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Conservatives in state House forming new coalition
LApolitics notebook by Jeremy Alford and John Maginnis
Special to the Herald-Guide -   Feb 20, 2014

The last legislative session drove the point home to many Republican legislators that the more their majority grows the less they are unified around core GOP values.

That has led a small number of lawmakers to form the Louisiana Legislative Conservative Coalition to re-instill “traditional conservative principles” in a delegation that, members say, has drifted from its ideological moorings.

“We want to pull (the Louisiana Republican Legislative Delegation) to the right and make sure it supports the core issues we ran for office on,” said Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, who will chair the LLCC.

While the main focus of the group is policy, getting conservatives elected is on the agenda as well.

“We will raise money and be politically active,” said Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge.

That could even mean helping conservative Democrats or independents in races without Republicans.

“We can do things the delegation is not set up to do,” Talbot said.

Seabaugh, who also serves as vice chair of the legislative delegation, said the new coalition will do research on a variety of issues and develop a legislative agenda to present to the full delegation.

“Legislators often lose sight of the principles they ran on when they get to Baton Rouge,” Seabaugh said. “When lobbyists throw stuff at us, the obvious gets blurred.”

The group, which has registered as a “527” non-profit, is patterned after similar coalitions in Texas and Mississippi, as well as the Republican Study Committee in the U.S. House, which is chaired by Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Metairie.

The LLCC has started small with 13 House members, and will expand by inviting legislators to join, based on their voting records.

The other founding members are laced with supporters of both Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter. They include Reps. Stuart Bishop of Lafayette, Thomas Carmody of Shreveport, Gordon Dove of Houma, Ray Garafalo of Chalmette, Paul Hollis of Mandeville, Barry Ivey of Central, Joe Lopinto of Metairie, Nick Lorusso of New Orleans, Scott Simon of Abita Springs, Julie Stokes of Kenner and Lenar Whitney of Houma.

The coalition will offer an agenda for the coming session, but Seabaugh sees the group becoming more instrumental under the next governor. He personally hopes that will be Vitter, though the coalition takes no position on the 2015 race. “If he wins, we want to be there for him. If someone not as conservative wins, we want to fight for those principles we stand for to be heard,” he said.

Delegation growth led to drift

The past six years have seen rapid growth in the Republican ranks largely through Democrats switching to Republican in order to get elected. As a result, Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, said there has been some drift to the left within the delegation.

“I’m not naming names,” he said, “but there are some people who sit in those delegation meetings who wouldn’t know a conservative thought if it popped in their heads.”

Another major split occurred last year when the so-called Fiscal Hawks, formally known as the Budget Reform Coalition, made an alliance with Democrats on the budget that relied heavily on across-the-board cuts to business tax exemptions. That created deep fissures and hard feelings among Republicans that culminated in a raucous delegation meeting in the final week of the 2013 regular session.

It was during that session that the seeds were planted for the Louisiana Legislative Conservative Coalition, which will push other issues besides the budget.

“We are not anti-Fiscal Hawk,” said Seabaugh. “We will not get involved in an actual budget fight. We’re not stepping on toes.”

But he said the coalition will support “budget efficiency” and will oppose any alliances with Democrats that include tax increases.Should senior-age politicians be nudged out?

Judges are the only elected officials in Louisiana who are not allowed to seek election or re-election after turning 70, but voters statewide may be asked this fall whether that should be changed.

Lawmakers debated the idea of removing the mandatory retirement age last year, with the Senate voting 33-2 in favor of judges serving as long as they please. The House, however, failed to give the bill the two-thirds passage required—by only nine votes.

During the 2014 session, two lawmakers have filed constitutional amendments to permit unfettered service on the bench. Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, who led the charge last year, has introduced Senate Bill 11, while Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, is sponsoring House Bill 96.

LaFleur argues that the state is not only losing institutional knowledge under the current system, but also money. He said the proposed change would bring about substantial taxpayer savings since many judges, who would otherwise be forced to draw full retirement at age 70 in most cases, would be able to keep working and would not need to be replaced by another judge.

Groups like AARP and the Louisiana District Judges Association are expected to lobby for the proposal in the coming session.

On the other side of the argument are different groups of lawyers, like rural attorneys, who live in communities where there are fewer judges overseeing cases than in metro areas and thus fewer opportunities to run for open seats.

Some lawmakers said they like the law as it is because it places a ticking clock on how long judges can serve, which is only fair since members of the House and Senate have to abide by term limits themselves.

If either bill passes, the question will be posed to voters in the statewide election scheduled for Nov. 4. Since there will be other races on the ballot, it could remove the objections some lawmakers had last year. LaFleur’s 2013 constitutional amendment would have required a special election, estimated to cost as much as $4.7 million.

Currently, if a judge turns 70 during their service, they are allowed to serve out the remainder of the term, but not stand for re-election.They Said It

“I am definitely running.”—House Natural Resources Chairman Gordon Dove, R-Houma, on setting his sights for Terrebonne Parish president“It’s about coming in here fresh and looking for different ways to make an impact.” —LABI president Stephen Waguespack, on why the group is finally getting involved heavily in national politics, starting with a new partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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