Griffith changes parties

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.

31 comments to Griffith changes parties

  • Doug Lassiter

    With all due respect to Rep. Griffith, I’ve never really understood these party switches where a member relinquishes being in the majority. There is little or no chance that he’ll be in the majority next year, and he’ll get stripped of whatever seniority he has on various committees. Perhaps he’s taking a long view, and long views are justifiable, but I can’t help but believe that while he’s decided to stand with a party that is more in tune with his beliefs and convictions he’s really got some local GOP competition that he’s deathly afraid of.

  • Terry S

    The reason is obvious: as a Democrat from a conservative district his political career wasn’t likely to last beyond 2010 as a Democrat. Several other Dems in similar situations have decided to just give up and retire rather than face the backlash for what Congress has been doing re: health care, bailouts, cap & trade etc. etc.

    Congressional approval is now below that of Bush in his last year and Obama’s favorables are getting there, hovering at 45% +/- and trending down. This is now reflected in just about every national poll.

    This story, the above reasons for the switch and the retirements and the polling slide are all over the political sites that lean to both sides, yet they’re coming to the same conclusions: the Democrats are in huge trouble next year

  • Al Fansome

    61% of Griffith’s district voted for McCain in the last election. He works in a Republican district.

    2008 was a great year for Democrats, but Griffith only won the election by 51-48%.

    2010 is going to be much tougher on Democrats. A lot of districts they won by singled digits in the last election are going to swing the other way in 2010.

    Even without this, Freshmen Members of Congress often have tough 2nd elections.

    CONCLUSION: Griffith has a much better chance of staying on Congress as a Republican than a Democrat. Converting to the Republican party was the most rational decision he could have made. He just needs to win the Republican primary (which may not be that easy.)

    As they say, all politics is local.


    – Al

  • Ferris Valyn

    Al – To be correct, the correct conclusion is that Griffith THINKS he has a much better chance of staying on as a Republican. As you allude to, winning the Republican primary is not a foregone conclusion.

    If he doesn’t, its going to be interesting.

  • Do not forget that Rep. Griffith was only serving his first term in office. He had virtually no seniority. His voting record over the last year was typically with the Republican minority in the House. So, no real big surprise that he switched parties. Plus, the DCCC wants their election money back.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Well, as I said, he’s got some local GOP competition that he’s scared of.

    He can be a Democrat and vote with the GOP, as he does on many issues, and still hold onto his seat and his seniority. There are loads of examples of that. But that only works if his GOP competition is insignificant. It would seem that it is not.

    Sure, in the midterm year, the minority party usually has substantial gains. But I don’t think anyone sees the House changing colors this next year. As to Democratic retirements, I was under the impression that the GOP was vastly ahead in that race to pull the golden parachute.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ December 22nd, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    With all due respect to Rep. Griffith,..

    there is no much respect needed. Griffith had a few problems staying a was that his brand of nuttiness was not playing well inside the party. It is hard to go to any real Dem group with the claim to fame “we are in a race to the Moon with the Chinese” and get any of them to do more with their hands but suppress a yawn.

    On the other hand there are a lot of right wing groups who not only will take the hands and clap at such statements (we have a few of them on this board) but will also reach into their pocket books and flip out the cash.

    The problem of course joining the “nuts are us” club is that there are probably even more nuttier people in the club then folks who are joining it…and I have already heard “he might not be conservative enough” fo the litmus test people.

    Oh well you pay your money you take your chances.

    Three things

    1. It will have no affect on space policy. When you are a bit player just changing parties wont change that.

    2. Will it save Griffith? It depends on what his status in his district is now. All politics is local and while the national trend is useful the reality is that his own standing there will mean a lot more

    3. As for the national trend. A lot of the right wing is salivating that this is 94 all over again…it is far to early to gather that trend. My own viewpoint is that both parties are at enormous jeopardy in terms of reelect numbers.

    Robert G. Oler

  • While the discussion of Griffith’s political prospects are interesting, they have nothing to do with space policy. He had little influence as a freshman Democrat, and he’ll have less as a freshman (even fresher) Republican. The only reason for this move was that he knew he was doomed in November as a Dem, and thinks that he at least has a chance as a Republican. Assuming that he survives the primary…

  • Ferris Valyn

    Rand – Pete Olson achieved a position as Ranking member on the Space Subcommittee, and is only a freshman Congressman, equal in terms of when he entered Congress as Griffith.

    Therefore, one *potential* (I stress potential, I hardly see it as a forgone conclusion) is that he might make a play to have Olson’s spot in the Space subcommittee in the next congress (assuming he survives re-election, and other things).

  • Terry S

    “His voting record over the last year was typically with the Republican minority in the House. So, no real big surprise that he switched parties. Plus, the DCCC wants their election money back.” is reporting that Griffith voted with Pelosi 85% of the time and that he has already stated that DNC donations will be refunded. This is a higher brand loyalty than many Republicans.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Park Griffith party switch suggests how much in peril Nancy Pelosi’s majority really is. Rassmussen suggests that President Obama is less popular that GW Bush was at the end of his second term; the popularity of Congress is far worse. 1994? How about 1938, when seventy two seats changed hands?

