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Chip Drago
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Parker Griffith's switch:
An act of political conscience or survival?

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
A little more than 13 months ago, not long after the tally showed that then state Sen. Parker Griffith had been elected as the new Democratic congressman representing Alabama's District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives, well before he took
the oath of office, the
rumblings began that
not for long would he
remain both a
Democrat and a
congressman.
Something would have
to give. One or the
other, perhaps both.

The smart money had it that the first to go would be Griffith's party affiliation. Riding the Obama wave heightened by Bush fatigue in 2008 was one thing, but an off-year election for the party in power in 2010 after north Alabamians gained a deeper understanding of "hope" and "change" would almost certainly be another. In short, Griffith's best bet for a second term in Congress would involve a switch of parties. Even the switch though does not guarantee re-election.

While some Democrats will understand that Griffith was merely acting on political survival instinct and some Republicans will say, "sure, Parker's a skunk, but now he's our skunk," many in either party will be less forgiving.

Officially the state Democratic Party feels "betrayed" and wants its money back. The GOP party line is "pleasant surprise" with a forecast of brighter days ahead.

Regardless, the move was a chance Griffith had to take.

MBT turns to its deep bench of largely off-stage political wise men and women for their views on Alabama's newest Republican.

"... if he just got elected as a Democrat, why make the switch now?"
-- Reggie Copeland Jr.,
interim chairman, Mobile County Democratic Executive Committee

"This is just a 'survival decision.' Shelby has been after him to switch. This will keep GOP money off of him. There was no strong candidate in the GOP field. His vulnerability was the Democratic primary. This decision eliminates that. Many of his 'Blue Dog' colleagues in the House are retiring, so he loses cover. Statements he has made about the Speaker (Nancy Pelosi), will make things complicated if he remained a Dem. Making excuses for President Obama and Washington Democrats gets tiring.

I believe it is just a straight forward personal decision. He doesn't think long term."
-- HHB,
Democratic political strategist

"Just two years ago in the Alabama Senate he fought bitterly with the Republican senators and the governor. He was a loyal energetic servant of Lowell Barron's left leaning ruling majority. He voted for Nancy Pelosi's regime just a year ago. So is he a real Republican? Unless he professes to have had some see the light moment like Paul on the road to Damascus, he is a political opportunist. So I predict the primary voters will decide the matter in June 2010."
-- Jerry Lathan,
state Republican executive committee

"During his state legislative career, it is true that we did not always agree on some issues. But I believe the time Congressman Griffith has spent in Washington has made it clear to him that he was not comfortable with the Democratic Party. He had to make a choice - to stand with the Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda or join us in fighting it. I believe Parker Griffith made the right choice today."
-- Mike Hubbard,
state representative and chairman of the Alabama GOP

"Where was State Party Chair Joe Turnham during this? Apparently asleep at the wheel."
-- ONS,
longtime Mobile area Democratic committee member

"Anyone who knew Parker during his two years in the Legislature will tell you that he was a liberal Democrat.
Regardless of a few votes with the GOP this year, he can't be considered even a moderate. The people I have talked to today can't believe that he actually switched parties."
-- SHS,
south Alabama GOP official

"My understanding is that his voting record is conservative and does not line up with Pelosi's liking. Sounds like the 'healthscare' bill pushed him over, especially because he's a doctor and gets it. I welcome him and his conservative votes.

It really is simple -- party switchers are heavily watched and have to earn a primary nomination. Republicans will know if it is sincere or convenient.

