What does party mean now?

Published 12:22 am Saturday, February 5, 2011

What does it mean to be a member of a political party?

That’s a question I’ve been pondering since Monday night, when nine local political officials, each elected as Democrats and some as recently as November, crossed the proverbial aisle and joined their former foes. Based on the comments on our Web site, it’s been on the minds of a few others, too.

With the action, all but five elected officials in Covington County are now Republicans. “Word” is that former Democratic party chairman Allen Woodard will join them soon.

It was in the not-so-distant past that we heard a lot from Republicans, then the minority party in Alabama, about the need for a two-party system. Great things were in store for us if we would be give up the “backroom politics” and have true primary elections and two-party general elections.

Now the majority Republicans can’t seem to get enough Democrats on their team. The local GOP went so far as to install some of their newest converts on their executive committee Thursday. Then, they selected one “new” Republican, Trippy McGuire, and a Republican who broke out of the fold and sought office as an Independent last year, Don Cotton, to represent county Republicans on the state Executive Committee.

Before I could stop pondering how I felt about folks quickly joining the “winning” team, the GOP gave me something else to ponder. McGuire is probably the most conservative of the crop of fresh Republicans, and therefore the most likely choice if they wanted to send a “new guy” to the state committee. The party didn’t “run” a candidate against him last year, so they must have been happy with him when he was a “D.” And what’s not to like? The popular judge knows at least half of the residents of the county by first and last name, and knows them well enough to inquire after their parents when he meets them at one of his favorite lunch spots. He could probably declare himself a Communist and continue to be re-elected as long as he wanted.

But Cotton is another story altogether. He worked hard to get his name on last year’s ballot as an Independent candidate, working against both the Republican and Democratic candidates. At the state level, the party ousted a member – namely Sen. Harri Anne Smith of Geneva – for her support of a Democrat in 2008. She was re-elected as an Independent last year.

I asked Don, who last year had lots of reasons to be an Independent, what changed between November and January. He said nothing had changed; that he had previously supported Republican candidates and wanted to be a member of local party chairman Bill Blocker’s team.

I’ve never paid dues to a political party. I routinely split my ballot in general elections, and choose my ballot in primary elections based upon the race in which I most want to vote, or the one I consider most strategically important for our county.

But with all the shuffling this week, I wonder if primary voting will be much like the days of old, when there was no choice to make on election day because there was only one party.

And I wonder, why is that now a good thing?

If you are elected as a member of one party and change to the new majority party quickly after taking the oath, what does that tell us voters about you?

Only that you can read the wind.