What will Louisiana's Congressional map look like in 2022? Here's the delegation's choice
Louisiana's congressmen have coalesced behind their preference for a new map of the state's six congressional boundaries, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson said, and it looks strikingly familiar to the one in place for the past decade.
Johnson, who represents the 4th Congressional District, said the state's four sitting congressmen reached a consensus in concept last week, though it will ultimately be up to the Louisiana Legislature to set the new boundaries.
"We're in 100% agreement the existing districts work pretty well the way they are," Johnson told USA Today Network. "Obviously, there will be some adjustments and tweaks. Some districts will have to gain voters and others will have to shed voters, but we believe the general existing framework should remain."
That would leave two separate northern Louisiana districts in place rather than create one northern district that stretches along the Interstate 20 corridor from the Texas state line to the Mississippi state line.
Johnson said the meeting didn't include 5th District Congresswoman-elect Julia Letlow of Start, who won her seat in a special election landslide victory Saturday, though Letlow told USA Today Network she's on board with the concept.
The state's other seat, District 2 based in New Orleans, is vacant until a runoff election takes place between Democratic state Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson on April 24.
Political boundaries for every state office from the Legislature to the Public Service Commission to Congress are redrawn every 10 years when a United States Census is completed, a process known as redistricting.
The process will begin in the Louisiana House and Senate governmental affairs committees, which are respectively chaired by Republican Rep. John Stefanski of Crowley and Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell.
Though the Louisiana Legislature will have the ultimate authority to send the new map to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' desk, it's impossible for legislators to ignore input from their powerful members of Congress.
Nor should they, said Stefanski and Hewitt.
"They may not be the ones drawing the maps, but their input is certainly relevant," Stefanski said of the delegation members. "I'm going to take input from everybody."
"Of course their input is important; they're going to have a very large say," Hewitt said. "But it's also important to seek input from the communities they serve. I know that Lafayette and Lake Charles have expressed an interest in staying together."
Those cities are sisters within the current 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins and would remain largely intact under the delegation's preference.
Advocates for a single northern Louisiana district argue the communities at the top of the current 4th and 5th districts don't have enough in common with those at the bottom of the district because of vast amount of distance separating them.
Johnson's 15-parish 5th Congressional District, for instance, takes in Shreveport-Bossier City as the population hub but dives all the way into the northernmost reaches of Cajun country in St. Landry Parish.
Congressman-elect Letlow's 24-parish 5th District is even larger geographically. It takes in Monroe and Alexandria as the population hubs but dips down into Acadiana for part of Opelousas and through the Florida parishes to include Bogalusa.
But Johnson and Letlow defend the sprawling boundaries and dismiss criticism that commonalities and culture are lost at opposite ends of their districts.
Johnson and Letlow would also presumably have the most to lose if they were pitted against each other in a single northern Louisiana district.
"My district includes both Barksdale (Air Force Base in Bossier City) and Fort Polk (near Leesville)," Johnson said. "Having both installations in one district gives me more clout to advocate for them on the House Armed Services Committee. It's a critical common interest."
Letlow said preserving the 5th District will be among her top priorities when she takes office.
"The 5th District is tied together by a rural way of life in which agriculture is the backbone," she said. "We have to protect that way of life with a voice in Washington."
"The consensus (of the delegation) is it's in the best interest of Louisiana to have two North Louisiana districts," Johnson said. "There's a feeling in northern Louisiana that we can be an afterthought and that if there's just a single district it's easier for us to be forgotten. Two members of Congress keeps us part of the conversation."
But preserving the two northern Louisiana districts means the boundaries would have to be extended again to take in the nearly 750,000 population required to populate each congressional district. Hewitt noted Johnson's district might have to expand "all the way to the coast."
Louisiana's other districts may be less meandering, but also have quirks.
The 2nd Congressional District's population hub is the city of New Orleans, but it crawls up the Mississippi River until it almost splits 6th Congressional District Republican U.S. Rep. Garret Graves' district in two.
And the 2nd District also separates much of 1st District Republican Congressman Steve Scalise's southeastern Louisiana constituency from his Bayou Country population where Houma is the hub.
The delegation's preference could also be boosted by the delay in completing and delivering the 2020 Census because of the COVID pandemic.
Louisiana's Legislature would normally convene for a special session this fall to put the new map in place, but the new numbers now aren't expected to be ready until at least September, which would likely push a session into January or February of 2022.
That could leave as few as eight months for congressional campaigns before the Nov. 8, 2022 elections.
"That's probably our most pressing redistricting issue," Republican Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette said recently in a Louisiana Association of Business and Industry podcast.
"It's a problem," Hewitt said of the delay. "They've now told us the time line to receive the (2020 Census) numbers is by Sept. 30, although they've missed every deadline so far. If that's the case, realistically it'll be January or February before we'd be ready for a special session."
"I just don't want to speculate too much until we get the actual numbers to move forward," Stefanski said. "Our focus will be making sure we have a full range of public input before we proceed in a transparent process."
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.