Saturday, August 07, 2004

cowards and turncoats

When I first heard the Rodney Alexander (?-LA 5th CD) had switched parties from Dem to Repub, and then read that Dems, including Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), had called him a coward and a turncoat, I thought, well that's a bit much. After all, our two parties aren't static; it's not surprising that moderates find themselves on the wrong side of the dividing line. And the fact that Alexander made his choice before the election--as opposed to after using Dem funds to get re-elected--sounded honorable.

Then I heard that he changed his affiliation within minutes of the registration deadline for the November elections. After months of reassuring Dems that he had no intention of switching parties, Alexander made the switch at the last possible moment, virtually ensuring that no viable Dem candidate could be found and put forward.

He did so two days after initially registering as a Dem, saying "I qualified as a Democrat. I'm not ashamed to be a Democrat. But I vote what I think the people of the 5th District want me to represent."

Stacking the deck to knock out your competition before the game--sounds like cowardice to me.

Remember Sen. Jim Jeffords? Back in 2001 he switched from Repub to Dem-leaning Independent in just about the most honorable way possible. After he announced his switch, he went out of his way to do the fair thing, commiting to voting Repub on some crucial upcoming bills, including the 2001 tax cut (which was actually a watered down version of the original, thanks to Repub Jeffords efforts on the Senate Finance committee). He also notified key Repub players before announcing his switch. One thing he did not do was use his switch to gain unfair competitive advantage.

In the Louisiana "open primary" system, the top two vote getters in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, are the only two on the ballot in November. Since there was already a strong Republican candidate in the field, Alexander's switch means that voters in November will have to choose between a conservative Repub and a moderate Repub. So the Repubs have pretty effectively locked up that seat no matter what happens.

It will be quite interesting to see what the Repub party does, now that they have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Will they continue to back their original Repub candidate, or will they abandon him and pump up Alexander. His primary usefulness was to hand over his seat, and he's done that now. Will the Repub party make good on their promises (and they must have made some)? Or will they reckon a longtime party member is a safer bet than a newcomer who showed himself so willing to be played in such a cheap way?