Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
Rep. Parker Griffith, a conservative Democratic Congressman from northern Alabama, announced Tuesday that he is switching from the Democratic to the Republican party.
The Congressman explained his "difficult decision" at a press conference in his Huntsville district office.
"I am pro-business, pro-life, pro-second amendment and have worked hard to support our space and defense programs and represent our Alabama values," he said. "However, as the 111th Congress has progressed, I have become increasingly concerned that the bills and policies of the Democratic leadership are not good for Alabama or our nation." He added that he needs to "stand with a party more in tune with my beliefs and convictions."
Griffith, who is in his first term in the House, has one of the most conservative voting records of any Democrat in Washington. He has voted against several of the Democrats' signature issues, including the $787 billion stimulus, the controversial "Cap and Trade" energy bill, and health care reform legislation. In August, he said he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker again, telling the Hunstville Times, "I would not vote for her. Someone that divisive and that polarizing cannot bring us together."
National Republicans had targeted Griffith's 5th Congressional District as a possible Republican pick-up this year, but had also encouraged him to consider becoming a Republican. Sen. John McCain won the district in 2008 with 61 percent of the vote.
Griffith, who is an oncologist, used his announcement to criticize the Democratic agenda as "focused on massive spending, tax increases and bailouts." Afterward, he blasted the health bill now moving through Congress. "We're watching them pass a health care bill that two-thirds of America is saying don't pass it, leave it alone, start over again," he said. "And they're completely ignoring the American people at their own risk."
The news of the party-switch came as a blow to House Democrats, who have recently had several high-profile conservative members announce they will retire in 2010 rather than face reelection, including Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee and Dennis Moore of Kansas. Both men were favored to win reelection, even though their districts, like Griffith's, were in won by McCain in 2008.
At the end of his remarks Tuesday, Griffith acknowledged that "there will be those who do not support my decision." Indeed, moments before, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, called on him to return campaign donations from Democrats who helped elect him in 2008. Van Hollen said Griffith has "a duty and a responsibility" to return "financial resources invested in him."
In response to a reporter's question following his press conference, Griffith lamented the "far, far drift to the left" of the Democratic party in Washington, saying, "There is no room for a pro-life, pro-second amendment, conservative businessman."
He also said he had not told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about his decision, and has not heard from her since he made his announcement.