Dems the Breaks: Party Switchers in the South

Sonny Bono button.

From "I Got You Babe" to GOP congressman from California. hide caption

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MARGARET CHASE SMITH

A woman of many firsts, best remembered for her speech denouncing McCarthyism in 1950. hide caption

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SMITH  FOR PRESIDENT

Six years ago today, N.H. Sen. Smith announced his candidacy for the presidential nomination of the U.S. Taxpayers Party -- which turned out not to be a career-enhancing move. hide caption

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Q: What can you tell me about Democratic members of Congress from the South who switched to the Republican Party since the beginning of the Reagan presidency? How many were successful in subsequent elections? - Bob Levine, St. Louis, Mo.

A: The movement of Southern Democrats to the GOP got a jump-start on Sept. 16, 1964, when Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina joined the Republican Party. Since Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, another 13 Democrats in the South — one in the Senate and a dozen in the House — also bolted to the GOP. Most of those came since the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994.

Here is a complete list of those Southern Democrats who switched parties since 1980, and how their careers fared (listed in party-switch chronological order):

Phil Gramm (Texas congressman) -
First elected: 1978
Switched to GOP: 1983 (resigned from House 1/5/83 to run as a Republican; won special election on 2/22/83)
Career since switch: Elected to Senate in 1984; re-elected in 1990 and '96; unsuccessfully sought 1996 GOP presidential nomination; retired in 2002

Andy Ireland (Florida congressman) -
First elected: 1976
Switched to GOP: July 5, 1984
Career since switch: Re-elected in 1984, '86, '88, '90; retired in 1992

Bill Grant (Florida congressman) -
First elected: 1986
Switched to GOP: February 21, 1989
Career since switch: Lost re-election to Pete Peterson (D) in 1990; unsuccessful GOP Senate nominee vs. Bob Graham in 1992

Tommy Robinson (Arkansas congressman) -
First elected: 1984
Switched to GOP: July 28, 1989
Career since switch: Gave up House seat in 1990 to run for governor, but lost GOP primary

Richard Shelby (Alabama senator) -
First elected: 1986
Switched to GOP: November 9, 1994
Career since switch: Re-elected in 1998 and 2004; still serves (68% in '04)

Nathan Deal (Georgia congressman) -
First elected: 1992
Switched to GOP: April 10, 1995
Career since switch: Re-elected in 1996, '98, '00, '02, '04; still serves (ran unopposed in 2004)

Greg Laughlin (Texas congressman) -
First elected: 1988
Switched to GOP: June 26, 1995
Career since switch: Lost GOP primary runoff to ex-Rep. Ron Paul in 1996

Billy Tauzin (Louisiana congressman) -
First elected: 1980
Switched to GOP: Aug. 6, 1995
Career since switch: Re-elected in 1996, '98, '00, '02; retired in 2004

Mike Parker (Mississippi congressman) -
First elected: 1988
Switched to GOP: November 10, 1995
Career since switch: Re-elected in 1996; retired in 1998; unsuccessful GOP nominee for governor in 1999

Jimmy Hayes (Louisiana congressman) -
First elected: 1986
Switched to GOP: Dec. 1, 1995
Career since switch: Gave up House seat in 1996 to run for the Senate, but lost in primary

Virgil Goode (Virginia congressman) -
First elected: 1996
Switched to GOP: April 2002 (became independent in 2000)
Career since switch: Re-elected in 2002, '04; still serves (64% in 2004)

Ralph Hall (Texas congressman) -
First elected: 1980
Switched to GOP: Jan. 3, 2004
Career since switch: Re-elected in 2004 with 68%

Rodney Alexander (Louisiana congressman) -
First elected: 2002
Switched to GOP: Aug. 6, 2004
Career since switch: Re-elected in 2004 with 59%

Q: Regarding the appointment of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations: If recess appointments are made while Congress is in recess, why don't they expire when the recess ends? Why do they last until the end of the current session of Congress? - Gus Sperrazza, Silver Spring, Md.

A: It's in the Constitution. Article II, Section 2, states, "The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session." Originally designed to fill a vacancy that occurred while the Senate was in recess, it's been used more frequently by presidents seeking to get around an uncooperative Senate. That's what George W. Bush did in naming Bolton to the U.N. That's what Bill Clinton did in 1999 when he named James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Hormel's nomination had stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, mainly because he was openly gay. That's when John F. Kennedy did in his end run past the Senate Judiciary Committee and its segregationist chairman, James Eastland, by naming Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October of 1961.

Q: I read that Martha Reeves, the 1960s Motown vocalist of Martha & the Vandellas fame, was elected to the Detroit city council on Aug. 2. Can you think of any other pop/rock/country music stars who were either elected or attempted to gain political office? - Danny Davis, Clermont, Fla.

A: Yes, but first things first. What are the odds that the person who sang "Nowhere to Run" (in 1965) would 40 years later actually run for office? Who knew?!

A few other such musicians come to mind, most notably Sonny Bono, who rode his Sonny & Cher shtick to an unlikely career in politics: elected mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., in 1988, and then, after an unsuccessful bid for the Republican Senate nomination in 1992, two easy victories for a House seat in Southern California before he died in a skiing accident on Jan. 5, 1998.

