Sam Hanna Jr.

Luke Letlow’s election Saturday in the 5th District congressional race capped off a rather lackluster year in Louisiana on the election front, but his margin of victory was more than impressive though not necessarily unexpected.

Letlow, of Start in Richland Parish, captured some 62 percent of the vote in the runoff against Alexandria Rep. Lance Harris, a three-term lawmaker known as a leader among conservatives in the state House. It was an all-Republican affair in an election cycle in which Sen. Bill Cassidy and every incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Louisiana, sans 5th District Congressman Ralph Abraham, were easily re-elected. Abraham opted not to seek re-election.

Armed with a rock-solid base of support and countless contacts accumulated over roughly 20 years of working in and around Republican politics across the state, Letlow’s ascension to the U.S. House was never in doubt. While he spent the past six years dutifully serving as Abraham’s chief of staff, Letlow got his feet wet in earnest many moons ago when he interned for then-Congressman John Cooksey. That summer of fun in Washington (if you care to call internships fun) obviously inspired Letlow to pursue a career in public service, which led to a lengthy stint serving as an aide to congressman and then-governor Bobby Jindal and most recently, Abraham, who stubbornly term-limited himself to serve no more than three terms in the House.

It goes without saying that Letlow has paid his dues.

The 5th District is the largest congressional district in Louisiana. It includes all or parts of 24 parishes from throughout the northeastern region of the state as well as central including Alexandria and points east. It dips into the northern most areas of Acadiana and shoots across the state into the Florida parishes to the northeast of Baton Rouge. To suggest the concerns and interests of the people of the 5th District are diverse would be an understatement.

The 5th District also is one of the poorest congressional districts in America, and the heart of the district — northeastern Louisiana — is losing population at a rapid clip. That’s the case because there’s very little to no economic growth occurring here. After all, people tend to gravitate to communities where they can find a job.

While Letlow very correctly identified economic development as a primary area of concern, he perhaps has a bigger obstacle in front him that will garner much of his attention in the coming year. That obstacle, my friends, is redistricting.

Every 10 years the federal government conducts a census, or the counting of people in every state in the nation. It’s a big deal for a number of reasons including dividing up the 435 congressional districts across the country based on the population in each state. States that grow in population gain congressional districts; states that lose population or exhibit very little population growth lose congressional districts.

Over the past 10 years, Louisiana’s population has been stagnant to say the least, but as previously noted in this space, northeastern Louisiana is losing residents. Badly.

Louisiana isn’t in any danger of losing a congressional district altogether following the 2020 Census, but the districts are going to change including the 5th District. It’s boundaries must be expanded to capture more residents.

Letlow’s job is to ensure the 5th District remains anchored in northeastern Louisiana and not carved up to the point that northeastern Louisiana becomes an afterthought. That’s already the case in the eyes and minds of our friends and neighbors who live south of Interstate 10, but to those of us who live here the region still matters.

Generally speaking, freshmen members of a state’s congressional delegation don’t have much say over redistricting. Members who’ve been around for a spell usually dictate how redistricting will evolve.

Let’s hope Letlow has collected a few favors over the years.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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