Stafford’s Switch Reflects National Trend Toward Dems

As disenchantment with President Bush and the Republican Party grows nationwide, more lawmakers are leaving the GOP to join the Democratic Party.The Democratic Party welcomed a slew of new members to offices across the nation after the 2006 election. Democrats rejoiced as their candidates took over governorships and seized majorities in national and state legislatures. But even as 2007 rolled around and the election fervor died down, Democrats never got a chance to put their Welcome Wagon away. With many citing disenchantment with GOP leadership, an increasing number of Republicans in the past year have been stepping over party lines and declaring themselves Democrats.

Colorado state Rep. Debbie Stafford was the latest lawmaker to make the jump last week, stating, “I am not leaving the Republican Party as much as the Republican Party left me.”

Stafford’s sentiment echoes that of Texas state Rep. Kirk England, who defected from the Republican Party Sept. 20. Like Stafford, England said it’s not his views that have changed.

“I think it’s the party changing,” England told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “I think their agenda has gotten so far right that there’s no room in the Republican Party for moderation.”

It doesn’t end there. Kentucky state Reps. Milward Dedman and Melvin Henley became Democrats within days of each other last month. Hawaii state Sen. Mike Gabbard switched in August. Other right-to-left party jumpers this year include New York State Assemblyman Mike Spano, Louisiana state Sen. and gubernatorial candidate Walter Boasso and Illinois state Rep. Paul Froehlich.

Some of the lawmakers, such as Stafford, England and Froehlich, cited disillusionment with the Republican Party as their reason for crossing the aisle. Others have been more coy, and speculation abounds that some party switchers believe it’s voters who have become disillusioned with the GOP, and they’re better positioned to run next time as Democrats. Or in some cases, moderate Republicans think they’ll be more powerful as members of the majority party.

It’s certainly not the first time such a migration has occurred. After Democrats’ disastrous showing in the 1994 election, some lawmakers switched their affiliation to Republican, especially in the South.

In March 1995, William Booth of the Washington Post called the wave of defections from the Democratic Party, “a frenzy of party-switching that is redefining the ways citizens see each other and their interests.”

It was caused, Booth said, “not only by the perceived failures of the Clinton administration but also by the South’s booming economy, the explosive growth of its suburbs, its lingering racial animosities, and perhaps most important, the awesome power of the Christian right in a deeply religious region.”

The recent rise in defections from the Republican to the Democratic Party isn’t as geographical as it was in the 1990s, but it is emblematic of a changing electorate.

However, there have been a handful of Democrats who have also crossed the aisle. Iowa state Rep. Dawn Pettengill, considered a conservative Democrat, became a Republican in April. Georgia State Rep. Mike Jacobs and Mississippi state Sen. Tommy Gollott also switched to the GOP this year.

Still, the tide has been turning the other way at about a 2-1 ratio, and as deadlines to change party affiliations before the 2008 election approach, there may be more party switching to come.