Thursday, November 30, 2006

Switching Parties to be Heard?

The Republicans are really taking a beating thanks mainly to George W. Bush.

POLITICS (Connecticut)

Irresistible Temptation

A Discouraged Republican Legislator Switches Parties So Her Ideas Will Be Heard
November 22, 2006
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Capitol Bureau Chief, The Hartford Courant
It's hard to imagine the state Republican Party any more decimated than it was the day after this month's election.

Except for Gov. M. Jodi Rell, every GOP candidate for statewide election was smoked by at least a 2-1 ratio. In the legislature, Democrats gained their biggest House majority since the post-Watergate election of 1974.

Now, as if to punctuate the GOP collapse, one of a small contingent of Republican House members has switched her political affiliation to the Democratic Party.

The defection of state Rep. Diana Urban of North Stonington is the first such switch in recent memory and widens the House Democrats' commanding lead over Republicans to 107-44.

Surrounded by top Democratic leaders Tuesday, Urban received a hug from House Speaker James Amann and applause as she joined the majority after six years as a GOP legislator.

One Republican leader called the switch "disingenuous" and criticized Urban for accepting GOP campaign money, then abandoning the party two weeks after the election.

A lifelong Republican, Urban, 57, said she had gradually become discontent with the national GOP because it is no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. As a former New Yorker, she said, she does not recognize the party that was once led by moderates such as former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and former U.S. Senator Jacob Javits.

"The party has changed," she said.

"At what point in time," Urban asked, "do you say to yourself: `I'm not really getting anything done that I want to get done to the extent that I think I am capable of doing it?' ... At some point, you say to yourself, the time is now. And you stop trying to pull the party to the center with you or maybe to the left of center with you. It's time to be with a party that's really willing to listen to your voice."

There was little sympathy Tuesday among Republicans, who stripped Urban's name from the House Republican website even before Urban had finished her news conference with her new Democratic friends.

"The whole move is somewhat disingenuous," said Rep. Lawrence Cafero, who takes over as the new House GOP leader in January. "She ran and accepted money as a Republican and yet before even being sworn in, she is switching to be a Democrat. ... I don't understand the timing."

Amann told reporters two other House Republicans had approached him about becoming Democrats, but he refused to reveal their names.

Cafero said he was unaware of that, adding, "The speaker must know something I don't."

Both publicly and privately, Republicans questioned the timing of Urban's switch. She was a GOP pariah because she often socialized and voted with the Democrats and frequently spent time in the House chamber talking to her close friend, Rep. Stephen Fontana, vice chairman of the state Democratic Party.

"It has been a strained relationship" with Republicans, said Cafero. "She found more comfort - not only politically, but in many cases personally and socially - on the other side of the aisle, and there wasn't much we could do with that."

Cafero said he was caught off guard by Urban's announcement because he had told her only last week that he would "wipe the slate clean" as the party's new House leader and strongly consider her for a committee assignment as the top-ranking Republican on issues that interest her.

Privately, Republicans shed no tears over her departure because she often voted with the Democrats on environmental and affordable-housing issues, among others.

"This just means she can caucus with the people she votes with," said one GOP insider. "There's no change here. This is all about her."

Urban has been elected four times to a seat formerly held by Republican Rob Simmons, who earlier this month lost a re-election battle for Congress. Urban ran unopposed this year, and insiders said that Democrats did not mind the lack of an opponent. Known for her independent streak, Urban said she was aware of friction with Republicans.

"I've been called a maverick," Urban said. "I've been called other things, too, but we'll leave it at maverick. ... My voice is heard on this [Democratic] side of the aisle a lot more than it is on the other side of the aisle."

Rell, who is the de facto leader of the state GOP, declined to comment on Urban's switch and did not provide any details on how the Republicans will regain their momentum.

"Gov. Rell was deeply concerned by the election results," said her spokesman, Judd Everhart. "She will be working with top GOP leaders to determine a strategy for rebuilding the party going forward. In the meantime, she expects her good working relationship with the majority party to continue in the 2007 session."


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