Should be an interesting primary. Tick tock. I smell a very red state."
-- GHB,
west Mobile Republican

"I am not happy about it. He is no more a Republican than Nancy Pelosi."
-- SPE,
GOP legislator

"As a physician and small business owner, he can identify with many Alabamians. I think we should welcome him to the Republican party. (Of course, he probably sees the handwriting on the wall!)"
-- Jeannette Greene,
ex-legislator, Republican

"I am not familiar with all of the details of the Parker Griffith switch. I do understand Alabama politics and I can assure you that whenever an Alabama Democrat tries to be like an Alabama Republican he, or she loses. The record will prove this to be true almost 100 percent of the time."
-- Ed Kahalley Sr.,
a/k/a Mr. Democrat

"(GOP congressional candidate) Mo Brooks is a popular county commissioner and former member of the Alabama House running against Parker. So he will have a vigorous challenge in the Republican Primary."
-- TRC,
state GOP committee member

"Griffith did what he had to do to have a chance of retaining his office. The Alabama Democratic Party is inept and incapable. 2010 will see Alabama become a solidly red state with Democrats losing one chamber of the legislature while Republicans retain the governor's mansion and federal delegation. Two reasons for this: the Alabama Democratic party has betrayed Alabama's citizens and Obama has been vilified.

Griffith will lose in his primary as voters take revenge for his former affiliation. Bobby Bright will lose if (state Rep. Jay) Love runs again. I'm sure Bright is monitoring the Griffith fall out.

Turnham has, yet again, bet on the wrong horse. As I've said before, 2010 will be a watershed year for Republicans in Alabama."
-- ADH,
ex-area Democratic leader

"I am pretty sure this (Griffith's switch) is driven more by GOP Congressional leadership than by Alabama GOP leadership. (State GOP Party Chairman Mike Hubbard) doesn't have a clue what Bright is thinking.

Bright is in better shape politically than Parker was, as a Dem."
-- PDS,
Democratic operative

"From my perspective he was bad in Montgomery and bad in Washington. If Repubs at any level are welcoming him I will be disappointed. I just heard this news and don't know anything about how it has been handled but checking out his staff is really all you need to know."
-- AGM,
longtime Alabama Republican

"Dr. Griffith is a great man and a friend. Just because he is an 'R' now doesn't change my feelings toward him. I respect his decision. I hate to see so much 'meanest' in the two parties. But I guess I am from the old school. I can disagree with your politics, but still care about and respect you as a friend. Like Sonny Callahan said, 'It is not fun anymore. That attitude to 'agree to disagree' is hard to find.'

Parker will do fine. He is working hard for the people he represents. That is what it is all about."
-- Gary Tanner,
former Democratic state senator and Mobile County Commissioner

"I like the thought of another Republican Congressman however; I remember he won by only three percent and his Alabama Senate seat went to a Republican.

I suspect Parker knew he was a goner if he remained in the Democratic party. Shades of Arlen Specter. I think it's a case of CYA.

Griffith didn't appear to be anything resembling a conservative in the Alabama Senate. Paul Hubbert and Lowell Barron said jump and Parker said, 'how high?'

Will the people of the 5th district buy it? I don't know."
-- ARW,
Baldwin County Republican

Griffith's colleague in the House, front-running Democratic candidate for governor Artur Davis found the switch "ironic" because Griffith would now wave "the banner of a party that subjected him to one of the most savage and false negative campaigns in the country in 2008." Davis pointed to former U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin and ex-Congressman Bud Cramer as examples of Alabama politicians who could stand for fiscal restraint and a strong military as "non-partisan" positions while also fighting for Democratic Party values that are "anchored in the faith and aspirations of millions of middle class Americans."

While most GOP candidates for statewide office in Alabama next year were measured in their comments, choosing to sidestep Griffith in favor of ripping Democratic bugbears such as Pelosi and Harry Reid, state Treasurer and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Kay Ivey strayed from the herd in criticizing Griffith
head-on.

Griffith's switch has little to do with
Democrats or Republicans and
everything to do with Griffith himself,
according to Ivey.

"I can't help but regard this 'Road to
Damascus' conversion of Parker Griffith's as solely a ploy to cling to his seat in 2010," Ivey said. "We're all well-aware of the increasingly negative poll results for Democrats in Alabama and around the nation.

"Political self-preservation isn't a virtue," the Camden conservative continued. "In fact, political expediency is an insult to every grassroots activist who commits untold hours in devotion to getting candidates elected."
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