Since Republicans were swept into power in 2010, we’ve seen countless Democrats jump ship. During the 2011 legislative session, I watched the mounting frustration of Democrats in the House & Senate as they lost on vote, after vote, after vote. I couldn’t help but think how different things had suddenly become for guys like Sen. Jabo Waggoner and Rep. Victor Gaston who bravely carried the Republican flag for decades while the legislature was under Democrat control.
Party switching and ballot access rules have recently become hot topics. Some say we should welcome party switchers with open arms, regardless of their history, while others believe we should only accept them in the rarest of occasions — if at all.
It’s a complicated issue and it won’t be going away any time soon. As a matter of fact, I learned this past week that we can expect the announcement of yet another Democrat legislator switching parties as the 2012 session kicks off.
With this in mind, now seems to be a good time to take a closer look at party switching and point out a current example of “when party-switching goes wrong.”
First of all, I don’t see the point in taking an all-or-none approach. We need to look at each case individually.
Take Circuit Judge Howard Hawk for example. Judge Hawk was removed from the Republican primary ballot this year in Marshall County. He had been one of the most influential Democrats in Marshall County for years and only switched parties when it was politically expedient. His history was the primary factor in the GOP Steering Committee’s decision to deny him access to the GOP ballot. His performance on the bench and his lengthy history of financially supporting liberal candidates were not in line with the Republican party.
In my view, the Steering Committee made the right decision in denying Judge Hawk access to the GOP primary. Put simply, he’s not a Republican!
But let’s look at a case that can serve as a warning for what can happen when we aren’t vigilant enough in vetting potential party switchers.
Meet Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn.
Dunn is a past Democrat contributor and Democrat candidate but was allowed in 2010 to run for a seat on the Alabama Public Service Commission as a Republican. He was elected with 55% of the vote.
Upon election, he immediately hired David Roundtree as his chief of staff. Roundtree is also a long-time contributor to Democratic candidates. He even donated $250 to über liberal Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004. But the real kicker is that Roundtree had previously been chief of staff for Democrat Susan Parker who Dunn had just beaten in the PSC race!
Chief of staff is the most important position in the office of an elected official. The chief of staff is the elected official’s closest adviser and heavily leaned on as a trusted voice on all issues regarding both policy and politics. Could you imagine Martha Roby keeping Bobby Bright’s chief of staff as her own? Of course not — the ideological gulf between the two of them would be too wide. Yet the newly elected “Republican,” Terry Dunn, felt totally comfortable naming a liberal Democrat as his go-to-guy.
We need to hold the recent (and upcoming) party switchers accountable. Will they represent the conservative values of their constituents once they are free from the iron fist of the AEA and the Democratic party? If so, we should welcome them with open arms. If not, we should call them out and we shouldn’t hesitate to deny them access to GOP primaries.
Our party is experiencing an exciting period of growth and we should continue to build on our recent successes. But in doing so, we should never forget that it is what we stand for that attracted Alabamians to us in the first place. A recent Gallup poll recognized Alabama as the fourth most conservative state in the Union. The Republican Party has gained power in Alabama because it best represents the people of our state.
Allowing Democrats to masquerade as Republicans only waters down our brand.