Jim Beam column: GOP goal is sad commentary

Published 6:30 am Saturday, November 4, 2023

One of the most conservative lawmakers to ever occupy a seat in the Louisiana Legislature has offered an extremely negative forecast of what’s coming from the administration of soon-to-be-governor Republican Jeff Landry.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, who will be a state senator beginning Jan. 8, 2024, told the Louisiana Illuminator, “We can’t undo everything John Bel did, but we are going to try.”  He is referring, of course, to outgoing Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

That forecast isn’t unusual for Seabaugh, who has been trying to do exactly that during Edwards’ eight years in office. One of the measures he sponsored at this year’s session created a task force to take a look at criminal justice reforms enacted in 2016 and 2017.

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The Advocate in a Sept. 19 news report said AG Landry, the governor elect, is chairman of that task force. The newspaper said the task force was born from conservative claims that the state is “awash in lawlessness due to criminal justice reform.”

Crime analysts, on the other hand, who include conservative public policy groups, say there is no correlation between the reforms and the increase in violent acts.

The reforms were a major achievement of the Edwards administration and bipartisan legislative supporters who are concerned Landry, who has also repeatedly attacked Edwards, could aim to repeal the legislation.

“Could” is the wrong word. There is every indication that those reform measures are already as good as dead. The same thing is true for many of the 28 measures vetoed by Edwards after this year’s legislative session.

Three of those deal with LBGTQ+ issues and one of the bills has already been overridden by Republican legislators at a veto session.

Other vetoes involved anti-vaccination measures, a bill that would send violent 17-year-olds back to adult prisons and making it a crime to approach a law enforcement officer engaged in his duties.

The Illuminator said legislators are also likely to push education savings accounts, which would allow a larger appropriation of public state funding to be used for private school tuition.

The newspaper said “a slew of moderate Republicans” have retired or failed to win elections recently and many of them have been replaced by archconservatives. It added that three ultraconservative House members, for example, have been elected to the state Senate.

The upper chamber has traditionally been where extremely bad House bills ended up dying, but those days are probably over.

Democrat Dustin Granger of Lake Charles, a candidate for state treasurer in the Nov. 18 general election, has also commented on Seabaugh’s comments about trying to undo everything Edwards did. Granger said the Legislature “is taking a hard turn to the right.”

Granger said lawmakers seem determined to defund public schools, help insurance companies at the expense of ordinary Louisianans, slash funding for education and  healthcare and push for tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy.

We saw some of those things occurring during the eight years when Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal was in office. Jindal’s refusal to veto repeal of the Stelly tax reform plan resulted in extremely high budget cuts and Edwards inheriting a $2 billion deficit. Repeal restored lower state income taxes for the 20% of wealthy taxpayers who itemize on their tax returns.

Edwards and bipartisan legislators also enacted a 0.45% state sales tax increase that helped get the state back on a sound financial footing. That tax goes off the books in 2025 and it, too, is already as good as dead. Some GOP lawmakers are also talking about cutting other taxes.

Conservative legislators have obviously forgotten that national, state, and local governments were created to provide services that citizens can’t provide for themselves. Those include paying for health care, K-12 education, higher education, roads and bridges, law enforcement, and public safety.

Citizens who may be unhappy about the state’s hard turn to the right on Oct. 14 have only themselves to blame. The voter turnout was only 36.3%. As we mentioned earlier, less than 18.2% of the state’s nearly 3 million registered voters elected Landry as governor.

Seabaugh said, “The only people fired up to vote were the Jeff Landry crowd.”

Scott Wilfong, a Republican political consultant who worked for some of the more moderate challengers who lost, said, “You never have a governor’s election that has this low of a turnout.”

Unfortunately, an even lower 15% to 18% turnout is expected for the Nov. 18 runoff. As Pogo said in his long ago comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”