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Seabaugh deferral sets speakership course

The withdrawal of state Rep. Alan Seabaugh from consideration for a federal judgeship has both local and statewide ramifications for Louisiana.

Last year, Republican Pres. Donald Trump nominated the GOP’s Seabaugh for a spot on Louisiana’s Western District Court. Perhaps more than any other job in government, lawyers covet such spots as they last for life (during good behavior, which rarely isn’t the case) and place a minimal amount of constraints on their behavior.

But Senate Democrats have tried to slow walk these appointments, infuriated that Trump winning in 2016 gave him the right to make nominations stopping the trend of his predecessor towards placing judges more likely to try to write the law than to adjudicate it. Seabaugh has held on for about a year, but with 2019 elections looming and supposedly months before his name would come up for approval, he had to make a choice. Last year he had cut back in stumping for more ideological legislation that he pursued in the past, in order not to really rock the boat as far as an anticipated confirmation process went. 

Except, that is, for one high-profile incident. At the tail end of 2018’s Second Extraordinary session, Seabaugh succeeded in blocking reconsideration of a sales tax measure to reinstitute a 0.5 percent levy. Despite condemnation at the time from the chattering classes, Democrats, and even Republican state Rep. Julie Stokes, who wanted to send the measure through on the basis that the subsequent third special session of the year would cost thousands of dollars a day, Seabaugh’s effort – when that additional session reinstituted the tax at only the 0.45 percent level – ended up saving taxpayers an estimated $240 million over the next few years.

Since then, Stokes’ political career has gone into retreat as her expensive campaign for Secretary of State crashed and burned, while Seabaugh has become a legitimate candidate for election as the next speaker of the House. He made that wish explicit in his announcement, which obviously means he will run for reelection in his safe district.

That must bring a sigh of relief from the state senator whose territory overlaps Seabaugh’s residence, Democrat John Milkovich. In 2007, Seabaugh nearly knocked off the Republican incumbent in that district, and while Milkovich has tried to dazzle voters with solid social conservatism in his three years in office (the Louisiana Family Forum rates him at a lifetime 100 percent voting record), his record on economic issues leaves something to be desired with his right-leaning district (the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry assigns him a lifetime score of only 41).

Had Seabaugh challenged Milkovich, the former’s unquestioned conservative credentials would have made him a favorite to upend the rookie senator. Republicans now will have to look elsewhere to find someone to take a clearly vulnerable Milkovich’s seat.

However, northwest Louisiana’s loss may translate into the state’s gain. Of other names circulating for the House’s top spot – Stuart Bishop, Barry Ivey, and Sherman Mack – while all conservatives only Ivey has voted as conservatively as Seabaugh, although Ivey’s insurgency style may not prove as attractive to GOP representatives as Seabaugh’s greater emphasis on working through established corridors of power. And conservatives especially will want their voices heard from 2020-2024, either as opponents of a reelected Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards or, more likely, as an eager ally of his Republican successor wishing to remove the impediments to solving state problems that Edwards constructed during his term.

Job security and a chance to assert constitutionalism in making rulings commend themselves to donning the robes of a federal judge, but Seabaugh’s decision to defer that gives him a chance to make a bigger impact on Louisiana.

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