There's also Jerry Butler, the soul singer best known for "For Your Precious Love" and "Only the Strong Survive." Butler was elected to the Cook County (Ill.) Commission in 1985 and still serves.

Another music star, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter — the lead guitarist for the Doobie Brothers — seriously contemplated a run in California's 24th District in 2000 against Rep. Brad Sherman (D). He ultimately didn't make the race.

Q: How do you think history will judge the late Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine? Or do you think she has largely been forgotten outside of her state? - Christopher Jay, Anchorage, Alaska

A: She's not a household name, but she certainly rates a very important place in history. She was the first woman to serve in both the House and Senate. And at the 1964 Republican National Convention she became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for president by a major party.

But Smith is probably best known for something she did as a freshman member of the Senate. On June 1, 1950, she stood up on the Senate floor and read her "Declaration of Conscience" — becoming the first Republican to speak out against the tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). The speech came just months after McCarthy began his anti-Communist crusade, as he claimed to have the names of 205 "Communist agents" who were in the Truman administration. It was a blockbuster of a speech, and it earned her a place in history. Interestingly, she never mentioned McCarthy by name. But she didn't have to. Here are some excerpts:

"The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world. But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity.

"It is strange that we can verbally attack anyone else without restraint and with full protection and yet we hold ourselves above the same type of criticism here on the Senate Floor. Surely the United States Senate is big enough to take self-criticism and self-appraisal. Surely we should be able to take the same kind of character attacks that we 'dish out' to outsiders.

"I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some soul-searching — for us to weigh our consciences — on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America — on the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges.

"I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation.

"Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

The right to criticize;
The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
The right to protest;
The right of independent thought.

"The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood, nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn't? Otherwise, none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise, thought control would have set in.

"The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don't want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.

"I don't want to see the Republican Party win that way. While it might be a fleeting victory for the Republican Party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people. Surely it would ultimately be suicide for the Republican Party and the two-party system that has protected our American liberties from the dictatorship of a one party system.

"As a United States Senator, I am not proud of the way in which the Senate has been made a publicity platform for irresponsible sensationalism. I am not proud of the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from the side of the aisle. I am not proud of the obviously staged, undignified countercharges that have been attempted in retaliation from the other side of the aisle.

"I don't like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity. I am not proud of the way we smear outsiders from the Floor of the Senate and hide behind the cloak of congressional immunity and still place ourselves beyond criticism on the Floor of the Senate.

"As an American, I am shocked at the way Republicans and Democrats alike are playing directly into the Communist design of 'confuse, divide, and conquer.' As an American, I don't want a Democratic Administration 'whitewash' or 'cover-up' any more than I want a Republican smear or witch hunt."

Margaret Chase Smith served four terms in the Senate. She sought a fifth in 1972, but by then she was an "old" 74 and in physical decline. She alienated liberals with her support for the war in Vietnam, while turning off conservatives with her votes against Nixon Supreme Court nominees Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell. A Republican primary challenger taunted her for being out of touch. The charm she had for so many years seemed to evaporate. She was defeated in the fall by Democratic Congressman William Hathaway. Smith died on May 29, 1995.

Peter Jennings, R.I.P.:

Whenever there was a crisis, or a major story, and you were near a TV, it was Peter Jennings you wanted to hear from. There has been a lot said about the legacy of Jennings since his passing, and deservedly so. I thought I would add a personal note.

My first day on the job at ABC News' Political Unit in New York was in September of 1983, not long after Peter Jennings left London for New York to become the sole anchor for World News Tonight. Sometime late that year, in a private conversation with a colleague at ABC's Special Events unit, I had the temerity to say that I thought Jennings' take on politics was naive and simplistic, or something to that effect. Within a day or so, my phone rings, and it's Peter. He had heard what I said. Before guilt and dread could set in, before I could begin to assemble a coherent apology, Peter said he would be the first to admit he had plenty to learn about American politics, and asked if I could prepare for him a weekly memo on my take on the upcoming campaign. That was my introduction to Peter Jennings, and it began a relationship that I cherished during my years at ABC News.

From that moment on, I found him to be someone with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He didn't merely want to know a little about everything; he wanted to know everything about everything. And he always showed sincere gratitude or appreciation for every tidbit I ever gave him.

There were other phone calls as well. When a piece aired in 1989 on the travails of then-House Speaker Jim Wright, he called to ask me if I agreed with certain points the correspondent made. When details about a brewing scandal began to spread regarding bank overdrafts by members of the House, Peter called to ask me how serious I thought it was.

And in the few times I saw him since I left ABC in 1991, he always remembered who I was, always had nice things to say. And he always had the highest regard for NPR and its ideals. On the last day I spoke to him, in Iowa at a John Kerry rally in January of 2004, an ABC producer told me that Peter more than once opened an editorial meeting by saying he heard something on NPR and wanted to know why ABC didn't have that story.

It was a privilege to have known and worked with him, as brief a time as it was.

Rest in peace, Peter Jennings.

This Day in Campaign History: New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith, four weeks after quitting the Republican Party, announces his candidacy for the 2000 U.S. Taxpayers Party presidential nomination. He eventually returns to the GOP fold, only to lose his bid for another Senate term in the Republican primary in 2002 (Aug. 10, 1999).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org.




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