Saturday, September 08, 2007

I think we'll be seeing more & more of this

Sent to me by Michelle, best friend extraordinaire:
(Thanks Meesh!)



When moderates feel lost in the GOP

A Missouri state senator abruptly declares himself a Democrat, angrily citing the influence of social conservatives.

By Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 3, 2007

RAYMORE, MO. -- Talk about a nasty divorce. In an announcement last month that left Missouri politicos agape, state Sen. Chris Koster, a rising Republican star and chairman of the Senate's GOP caucus, abruptly declared himself a Democrat.

Not only did Koster join the marginalized minority party in Missouri, but he did so with a thundering speech that lambasted his former colleagues as ignoring the needs of their constituents and slavishly following the dictates of "religious extremists."

The former prosecutor denounced several Republican positions he had once supported, such as steep cuts in Medicaid coverage and subsidized family-planning programs.

But Koster reserved his harshest criticism for GOP efforts to overturn a voter-approved constitutional amendment that protects embryonic stem-cell research in Missouri.

"The Republican desire is to criminalize early-stage stem-cell research in our state," Koster said in a speech he repeated three times as he hopscotched across the state. "Go to Boston for your Nobel Prize; come to Missouri for your leg irons. And the Missouri Republican Party not only tolerates this lunacy, but embraces it," Koster said.

Days later, one of his staffers updated his website -- by deleting a photo of Koster shaking hands with Vice President Dick Cheney.

Koster's decision stunned Republicans here in his district just south of Kansas City and across this quintessential swing state. "There's no precedent for it in the state of Missouri," said GOP consultant Paul Zemitzsch.

But the move sounded like deja vu just across the state line in Kansas.

Three prominent Kansas Republicans moved into the Democratic column in late 2005 and 2006, voicing similar concerns about the influence of social conservatives. One of those defectors was elected attorney general. Another -- who once chaired the Kansas Republican Party -- now serves as lieutenant governor.

Political analysts don't expect a cascade of party-swappers in Missouri. As political scientist David Webber put it: "I'll be darned surprised if anyone follows [Koster's] example."

But they say the move does point at how effectively social and religious conservatives dominate the Republican Party across several Midwest states -- and how frustrating that can be to self-styled moderates who would prefer to focus on economic issues.

"That's been true for a decade," said Webber, a professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Missouri elder statesman and former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth last year wrote a book on the subject. "Faith in Politics" called on the GOP to shake free of the religious right. Danforth is now trying to translate those words into action by leading a national coalition of GOP moderates called the Republican Leadership Council.

Koster knows that many in Missouri would have preferred it if he, like Danforth, had stayed with the GOP despite his differences. "It's a disappointment to lose him," said former state Sen. Betty Sims, who had her own battles with the religious right but remained Republican.

But after three years of feeling out of sync with his own party, Koster, 42, said he couldn't take it any longer.

The final straw, he said, came this spring when his colleagues overturned a state law requiring public schools to give students comprehensive, medically accurate information on sexually transmitted diseases and birth control. Districts may now focus exclusively on abstinence.

"I knew at that moment," Koster said. "For me, leaving was the right, the moral thing to do."

Skeptics -- and there are plenty -- point out that Koster voted for the abstinence-only provision that he now says is so troubling. (He says that's because the bill included other programs he supports, such as funding to encourage pregnant women to consider adoption instead of abortion.)

These critics see Koster's switch as opportunism, a way to bolster his expected candidacy for state attorney general in 2008 -- a year many pundits expect will be good for Democrats across the board.

"Any time you jump to the other side of the ship to make a gain and leave your friends behind. . . it's hard to respect someone like that," said Tom Circo, 54. A Republican, Circo sells insurance here in Raymore, a town of 16,000 in Koster's western Missouri district, which stretches from the suburbs of Kansas City into farmland.

Koster responds that he jumped from the fourth-ranking GOP position in the state Senate -- with a cushy office and a chance at a still-higher leadership role -- to become the lowest-ranking Democrat in the state Senate. He will face stiff competition in the Democratic primary for attorney general. The governor, a Republican, has urged him to resign his Senate seat.