    Space activists has better start thinking about what the political atmosphere is going to be in 2011 with a GOP led House that is going to be loaded for bear against the administration, which, by the way, is not likely to be adroit enough to triangulate as did Clinton. I realize that long term thinking may be too much to ask for space fans, but I am asking nevertheless.

  • NASA Fan

    Ideology be damned! I want to win!

    How surprising is this really?

  • Ferris Valyn

    Mark – Concerning your first suggestion, you’ll forgive me if I don’t agree with you.

    Concerning your second paragraph – Physician, heal thyself

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ December 23rd, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Rassmussen suggests..

    Rassmussen polls are useless if one is trying to predict actual voting outcomes. His polling has failed to predict with any reality almost any of the actual election results. But by the right wing, who needs to believe no matter what, proof has never been important.

    As for the coming GOP tide…could be but probably not.

    Those who seek to repeat history usually botch the interpretation and hence the outcome is usually flawed (that is the lesson of the last administration as they made Saddam out to be the equivelent of the evil empire.)

    It is far to early and far to much is in play to tell where The President and hence his party will be in the summer of 2010. At this point in his Presidency the Dems were salivating to run against Ronaldus the Great in 1984 considering him a lame duck…and that didnt work out so well.

    My own gut guess is that Obama is going to have some problems replicating “Morning in America” but while partisan hacks can easily jump to conclusions those who are trying to actually figure out what will happen…are a tad slower.

    Finally…I find it a hoot that you suggest in your last paragraph that the GOP House is going to be ready to oppose Obama…Suntan John as Newt? LOL

    In 93 and 94 the GOP still had a sane “wing” on it. Now there is mostly “nuts and nuttier”. And as for space policy. The GOP has at best tried to say “stay the course” of a space policy that clearly is going no where and is like all pork projects…in need of more money.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Rassmussen polls are useless if one is trying to predict actual voting outcomes. His polling has failed to predict with any reality almost any of the actual election results.

    From what bizarro world are you posting this?

    “It’s hard for pollsters to knock Rasmussen’s accuracy, especially its election polling. The final pre-election Hotline-Diageo poll had given Barack Obama a 50-45 point lead over John McCain, while the final Rasmussen Reports poll gave Obama a 52-46 lead. Both were close to the result, but Rasmussen was closest.”

    Now there is mostly “nuts and nuttier”.

    That’s a pretty good description of most of you posts about politics.

  • Alex

    Well, Rand, at least he didn’t praise Zogby’s polling.

  • Robert G. Oler


    Zogby, American Research and Rasmussen are what in the world of polls are known as “sliders” they each bark a tune during a campaign that is quite different from the aggregate of polls and lean in a certain manner but then toward the end narrow to the statistical margin of the mainstream polls.

    I subscribe to most of them, but you can go to real clear politics and look at the polling result…Rasmussen always skew to the GOP.

    As for the personal attack…its OK Rand. enjoy the holidays

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    The odd thing about the folks like Olsen et al is that I dont think that they have a clue where this is going.

    Obama and Bolden are “more or less” running out the clock on the shuttle and by defacto just about all its alternatives…including to a large extent Ares.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Terry S

    “Zogby, American Research and Rasmussen are what in the world of polls are known as “sliders” they each bark a tune during a campaign that is quite different from the aggregate of polls”

    Zogby over-samples Democrats by almost 10% and the reason Rasmussen IS accurate is that they don’t poll a general population sample but just registered and likely voters. This makes a big difference since the genpop has large segments that don’t vote and don’t care.

  • Jeff Foust

    A reminder that discussion of the real or perceived biases of various polling companies is off-topic here unless you can specifically tie it into space policy (which doesn’t seem to be the case here). Thanks for your cooperation, and happy holidays.

  • Robert G. Oler

    a lot of money spent trying to solve a problem that in the parlance of NASA was not a problem in a rocket that one can hope doesnt exist fairly soon.

    It is truly amazing that other then completion of the ISS, a project more or less started by Dan Goldin under Bill Clinton…little or nothing was accomplished in human spaceflight in the last decade and yet a lot of money was spent and lives lost.

    A tribute to bad policy and incompetent leadership.

