won former Congressman Charlie Melancon’s District 3 seat this fall.

If this comes to pass — that Boustany and Landry square off in two years for a new, combined district — at least one thing bodes well for Boustany: the end of Louisiana’s closed party primary system, adopted in 2006 and abandoned this year, and the return to open or so-called “jungle” primaries.
As we witnessed across the nation in 2010, closed GOP primaries favor the more conservative candidate (think Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller and Ken Buck, tea party candidates who defeated moderate, “establishment” opponents but who later lost in their general elections). An open primary in which Democrats and Republicans (and everyone else) are all vying to make a run-off will favor a midstreamer like Boustany.

On the heels of federal redistricting, sometime in late March or early April, parishes will also begin the redistricting process. Here in Lafayette, we’ll redraw the nine districts that comprise the school board and city-parish council seats. This promises to be a pain in the asterisk: Federal law requires the parish to maintain two majority-black districts, and redrawing those districts — Lafayette’s black population isn’t as concentrated in the central and north parts of the city as it was a decade ago — without gerrymandering them will be tricky.

There’s also the possibility that because our parish has become so bottom-heavy, that is, more densely populated in the south, the council could flip in favor of council members who represent non-city residents, giving them five seats to four for the city reps. Try funding an arts center or buying a horse farm if that happens, which brings us to the charter commission.

The nine-member panel must complete its work and make a recommendation by April 21. It will likely recommend what is essentially partial deconsolidation — create a separate charter for the city of Lafayette, with its own council and mayor, maintain a parish council but keep services like public works consolidated. That is the best possible solution for those of us who worry the city is headed toward a capitulation of its sovereignty and self-determination.

In the fall there will be elections for city-parish council, city-parish president and some legislative seats, including Senate District 23 (incumbent Mike Michot is term-limited) and House District 44 (Rep. Rickey Hardy, our fount of colorful quotes, will seek reelection). The likely suitor for Michot’s seat is state Rep. Page Cortez of Lafayette, who will be winding down his first term in the House. Our sources say a more conservative, tea party-approved candidate — like Michot, Cortez is a centrist Republican — may emerge to vie for Michot’s seat. Regardless, the outcome of the legislative contests could have far-reaching consequences for the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the Acadiana delegation in Baton Rouge. It’s all about clout.

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