He's hated by many on the right, distrusted by more than a few on the left. And to top it all off, he has opened himself to charges of flip-flopping not only on party affiliation but on key positions. When he made the switch, he announced he was no longer "pro-life" but would henceforth support legal abortion.

So if he was trying for political gain, Koster jokes, he pretty well botched it.

John Willis, 73, disagrees.

A voter in Koster's district, he said he didn't believe in blind loyalty to either party -- and he was glad to have a state senator who apparently felt the same.

"If he has the guts to do that, he must believe in it," Willis said. "And that's what we want in our politicians, isn't it? People with the guts to stand up for what they believe in."

stephanie.simon@latimes.com

16 comments:

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: My loyalty is to the nation, not to any one party, and in many ways, I feel that party loyalty and loyalty to the nation are often in conflict. This has become especially true of the Republican Party in recent years, though I also have a fair amount of criticism for the Democratic Party as well. Any time a major political party fractures, I'm happy, and in that sense, I'm happy to see this. The unholy alliance among social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and libertarians that has been the Republican Party for a generation or two is finally fracturing along those lines, and I'm only shocked that it took this long, considering the sheer breadth of the philosophical and ideological differences among the various groups.

PoliShifter said...

We can only hope.

But here's the catch:

We already have a HUGE problem within the DNC of Republicans masquerading as Democrats (blue dog, yellow dog, DLC, aka Bush Dog Democrats)

As more and more moderate Republicans stick their finger in the wind and see the wind is blowing in the other direction and choose to jump ship, we could end up with an even more right wing demcoratic party.

I am of the mind that all the moderates and Bush Dog democrats need to be purged from the DNC and in their place we need more progressive liberal Democrats.

The corporatists are holding our country hostage and they are in both parties and easily cross party line when the winds change.

The result is just more of the same.

Snave said...

Well, I guess if you can't beat 'em, you join 'em...

I hope we see more of this kind of thing. While it might tend to water down the left-ness of the Democratic party, it could also be good in that other Republicans may follow suit and split with the religious fundamentalists who actions and statements could play a major part in what is ruining the party.

On the whole Democrats could become more centrist, for sure. As for the GOP, they are presented with a wonderful quandary. The GOP won't win without the religious fundamentalist voters, but it may not be able to win WITH them, either as more Republicans distance themselves from uniting religion with politics. Anyway, because I think the marriage of religious fundamentalism to the GOP presents a greater threat to our country's survival than just about anything else, I think I could live with a more centrist Democratic party if it meant that the theocons would get elected far less often, if at all. I would like to see an actual religious political party form in the United States, one that all the fundamentalists can be a part of. While they might think they would attract as much as 40% of the vote, I think they would be alarmed to find that they wouldn't get more than about 15% or 20% tops.

I have often wondered just how it is that fiscal conservatives who have moderate to liberal stances on social issues can stand having to depend on the "religious right". Both groups probably disagree with each other in more ways than they realize. I think it's way past time for the GOP to split into two parties, one run by fiscal concerns and the other by religion.

J. Marquis said...

I think you're going to have settle for conservative Democrats in the deep South, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. There are some places that will never elect a true progressive.

Candace said...

This is a welcome change, and one that I hope continues 'til we have centrists in control.

Fundies and politicians blatantly using each other for their own gain was fun to watch and snicker at for a while - a very LITTLE while - but now their dysfunctional marriage is crumbling. I just hope it's not too late...

Thanks for posting this, Lizzy.

Tom Harper said...

This is great news. I hope we start seeing a lot more of this.

Who Hijacked Our Country

Michelle said...

Always glad to help out the blog - I saw a bumper sticker on a car the other day:

"The road to hell is paved with Republicans."

Michelle

Lizzy said...

The Repubs have become the party of the corrupt hypocrite, and the Dems aren't much better. Additionally, except for a select few, the Dems are a bunch of spineless wimps. I've just about had it with them, and that's saying a lot.