    May the next decade do better.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    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…

    not any more

    Robert G. Oler

  • Joe Smith

    Robert: nothing prevents the Republican caucus from reappointing Griffith to the committee when they organize in January. (Seeing how Griffith has been jabbing at the White House for a while now about the lack of a new policy, they may appreciate having him stay on the committee to keep doing that.) I think that was the point of the original post.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Joe Smith wrote @ December 24th, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Robert: nothing prevents the Republican caucus from reappointing Griffith to the committee when they organize in January…

    yes they could (sorry that phrase sounds almost like “yes we can”)

    but to do so, one person who is now on the committee from the minority would have to get off…and would have to get off for a turncoat…a turncoat who is facing some serious primary opposition (I guess at least that is the talk) from one of the “nuttier” groups of the party…and I bet you the “GOP Leadership” (and that is a mouthful) is having some discussion about those idears (grin) as we speak. The local newspaper cannot point to any agreements

    If they chucked someone for a “turncoat” …The big question would be would they want someone whose rounds fired at The White House consist of an all time vote getters like “we are in a race with The Chinese to the Moon” (how many Americans do you think really buy that) and someone who, according to the Huntsville Times “The National Republican Congressional Committee spent at least that (about a million…me) much on negative ads against Griffith, depicting him, among other things, as a bad doctor whose patients died from poor treatment.”

    anything is possible in the GOP right now. The lunatics are clearly edging closer to running the sanatorium and so it is possible that someone who in the last election was killing his patients from poor treatment could get a spot on the very subcommittee that would help ensure his winning the primary.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Anon2

    Actually the choice is easy. Frank Lucas seems to have been placed on the committee mostly because of Spaceport Oklahoma being in his district.

    Given that Spaceport Oklahoma has lost its major tenant, RpK, there seems to be little reason for him to remain on the subcommittee, especially as he appears to have little interest in space issues and would likely prefer a subcommittee more in line with his legislative interests.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Off topic.

    Merry Christmas everyone.

    It is a wonderful time for me…I hope that it is for everyone else

    Robert G. Oler

  • Terry S

    “anything is possible in the GOP right now. The lunatics are clearly edging closer to running the sanatorium”

    Firstly, get your terms right.

    A sanatorium, or sanitarium, is a long term care facility for medical patients; a term most often used in the ‘old days’ for a unit housing victims of tuberculosis or those convalescing from serious illnesses or injuries, but not exclusively. Today we call them LTCF’s (long term care facilities) or SNU’s (Skilled Nursing Units.)

    They are not necessarily “insane asylums”, or more properly “psychiatric hospitals”, and should not be inferred to be so due to the variety of their patient populations.

    If you’re trying to label the Republicans as being ‘nuts’ I submit to you that the actions of the Democrat leadership, especially this year, equally qualifies them for such status. The Democrat “leadership” is at least as far left as any Republican is to the right, and both are driving centrists out of their respective parties.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Terry S wrote @ December 25th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    They are not necessarily “insane asylums”, or more properly “psychiatric hospitals”, and should not be inferred to be so due to the variety of their patient populations…

    I chose my words with reasonable care, but a more prudent statement would have been (since I chose sanatorium with some thought) would be that

    ““anything is possible in the GOP right now. The PATIENTS (lunatics) are clearly edging closer to running the sanatorium”

    which even accepting you’re “broad” definition of the word would state that the people who need care are now edging toward completely running the care giving facility.

    The point about PG is illustrative. If he got a seat on the committee he was just kicked off of he would go from being a doctor who killed his cancer patients to someone who got a valued committee seat (at least in terms of his political future) simply by being a traitor to the groups that got him elected in the first place.

    Phil Gramm has many faults but at least when he pulled the “party switch” thing he had the honor to ALSO resign and run again for election. Now of course parties are switched like underwear with little regard for the folks who did the voting…but what the heck.

    On to the greater issue of space politics and perhaps a peak at politics in its entirity.

    If one listens to the rhetoric of the GOP along with that of less government, more involvement of free enterprise (or even just private industry) and more “choice” all current mantra’s in the health care debate…then one reasonably can ask how anyone who is oppossed to a single payer health insurance system can be for well “Ares” or “Bush’s vision” of lunar exploration.

    The latter is big government all in a “nutshell”. no real private enterprise involvement, bloated government programs, and no real affect of the government program on anything other then well government.

    For the Ares huggers it is really “OK” that Ares has so far consumed 9 billion dollars and needs maybe twice more of that to get to a flying vehicle…and the Ares 1X was a stunt for 1/2 billion or so…compared to Musk spending 1 billion of his own money to produce at least as capable a booster….well national power projects are to folks like Whittington expensive but as long as they at least aim for something that they like.

    So for instance while it would be horrible to have a national health care system which would cover all Americans with some waste doubtless it is quite OK to have a Ares project that does almost nothing for the rest of us, but keeps NASA in business…because to paraphrase PG “we are racing the Chinese to the Moon” (or are they racing us? confused)…

    sorry that is a logical inconsistency that is indicative of someone needing long term help …and yet they are clearly the folks running the GOP now.

    I dont like the way the Dems are taking The Republic but at least the folks in the House are consistent with what they claim that they are…all for big government programs that at least claim to change the lives of the American people.

    It is hard to see what reason we have to continue Bush’s vision…except for the Reds racing us (or us racing them) to the Moon…

    My own view is that both parties are somewhat out of touch with the American people but….

    wouldnt it be strange if the Democrats are the one who propose a free enterprise oriented space program and the GOP big power people are the ones who oppose it?

    Lunatics running the sanatorium

    Long Live The Republic


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