A Blue Dog no more. Congressman Parker Griffith has switched his political party affiliation and has joined the minority. It's that latter part that is unusual. While politicians switch parties with a relative frequency, the move is generally one from the minority party to the majority party, and not the inverse. Rep. Griffith is serving his first term in Congress and represents the Alabama Fifth Congressional District that stretches across the northern swath of the state and includes Huntsville. The district has long been a Democratic one. It was last in Republican hands during Reconstruction and a Democrat has held the seat since 1869 apart for a two year hiatus when Albert Taylor Goodwyn, a Populist, held the seat from 1896-1897.
Rep. Griffith, a medical doctor by profession, voted against the economic recovery package, the federal budget, health care reform, the cap and trade energy policy, the financial regulatory reform and even against Ledbetter Gender Pay Equality Act. The story in Politico:
Griffith's party switch comes on the eve of a pivotal congressional health care vote and will send a jolt through a Democratic House Caucus that has already been unnerved by the recent retirements of a handful of members who, like Griffith, hail from districts that offer prime pickup opportunities for the GOP in 2010.
The switch represents a coup for the House Republican leadership, which had been courting Griffith since he publicly criticized the Democratic leadership in the wake of raucous town halls during the summer.
Griffith, who captured the seat in a close 2008 open seat contest, will become the first Republican to hold the historically Democratic, Huntsville-based district. A radiation oncologist who founded a cancer treatment center, Griffith plans to blast the Democratic health care bill as a prime reason for his decision to switch parties--and is expected to cite his medical background as his authority on the subject.
While the timing of his announcement was unexpected, Griffith's party switch will not come as a surprise to those familiar with his voting record, which is one of the most conservative among Democrats.
He has bucked the Democratic leadership on nearly all of its major domestic initiatives, including the stimulus package, health care legislation, the cap-and trade energy bill and financial regulatory reform.
He was one of only 11 House Democrats to vote against the stimulus.
"Look at his voting record - he's had substantial differences philosophically with the Democratic agenda here in Congress," said an Alabama ally who is familiar with Griffith's decision. "It's something that's been discussed for the last several months... talking to people in his family. And it genuinely is a reflection of where he feels. It's his own personal conviction."
The move negates the gain in the NY-23. It also reflects a broad realignment of political forces and a deepening regional polarization that is taking place. Matt Yglesias also makes a key point over at Think Progress noting that "the Democrats' current huge majority with 257 members isn't remotely sustainable."
To get a majority that big you need to win a lot of districts you just can't reliable win. Substantial losses in 2010 and/or 2012 are basically inevitable. That said, there are still a few GOP-held House seats that could plausibly be won by a reliably liberal Democrat. The real issue is whether the Democratic majority can add a few seats like that, and contain losses enough to maintain 220-230 reasonably reliable votes and thus the effective ability to govern.
I wrote the other day that I expected a Jacksonian reaction against the Party. This counts as part of that reaction.