The classic Western film Tombstone has a memorable scene in which the notorious gunslinger and gambler Doc Holliday reads the Bible as he lies dying. Noting the irony of the moment after a lifetime of dissipation, Holliday turns to his friend, Wyatt Earp, and says dryly, "It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds."
That line came to mind last week when I heard about Gov. Bobby Jindal's about-face on the issue of bipartisanship in the ongoing special legislative session on redistricting. Jindal piously told lawmakers on March 20 that they should put people ahead of party. He also promised to stay out of the redistricting fray.
"Some describe this process as the elected leaders selecting their voters," Jindal said. "But in reality, the purpose of this session is more important than that."
Nice sentiments. Too bad Jindal didn't mean a word of it.
Barely a week after Jindal's speech, his hatchet man, Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell, met privately with Republican lawmakers and told them to amend the pending House redistricting plan. The amendment pushed by Teepell — on Jindal's behalf — effectively turned Uptown New Orleans into a political colony of Jefferson Parish. A map accompanying the proposed amendment carved up several Uptown neighborhoods and placed them in snake-shaped districts dominated by Jefferson voters.
On its face, the proposed amendment — by Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie — was a political bitch-slap to New Orleans and its neighborhoods. Proponents say it merely aimed to protect Jefferson incumbents and maximize the parish's legislative clout. It accomplished that aim, however, by pitting several New Orleans Democrats against each other or in districts favoring Republicans.
The real purpose of the Ligi amendment thus went far beyond a power grab by the Jefferson political establishment. Its ultimate aim was to grow the GOP's new House majority via redistricting, which is why Jindal threw his weight behind it.
According to several GOP lawmakers who attended the meeting with Teepell, the governor's adviser said Jindal would not sign a House redistricting plan that did not contain the Ligi amendment.
So much for Jindal's pledge to stay out of the fray — and his platitudes about bipartisanship.
Unfortunately for Jindal, his hypocritical reach exceeded his political grasp. The day after Teepell delivered the governor's marching orders, the House narrowly defeated the Ligi amendment by a vote of 47-49. That vote came after a pitched debate — and intense lobbying by high-powered elected officials and business leaders in both parishes. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Jefferson Parish President John Young, who normally get along well, were on opposite sides of this one, and it got ugly.
Jindal's hypocrisy went beyond breaking his word on bipartisanship. The House districting plan he wanted to gut is authored by Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, which meant he wanted Tucker to publicly eviscerate a plan he had worked on for weeks. Tucker, who is term limited but still politically ambitious, declined. When the Ligi amendment came up for a vote, the Republican speaker abstained, which is the equivalent of a "no" vote. Several other House Republicans likewise balked.
The two-vote margin against the amendment chagrined other House Republicans. More than that, it was a public slap in the face to Jindal.
As much as Republican leaders have crowed about their party's new legislative majorities, when it came down to a raw power grab by the GOP at the expense of New Orleans — a power grab Jindal fully supported — the governor couldn't carry the day in a chamber dominated by his own party.
Jindal's hypocrisy appears to know no bounds, but, thankfully, some Republican lawmakers don't share his taste for duplicity.