The same senior member of the state House of Representatives who originally triggered talks about a petition to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions now says “articles of impeachment are being considered due to the governor’s clear violation of the law.”
GOP Rep. Alan Seabaugh of Shreveport, who was elected in October 2010 and sits atop the House seniority chart for consecutive years served, made his (highly unlikely) intentions known in a statement to KTBS-TV anchor Jeff Beimfohr.
“The executive branch of the government does not have the authority to declare a law unconstitutional, nor does it have the authority to determine which laws it will ignore,” Seabaugh said in his statement. “Laws are presumed to be constitutional until a court determines otherwise. The statute on this issue is very clear and the governor is choosing to ignore it. Therefore he is in violation of the law and subject to the impeachment power of the Legislature.”
Asked for comment, an Edwards spokesperson told Beimfohr, “That does not deserve a response.”
Rep. Tammy Phelps, a Democrat who also represents Shreveport, was also interviewed. She laughed for a couple seconds before responding. “That’s funny,” said Phelps. “This is like the president saying he has already won the election now. Are you serious? On what grounds?”
On the final day of the recent special session exactly last month, 65 House members signed a petition ordering the governor to abandon his coronavirus restrictions. Edwards countered with a lawsuit in the 19th Judicial District, claiming the state law that allows for the petition was unconstitutional because it permitted just one chamber in the two-chamber Legislature to act. The lawsuit also argues the House did not consult with public health officials, as prescribed by state law.
Edwards has since refused to recognize the validity of the petition and Attorney General Jeff Landry has made filings on behalf of House Speaker Clay Schexnayder. Judge William Morvant has set a court date for Nov. 12.
The legal case has already turned political, with Republican leaders around the state asking citizens to contact Morvant by email and phone. House Majority Leader Blake Miguez, a Republican from New Iberia, also appealed to members of the public this week to attend the hearing.
Miguez and Seabaugh were among the members of the House targeted recently in public records requests made by the executive branch in relation to the lawsuit.
Article X, Section 24 gives the House the ability to host impeachment hearings and for the Senate to hold a subsequent trial. A conviction would result in “immediate removal from office,” but few expect things to get that far—if it gets anywhere.
Instead, just the threat of an impeachment hearing in the House will serve as a distraction for an administration that’s already battling the management of a public health pandemic and an economic downturn. In other words, it’s a headache the Edwards Administration doesn’t need, no matter how easily Democrats can dismiss the effort.
If nothing else, Seabaugh’s threat, which has failed to gain momentum over the last week or so, gives us an opportunity for a history lesson.
The last time the Legislature went forward with impeachment hearings was in 1929, when Gov. Huey P. Long was impeached on a variety of charges. He managed to convince one-third of the Senate to forgo a trial. Prior to that, in 1872, Gov. Henry C. Warmoth, was suspended from office—then a requirement of the law—after being impeached on election-related charges. A Senate trial was never held. Four years later, Gov. William Pitt Kellogg was also impeached by the House during a partisan takeover of state government, but his supporters in the Senate didn’t allow the process to get any further.
Even if the threat in the lower chamber were real, it’s unclear how a resolution listing charges against Edwards would be filed and debated. But Seabaugh was appointed with little explanation last month to the House Judiciary Committee, which is the counterpart to the committee Congress uses for such investigations.
The cry for an unlikely and rare impeachment process in Louisiana by Seabaugh hasn’t been matched by the public. Even in the wake of the petition being signed by conservatives in the House in October, Edwards has a job approval rating of 56 percent, according to a recent poll from the University of New Orleans Research Center. For now it’s just another episode in the state’s unfolding COVID-19 soap opera that’s just as difficult to watch as the stuff playing on daytime television.