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Kirk England

What is the sound of one politician switching?

It depends.

Judge Larry Meyers

Judge Larry Meyers

When Lawrence Meyers won a seat on the statewide Court of Criminal Appeals in 1992, he was the first Republican elected to the state’s highest criminal court.

This month he made history again. After switching parties, Meyers, who had been a judge in Fort Worth, became the first Democrat to hold statewide office in Texas in the 21st century. Now he is running for a spot on the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court.

Though Meyers was not elected to his current post as a Democrat, his high-level defection has given the party a shot of momentum and some bragging rights ahead of the 2014 elections, said Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. But Republican officials suggest that the switch was more about their party’s cramped races and not an indicator of any sea change.

Democrats have not had one of their own in statewide elected office since the late 1990s, and nearly every person switching parties in the last two decades has gone in the opposite direction.

“With this and the candidates that we are fielding in this election, I think people are saying, ‘Wow, this is a totally different Texas Democratic Party,’” Hinojosa said.

Meyers, who has flirted with party-switching in the past, did not respond to requests for comment.

Republicans laugh this off, and not without justification. The last R-to-D of any prominence I can think of is former State Rep. Kirk England, who changed sides after the 2007 legislative session. He won re-election as a Dem easily in 2008, then got swept out in the 2010 bloodbath. (He almost certainly would have been a victim of redistricting in 2011 if he had survived 2010; Dallas County lost two districts, and his district number, HD106, is now in Collin County.) It’s nice to have someone with a D after their name in a statewide position, but it’s hard to know what it means just yet. For one thing, as long as Judge Meyers remains mum about his reasons for switching, we don’t know how much of it was motivated by genuine alienation from the Texas GOP, and how much was opportunism. When legislators switch parties, they have multiple colleagues to welcome them and to offer them guidance and a model of legislative behavior. Judge Meyers is the only Dem on his bench. There’s no guarantee his behavior as a judge will change in any way that might reflect the difference in values between his old party and his new one. I don’t need Judge Meyers’ motives to be pure here, but it would be nice to know that there’s more here than a different place for him to send his ballot application.

Endorsement watch: Dallas Democratic legislative candidates

As we know, the Dallas Morning News dumped Double-Dip Joe Driver from its list of endorsed candidates. Here’s what they said about some other legislative races of interest to Democrats:

Editorial: We recommend Haldenwang in HD105

Republican Linda Harper-Brown has represented Texas House District 105 since 2003. We previously have recommended her as a knowledgeable conservative, but her effectiveness has diminished. In 2008, she won re-election by only a few votes, and things have only deteriorated since.

This Irving-based district needs new leadership, and we believe Democrat Loretta Haldenwang can provide it.

Editorial: We recommend Miklos in HD101

State Rep. Robert Miklos uses the focus of a former prosecutor – which is he – to outline strategies for addressing problems facing the state. Cindy Burkett, his challenger for the Mesquite-based House District 101 seat, is often vague and unrealistic in approaches she would pursue in the Legislature.

Take the budget. Miklos, 44, a Democrat seeking his second term, is clear about the need to cut budgets and tap the state’s rainy day fund to help close a budget gap estimated at $21 billion. He also would close loopholes that benefit oil and gas companies in the state’s new, underperforming business tax.

Burkett, 52, a Republican and small-business owner, supports more business breaks at a time the state is struggling to support basic services. Her ideas didn’t indicate that she grasped the magnitude of the problem. Only when pressed did she indicate a tepid willingness to dip into the emergency fund.

Editorial: We recommend Vaught in HD107

State Rep. Allen Vaught is among a group of centrist Democrats who are piecing together a balanced strategy – with specifics – for bridging a huge gap in the state budget.

Vaught’s opponent, Republican Kenneth Sheets, preaches fiscal conservatism but lack details on how he would apply that philosophy in Austin.

Our recommendation in East Dallas-based House District 107 goes to Vaught, based on his experience from two terms in office, his budget ideas and his positions on the critical urban issues of air quality and traffic congestion.

Editorial: We recommend England in HD106

Sound bites won’t solve problems that await state lawmakers next year.

Rep. Kirk England isn’t basing his re-election campaign on easy answers. That’s the department of challenger Rodney Anderson in the Grand Prairie/Irving-based House District 106.

