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Entire staff quits after congressmember defects to GOP

By Daniel Tencer
Monday, January 4, 2010 10:31 EDT
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Parker Griffith, the Democratic House representative from northern Alabama who last week announced he was jumping ship to the Republicans, has lost his entire staff.

Saying her old boss had made a “mistake,” Griffith’s now-former chief of staff, Sharon Wheeler, announced Monday that the House representative’s entire congressional staff — from press secretary to interns — had resigned in protest of their boss’s new political leanings.

Wheeler sent out a “sharply-worded” statement Monday announcing the staff’s intentions and implying that Griffith had abandoned northern Alabama’s long history of voting for Democrats, The Hill reports.

“Alabama’s 5th district has deserved and has benefited from great Democratic conservative leadership since Reconstruction. And until now they had it,” The Hill quoted Wheeler as saying.

“We believe [Griffith] made a mistake — a well-intentioned but misguided mistake that is not in the interest of the great people of North Alabama who elected him a year ago as a Democrat. As his staff, we wish him only the best, and we all remain committed to the citizens of the Tennessee Valley. But we cannot, in good conscience, continue working for him.”

With the mass resignations, Griffith has lost his chief of staff, his legislative director, numerous legislative assistants, and even an intern, Reid Wilson reports at National Journal.

But Ben Smith at Politico notes something unusual in the staff’s resignation announcement, particularly Wheeler’s reference to northern Alabama’s tradition of voting Democratic “since Reconstruction.”

Citing Wheeler’s assertion that “Griffith has abandoned the legacy of conservative leadership provided by Bud Cramer, Ronnie Flippo, Bob Jones, Howell Heflin, Jim Allen, Lister Hill, John Sparkman, Big Jim Folsom, and so many more,” Smith notes that two of those Alabama Democrats — Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman — were opposed to desegregation.

“It’s an unusual legacy for a contemporary political figure to embrace,” Smith writes.

When Griffith announced his switch to the Republican Party last week, he was accused by Alabama Democrats of stealing voter registration data from the party just prior to making his announcement.

And some political observers have accused Griffith of hypocrisy and political opportunism, with Greg Sargent at the Plum Line pointing out that, as recently as three years ago, Griffith described himself as a “life-long Democrat” who believes in “health care for all of the citizens.”

In an article at the New York Times, Campbell Robertson argues that Alabama is becoming increasingly hostile territory for Democrats in the wake of the election of President Barack Obama.

In the deep-red states of the South, it is very hard these days to be a Blue Dog, as members of the group of 52 centrist House Democrats are known. Suspicions about the Obama administration’s expansive view of government power have made the Democratic label so toxic in some parts of the South that merely voting like a Republican — as many Blue Dogs do — may no longer be enough.

[Griffith's] defection was a bad sign for Democratic hopes of retaining seats in the South, specifically in Alabama, which has moved ever more securely into the Republican column since the mid-1960s, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permanently altered Southern politics.

Mr. Griffith’s calculation that he probably could not win as a Democrat indicates that the hostile reaction to Democrats over the past year has been intense enough to turn an already deeply red state — one that President Obama lost by more than 20 percentage points in 2008 — even redder.

 
 
 
 
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