Rep. Parker Griffith becomes the GOP’s new Zell Miller
Politico is reporting that Rep. Parker Griffith, a Democratic freshman from Alabama, has flipped sides and will caucus with the Republican Party:
POLITICO has learned that Rep. Parker Griffith, a freshman Democrat from Alabama, will announce today that he’s switching parties to become a Republican.
According to a senior GOP aide familiar with the decision, the announcement will take place in this afternoon in his home district in northern Alabama.
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.
I think Josh Kraushaar is overstating the case in terms of Griffith’s switch. The Congressman voted no on the health care bill in the House, and the report also notes that he voted no on President Obama’s stimulus bill. But Politico reports that he’s particularly frustrated with cuts to the ridiculously large missile defense research and development budgets that flowed into his district where Boeing operates – a bit less noble and principled when you get down to it. And apparently Congressional Republicans called him a “woefully ineffective advocate for Tennessee Valley jobs” back in September, so I don’t know how Politico goes from “jolt” to that in a few paragraphs. And as they point out in the 2nd page of the article for anyone who actually clicks through, the NRCC really tried to destroy Griffith last year. Let’s check out this video from the memory hole, and see how long NRCC keeps it up on their YouTube Channel (Update: It’s already gone as of 11:48 am!):
Nonetheless, it can’t be questioned that the Democratic majority in the House is one smaller, and is probably set to get a bit slimmer yet coming out of 2010 where Democrats in purple districts have trouble making the case for their re-election. But the real lesson here is that the GOP needs to stick together if it wants to win legislatively, and thus in electoral terms.
Consider the case of health care. Rep. Bill Owens won the special election for Republican John McHugh’s seat in upstate New York. He took over the longtime safely Republican 23rd district because of the nasty fight that broke out between Tea Party favorite Doug Hoffman and the more liberal-leaning Dede Scozzafava, which split the GOP vote. And he brought the House health care vote from the narrow margin of 218 votes to 219 (and Republican Joseph Cao of Louisiana made it 220). If the GOP had rallied behind Scozzafava, she would have voted no on the health care bill, and the GOP could have pushed hard to poach a vote like they just seized Griffith. And the Democratic health care vote would have stopped dead right there back in November.
Instead, Republicans are fighting among themselves more than one can often see out front (more on that in a bit). But the Griffith case shows that the GOP has more political leverage than it realizes. If Republicans want to win big in 2010, they’re going to need to produce more Griffiths, and less Doug Hoffmans.
Meanwhile, watch for Griffith to become a prominent critic of Nancy Pelosi’s term in the House, much as Zell Miller, the former Democratic Senator of Georgia, went all Emperor Palpatine on John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. I don’t know if he’ll be as effective given his lack of gravitas (he’s a freshman, after all), but the GOP will try to make him stick.