Editorial: We recommend Kent in HD102

As a freshman lawmaker, Democrat Carol Kent has shown herself to be far more grounded in Texas House District 102 than her opponent and more capable of dealing with the state’s pressing education, transportation, air quality and budget challenges.

Voters would be wise to reward the poised and thoughtful Kent with a second term.

Kind of a theme there, wouldn’t you say? Even in the editorials where they have endorsed Republican incumbents like Will Hartnett and Dan Branch, the DMN was generally complimentary towards the Democrat; about Branch’s opponent Pete Schulte, they said he was “bright and well-spoken” and “might someday grow into a top legislator”. All in all, a pretty solid performance by Dallas County Democrats.

Specter switches

As Greg says, wow.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”

He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

My thoughts:

1. I sure hope the Democrats got some kind of assurances about how Specter would vote going forward, because he needed them way more than they needed him. Given that he’s reiterated his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, the opening stanza isn’t too promising.

2. In many ways, this really doesn’t change much. Yes, assuming Sen. Al Franken gets seated sometime before he stands for re-election, this gives the Democrats the magic number of 60 members. The thing is, Senate Democrats have been a bigger obstacle to President Obama’s agenda than any other group. Conservative Dems such as Sen. Ben Nelson have the leverage to foil, water down, or otherwise pimp to their liking just about anything Obama wants to push. Specter’s switch doesn’t change this dynamic at all.

3. Having said that, there is a way in which Specter’s switch could have a profound effect:

Arlen Specter (R-PA) is rumored to be ready to become Arlen Specter (D-PA). There are a million aspects of that worth examining. But here’s one for process nuts. Check out the Senate Judiciary Committee Rules:

IV. BRINGING A MATTER TO A VOTE

The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a roll call vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority.

Your current lineup of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Arlen Specter
Orrin Hatch
Chuck Grassley
Jon Kyl
Jeff Sessions
Lindsey Graham
John Cornyn
Tom Coburn

Which of these fellas do you think will be ready to provide the necessary one vote from the minority to bring things to a vote in the committee on tough questions now?

Specter is caucusing with the Democrats, but he’s still a Republican as far as committee assignments go, and will be one until there’s a new organizing resolution. Same for all the other committees he’s on. Democrats were always going to call for a new organizing resolution once Franken gets seated. Now, maybe they’re willing to let that process play out. Which poison do you think the Senate GOPers would prefer to choose – the fox in the henhouse, or Senator Sixty? Decisions, decisions…

4. Speaking of which, how does this affect the KBH will-she-stay-or-will-she-resign equation? Short answer: beats the beck out of me. On the one hand, you’d think Sen. Cornyn would want her to stay that much more. On the other hand, once Franken is in place, as he inevitably will be, what difference does it make? As always, the answer is “Who knows what KBH will do?”

5. Having said that, prepare to have your mind blown even further. I don’t see any way in which this happens, nor do I see rank and file Democrats being that thrilled at the prospect, for better or worse. But crazier things have happened, and there is an objective logic to it.

6. Dealing with party switchers in general causes headaches and almost always comes with a fair bit of bellyaching up front. Which is totally understandable, especially in the case of someone as obviously calculating and driven by self-interest as Specter is. I get where people like Atrios are coming from, I really do, and it’s completely possible that what we’ll get is a nominal Democrat who doesn’t really change his behavior in any meaningful way. Even worse, we may be sacrificing the chance to elect a better Democrat in 2010 and risk losing to a Republican who’s slightly less crazy than Pat Toomey (not a high bar to clear), since the case against Specter pretty much writes itself. He’s going to have to prove himself, and I hope Dems like Joe Sestak keep their powder dry until it’s clear that Specter is walking the walk. Here in Texas, we’ve had some very good results, as State Rep. Kirk England has been a fine member of the Democratic caucus, and State Sen. Wendy Davis (who had some Republican voting history but had never held office as a Republican) is a rising star having by my count an outstanding freshman session. Whether or not the past stays in the past depends entirely on what happens going forward. It’s totally up to Sen. Specter.

7. Finally, whatever else this is about, I love Specter’s rationale for switching. It’s an acknowledgment of reality, something which his now-former colleagues have less and less experience with these days. Once upon a time, party switchers helped the GOP grow bigger and stronger. Now it’s helping them grow smaller and weaker. I couldn’t be happier about that.