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Monday, November 22, 2010

UPDATED: Four Democrats switch, giving Republicans supermajority in House

Four Democrats in the Alabama House of Representatives switched parties on Monday, giving Republicans the necessary majorities in both chambers of the Legislature to bring up their agenda and to shut down delays from Democrats if they vote as a bloc.
Alan Boothe of Troy, Mike Millican of Hamilton, Lesley Vance of Phenix City, and Steve Hurst of Munford announced their switch, which was reported by the Montgomery Advertiser on Friday.
About 20 Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers and the likely choice for the next speaker of the House, Rep. Mike Hubbard of Auburn, were at the announcement.
The legislators said they would be able to better serve their constituents in the Republican Party, which they said better represents their beliefs. They said they believe in small businesses and small government.
"To serve my people the best I can, I felt the Republican Party was the place for me," Boothe said.
They said the people of their districts, the people of Alabama and people nationwide spoke on Nov. 2, when there were sweeping Republican victories.
Boothe, who has not had opposition in his district in the last three elections, said he was listening to the voters.
"There was a message sent on Nov. 2 and that was that people want a change in Montgomery," he said. " ... If you do not listen, if you do not pay attention, you're not doing your job."
Hubbard, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said those four men approached them about switching. He said no other Democrats have approached them.
Hubbard said they do not want opportunists, but wanted like-minded conservatives, which he said is evident in those four legislators by their voting record. He said none of the men were promised anything and that they did not discuss committee assignments or any other arrangements.
Hubbard said he talked to the four Democrats about their motivations.
"They're switching for one reason," he said. "They are philosophically aligned with the Republican Party."
The Alabama Democratic Party criticized the move of the men, which just won reelection with the physical and financial help and votes of Democrats.
Republicans in the Legislature "have put on a full-court press to push all white Democrats to change parties after the election," according to a statement from the Alabama Democratic Party. The switch also demonstrates the partisanship that can be expected from the Republican majority with intentions of impugning the rights and voices of those Democrats who did not switch over, according to the Alabama Democratic Party.
"These gentlemen have been my friends for a long time and I respect each of them personally, but I am saddened and hurt by their decision today," Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham said in the statement.
If the four legislators believe that the ideals of the Republican Party are better for them, Democrats said they could resign and seek reelection in a special election as a Republican. They would have to win the primary and the general election "and let the voters of their districts validate their switch today," according to the statement.
"I think each of these gentlemen could have been elected as Republicans anyway," Hubbard said.
The Alabama Democratic Party also pointed out that Hurst received more than $50,000 from the Democratic House caucus in his re-election bid. Also, party officials pointed out, Boothe and Millican had no opposition this year.
Republicans would not be punitive and they would "go to great pains to not do to them what they've done to us," Hubbard said.
He said they will require Republicans to vote in a bloc to bring up legislation that is on the caucus's agenda, but "we never tell a member how to vote on final passage." He said it is important for the caucus to stand together on issues important to the members.
"Holding everybody together is tougher than you think," Hubbard said.
When asked about using cloture — a move to stop delays from the other side — Hubbard said "it is certainly a weapon we have."
"We have to learn to be in the majority," he said.
Hubbard said they plan to use the same rules as Democrats regarding the makeup of committees. And with no more than 15 members on each committee, he expects there to be 10 Republican members on those panels. Also, like the Democrats, he expects to have Republicans chairing all of the committees.
Hubbard said the Republicans have been able to grow in large part due to party switchers. He said there were 36 Republicans in the House when he was elected in 1998.
"It hasn't been that long ago since we were definitely in the minority," Hubbard said.
Republicans had 44 members in the House caucus before the Nov. 2 election, but now have 66.
Republicans control 22 of the 35 seats in the Alabama Senate.
Boothe, who was first elected in 1998, said he was inspired, along with the strong statement by voters on Nov. 2, by the friendship he established with Gov.-elect Robert Bentley when they sat next to each other in the Alabama House, where Bentley served for two terms. Boothe said he wants to work with Bentley to pass his conservative agenda rather than against him as part of the "loyal opposition" of Democrats.
Boothe, who represents Pike and Dale counties, said he came to his decision after some "soul searching." He believes he would have switched regardless of which party became the majority.
Vance, who was elected in 1994, was chairman of the House Banking and Insurance Committee for the last eight years.
Hurst, who was first elected in 1998, was convinced to switch by Rogers, a longtime friend. Hurst represents parts of Calhoun and Talladega counties.
"What I'm doing is not for Steve Hurst, it's for the people of my district," he said.
Rogers, a former state legislator from Saks who was minority leader at the time, said he has worked on Vance and Hurst for years.
"These people vote just like a Republican," Rogers said.
Vance, who represents parts of Lee and Russell counties, said going to the Republican Party was really his only option. He said, as he went from polling location to polling location on Nov. 2, that voter after voter told him he was the only Democrat they were voting for and that they would vote straight party if it were not for him.
"These people were telling me something," Vance said.
Millican, who was elected in 1990 and represents Marion and Winston counties, said his district has grown more and more conservative. He said he also talked to Bentley. Millican said Bentley told him that if people question his actions, that they should check his record because it is more conservative than Bentley's.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Location: Montgomery, AL, United States

South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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