I'd like to see the Repubs fracture along the lines you guys mentioned. I would also like to see the Dem party split. DLC/Republican "lite" candidates like Hillary, Reed & Pelosi can be in one camp, and progressive/liberal candidates, like Feingold & Kucinich would be in the other.

MC, I commend you on your loyalty to the nation instead of a party. I'm almost there myself.

Great comments, everyone.

pissed off patricia said...

The more blue, the better. Common sense should beat bullshit any day.

Snave said...

How about a kind of coalition government with representatives from the left-Dems, the center-Dems, the religious GOP, the fiscal GOP, the Libertarians, the Greens and ????

Is is time for something like that in America yet?

Elvez73 said...

Hopefully this is a sign of things to come. I consider myself a center left dem, I'm pro choice, pro gay marriage, I'm quasi socialist in my views of the rich and the corporations that are running politics, yet I am also for a strong defense and I am a strong supporter of the 2nd amendment. We are a broad party that has alot of disparite groups all vying for influence. For Democrats to win elections for many years to come we have to appeal to independents, liberal Republicans, and others. Most Americans aren't liberals, or hard-core conservatives, the vast mojority of the electorate falls somewhere in the middle. The GOP has taken a hard right and are thus losing support. We as dems must bring government back to the center-left, but by turning to the hard left we risk isolating lots of voters that may otherwise support us. I worked on alot of democratic campaigns in college and in my early 20's and I learned that I had to put some of my personal politics aside to benefit the party as a whole. The GOP has given us 08 on a silver platter, we have to seize it, but our diversity may sink us as it has in the past, as Will Rogers said, "I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat." Words that rang true in his time and in ours.

Lizzy said...

Snave's idea is good. It would definitely be better than what we have now.

I know what you're saying, elvez, but I'm getting to the point where I don't want to be associated with the right, or right-center leaning Democrats anymore. In a perfect world, both parties would split into 4 or more new parties. In the meantime, I personally don't know what I'm going to do.

PoP, Yes, common sense should beat bullshit any day.

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

Thanks for the kind words, Lizzy. In general, I think we need more people in power who truly have the best interests of the nation at heart, even (or rather, especially) if that means diminishing the powers of government. I also believe we need people who can debate issues without descending into this low, partisan bickering that has become the norm. Debate is healthy and, in fact, vital to the government or any organization; petty name-calling isn't.

Part of my loyalty to the nation instead of to a party is just an outgrowth of the fact that I've never fully fit in with any party, and that I'm unwilling to compromise my beliefs to join a party I disagree with as much as I agree with them. In short, it's an outgrowth of my strain of rabid nonconformism. The other part is that I genuinely love those ideals upon which our government has been built, yet has been forgotten along the way, and it hurts me to see that.

1138 said...

We saw an entire state legislature jump from Democrat to GOP down here in Georgia after a Republican got the Governors office on electronic ballot.
I don't believe switchers, it takes time to see what the real man/woman is after they make a change like that and really the party they switch to should not be eager to help them get re-elected.
Too often the party the person moves to moves to gives them preference because of recognition, over the party loyal.
Opportunism is too common.
I'm cautious when I read or hear anyone say that the Democratic party should move towords the center when I consider how extreme to the right the "conservative" movement has gone, in my honest moderate opinion the Democratic party has already gone too far to the right and that's why we still can't get the Democratic led Congress to provide proper over site of the executive branch and it's "war" spending.

1138 said...

Oh, and I've never put party, religion, or even family ahead of my nation. Because one joins a party does not mean they walk lock step (well it shouldn't) and that goes for religion, family and nation.
If any organization requires you to cease being and individual - you're in a cult and you need to get out or be rescued.
Joining can be good when you've found a group that shares enough (not all) common interest.
The Republican theme is fear and hate - that's not a healthy thing to join.

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

One thing I left out about needing people who can debate issues on their merits as opposed to petty name-calling is that I'm not that person, and I'm not sure that's as much brutal honesty as it is stating the painfully obvious. I hope to be that type of person some day, but at the end of the day, sometimes I just like a good fight. In that vein, perhaps I just need the right cause to fight for, or perhaps I've found it and need to commit myself more fully to it.