Convenience or conviction?
On Tuesday, Republican Hershel Walker was soundly defeated by Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia. It was the final U.S. Senate race of 2022. Warnock was elected to a full six-year term. His win gave the Democrats a 51-49 edge in the upper chamber- at least for a while.
Three days later, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, (D-Arizona) announced she was leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an Independent. Sinema evidently will continue to caucus(meet/cooperate/vote) with the Democrats since they announced she will keep her committee assignments. Sinema joins Senators Bernie Sanders, (I-VT), and Angus King, (I-ME) as an Independent. All three caucus/meet/cooperate/vote with the Democrats.
Sinema is serving her first term in the U.S. Senate and is up for re-election in 2024. She is the first openly bi-sexual woman in the Senate. Sinema is considered a centrist on fiscal issues and is often aligned with Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-WV) on key votes.
Sinema’s change of course wasn’t met with enthusiasm by fellow Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders said Sinema’s decision was driven by ‘political aspirations for the future in Arizona.’ Sanders said, “I think Democrats there(Arizona) are not all that enthusiastic about somebody who helped sabotage some of the most important legislation that protects the interests of working families and voting right and so forth.” Sinema countered, “Registering as an independent and showing up to work with the title of independent is a reflection of who I’ve always been….Nothing is going to change for me.”
Democratic leaders in Arizona said they felt betrayed by Sinema’s flip flop. A sitting Democratic Congressman had already announced his plan to run against Sinema in the 2024 Democratic primary challenge. Three observations:
First, changing Party affiliation in the U.S. Senate has happened before. In the last eighty years, there have been twelve flips by sitting Senators. Most didn’t mean much, but one in recent memory did. One of the most dramatic defections came just after President George W. Bush was elected in 2000. The Senate was evenly split coming into the 107th Congress, with Vice President Cheney set to cast the tie-breaking vote. Then Sen. Jim Jeffords, a senator from Vermont announced he was flipping to Independent and would caucus with the Democrats. It changed the balance of power in the Senate. Jeffords took great pride in the shift, proudly declaring himself ‘not conservative.’ Jeffords never appeared on the ballot again, choosing to retire from the Senate when his term ended.
Second, Sinema’s change will change nothing in the Senate. She will keep her committee assignments. Sinema will still caucus/meet/vote with the Democrats. The move helps her avoid a contentious primary in her upcoming re-election bid. Sanders is right(for once)- she is driven by political ambition.
Third, when elected officials change Party affiliation, most of the time it is for convenience, not conviction. That’s true at all levels of government- not just at the federal level. As the Sooner state has become increasingly Red, ambitious, zealous candidates have registered Republican so they can use the GOP brand to further their aspirations. They know being a registered Democrat is a liability with Oklahoma voters. Most of these new converts have never read the Republican platform. They could care less about Party beliefs and values are. They only want to win. After all, if these indispensable individuals can’t win, they can’t govern and serve in humility/conviction/meekness and bless us with their superior intellect and insight.
In 1983, the late U.S. Rep. Phil Gramm from Texas was serving in the U.S. House. He came to the conclusion he wasn’t a Democrat anymore. Gramm resigned his seat in Congress. A special election was held to fill his seat. Gramm ran as a Republican and was elected to the seat he resigned. Gramm said the voters should decide if he was who they wanted to represent them and if they disagreed with his Party change, he should lose. That took conviction. No other switcher- before or since- has followed that model.
Steve Fair is Chairman of the 4th district of the Oklahoma Republican Party. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog is stevefair.blogspot.com.
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