James Gill: Riser, Alexander and Jindal

The blogosphere appears outraged over the machinations that led to the anointment of state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, as Louisiana’s next congressman.

Gov. Bobby Jindal did indeed put the fix in to deny the Democrats an even break, but anyone who finds this shocking should stay away from politics. There is no point in running for governor if you don’t want to throw your weight around. The proper Democratic response is not disgust but envy.

Rodney Alexander’s announcement that he is quitting Congress may have come as a shock to voters, but it followed months of planning. Jindal has a long history of finding cushy jobs for well-behaved former state legislators, and now he has kept one open for Alexander. Riser, meanwhile, an avowed Jindal disciple ever since he ran for office in 2008, was preparing his congressional campaign. As soon as Alexander made his announcement, Riser’s new website was up and he commenced twittering relentlessly.

Jindal was in no mood to tarry, and called the election for Oct. 19. Qualifying ends next week. After stealing such a considerable march on the competition, and picking up the support of the GOP establishment, Riser would have to pull out the stops to lose this one. Jindal’s chief fixer, Timmy Teepell, will be working on the campaign, and Riser can afford a vigorous one. He has an ample campaign chest and can always lay his hands on extra cash, if need be, because he owns Riser Funeral Homes. With such a reassuring name, business is bound to be good.

Riser, at 51, could rise to become a big wheel in Congress one day, and he will no doubt always feel beholden to Jindal. Part of the reason Jindal took a shine to him must have been his successful efforts on behalf of Louisiana’s supposedly oppressed gun owners. Indeed, that is the only issue that has brought Riser statewide public attention.

Riser authored legislation that put a constitutional amendment on the ballot subjecting any controls on gun ownership to the “strict scrutiny” of the courts. The proposition that gun rights, and therefore freedom itself, were under threat in Louisiana was so manifestly absurd that there was never any doubt about what would happen. Sure enough, Jindal campaigned hard for the amendment and it passed easily.

Thus any attempt to protect the public from errant gunfire is liable to constitutional challenge. It will take years for the courts to decide what gun laws may be allowed to stand now that the right to tote is “fundamental.”

And Louisiana was already out-shooting every other state in the union. Funeral homes are used to corpses with bullet holes.

While Riser settles in in Washington, Alexander will be doing the same in Baton Rouge as secretary of Jindal’s Department of Veteran Affairs. That position has been vacant since Lane Carson retired in January, giving Jindal plenty of time to plan the switch and wrong-foot the opposition. It all seems to have worked perfectly, not least for Alexander, who explained that he was fed up with the partisanship that grips Washington these days.

Alexander’s own bipartisan credentials are impeccable, for he used to be a Democrat until he made a wrong-footing switch of his own. He joined the GOP half an hour before qualifying closed when he came up for re-election in 2004, coasted in and was roundly denounced as a coward by the party he had just deserted. He denied that the GOP had offered him any plum committee assignments to switch, but it was not exactly a shock when he promptly landed a seat on Appropriations.

If Jindal and Riser see eye-to-eye on guns, Jindal does not share Alexander’s views on bipartisanship. Indeed, every time voters seem to be growing disaffected with Republicans, and there is talk of a move to the center, Jindal urges his colleagues to give no quarter and remain ideologically pure. He must be confident Riser will be similarly uncompromising.

Alexander has not only landed a $130,000-a year job but now has the opportunity to buy back into the state retirement system he left after a spell in the state Legislature some years ago. He is set up for life, but, at 66, might even consider running for governor when Jindal moves to pastures new. These guys demonstrate what a good racket politics can be if you have the stomach.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.