Louisiana politicians are notorious for making bad choices, not just for themselves but also for their constituents. Think creationism. Think any number of unconstitutional laws that play well (momentarily) to the bleachers. Now think about the notion of a single congressional district to represent Louisiana's vanishing coastline.
First, let's examine the selling points, which are touted by Republican Congressman Jeff Landry. The freshman from New Iberia says putting all the coastal parishes into one district will allow those vulnerable parishes to "speak with one voice" on the issue of coastal erosion. A corollary argument is that putting all of them into one district will make coastal restoration a higher priority for that congressman.
Here's the reality: A single coastal district would suit Landry's political interests.
Such a district would essentially preserve Landry's 3rd District — and expand it to include part of the district of fellow Republican Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette. Boustany's 7th District currently includes his hometown of Lafayette as well as the city of Lake Charles, which likely would tilt for Boustany in a race against Landry.
Landry's plan would lop off Calcasieu Parish (Lake Charles) from the "coastal district" and put it into the 4th District, which is dominated by western and northwestern parishes. That would improve Landry's chances significantly in a race against Boustany.
Politically, it seems incongruous that a freshman could out-maneuver Boustany on this. Not only does Boustany have more seniority, but he also is close to House Speaker John Boehner — and he sits on the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, which writes tax laws. That seat makes it easy for Boustany to raise money.
But Landry is no mere rookie. He's a fierce, take-no-prisoners campaigner (think David Vitter without the whores), and he's the darling of Louisiana's nascent Tea Party movement. He also is shrewd (he deftly declined to participate in Congress' Cadillac health-care plan), and he has shown that he can raise money. As Louisiana's GOP incumbents look beyond redistricting to the 2012 elections, Landry is the guy none of them wants to have to run against. Not because he can't be beat, but because any race against him will be brutal.
Which takes us back to the proposed single coastal district. Electoral politics aside, the idea of putting all the coastal parishes into one district is an awful one — for the parishes themselves.
Think about it: In Congress, the only thing that counts is numbers. The more congressmembers you have espousing your cause, the better your chances of success. It's all about numbers, all the time.
So why would coastal parishes, who need all the help they can get to fund restoration projects, want to limit themselves to just one congressman?
The alleged "advantage" of speaking with one voice is a myth. Coastal parishes don't need one voice; they need one message — delivered by as many voices as possible.
The bottom line is this: If only one congressman has coastal restoration as his priority, he stands a pretty good chance of being ignored in Congress. After all, he's just one vote. But if two, or even three, congressmen have it as a priority — and if a congressman has even one coastal parish in his district, it will be a priority — the issue will be much harder to ignore.
Saying coastal Louisiana would be better served by having just one congressman is like saying all of Louisiana will be better off with only six congressmen instead of seven or eight, which is how many we used to have. If lawmakers and voters buy that argument, the coast is doomed.