POLITICO is reporting today that Congressman Parker Griffith of Alabama will switch party affiliations from Democrat to Republican. As the article notes, while the timing of the announcement may be a surprise, Griffith has been one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus and critical of his party on issues ranging from health care to missile defense. On space, he has cited on multiple occasions in recent weeks, including an STA breakfast in early December and a hearing the following week his frustration at the White House for not yet making a decision on space exploration policy. He also expressed his disagreement with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about her comments that she’s not a “big fan” of space exploration and that any additional funding for it would have to be weighed against alternative programs for job creation.
It’s unclear right now whether his party switch will allow him to continue to be a member of the House Science and Technology Committee and its space subcommittee. When Ralph Hall of Texas switched parties in early 2004 he did maintain his seat on the committee (ironically, he was the ranking member of the committee at that time when he left the Democratic Party; he’s now the ranking member again as a Republican.)
Update: Griffith mentioned support for NASA as one of the reasons why he switched parties in his official announcement:
I have also been very concerned about support in Congress for our Defense and NASA programs. These programs are not only important to our community they are critical for the future of our nation. Since election to Congress I have fought hard to educate other members on the importance of a strong National Missile Defense program and that we must give our NASA programs more support if we are to maintain our lead in space. And while there are some great Democratic supporters of these programs I increasingly find that my allies in fighting for these initiatives come from within the Republican Party.