State legislators switching parties in 2023 are at twice the 30-year average, according to Ballotpedia. The year 2023 is now tied for the sixth most party changes in state legislatures over the past 30 years, and it’s only July. Overall, the party changes favor Republicans, with five Democrats switching to the Republican Party and only one Republican switching to the Democratic Party. The majority of party changes were motivated by policy differences on social issues such as education, as well as party intolerance.
“This wasn’t a political decision for me. It was a MORAL one,” said Georgia Representative Mesha Mainor, who represents a blue-leaning Atlanta district and left the Democratic party last week. “I will NEVER apologize for being a black woman with a mind of my own.”
Mainor faced criticism from fellow Democrats when she supported and voted for a school choice bill that would provide vouchers to parents with students in the bottom 25% of public schools. “I support school choice, parent rights, and opportunities for children to thrive, especially those that are marginalized and tend to fail in school,” she explained.
“The Democrats at the [Georgia State] Capitol took a hard position and demanded every Democrat vote against children and for the teachers union,” said Mainor. “I voted ‘yes’ for parents and ‘yes’ for children, not failing schools.” In response, “They crucified me. When I decided to stand up in support of safe communities and refused to support efforts to defund the police, they didn’t back me. They abandoned me.”
“For far too long, the Democrat Party has gotten away with using and abusing the black community,” Mainor complained. “For decades, the Democrat Party has received the support of more than 90% of the black community. And what do we have to show for it?” When asked whether she expected more pushback from her former party, Mainor said, “The most dangerous thing to the Democrat Party is a black person with a mind of their own. So, it wouldn’t surprise me.” She added, “I have a few colleagues upset with me to the point where they are giving away $1,000 checks to anyone that will run against me.” Since, Mainor has received a flood of vile, racist hate mail, with comments such as, “You’re the stain on society that needs to be flushed,” and much worse.
The themes Mainor stressed — intolerance of political differences and extreme, left-wing values — were echoed in the reasons other party-switchers gave as well.
“[The] modern-day Democratic Party has become unrecognizable to me and to so many others throughout this state and this country. The Party wants to villainize anyone who has free thought, free judgment, has solutions,” said North Carolina Representative Tricia Cotham. “If you don’t do exactly what the Democrats want you to do, they will try to bully you.” Cotham is a primary sponsor of a universal school choice bill, which passed the state House (though not by a veto-proof margin) and now sits in a Senate committee.
Cotham’s switch to Republican gave that party a veto-proof supermajority in the state House (as well as the state Senate), which the party has used to advance pro-life, pro-family policies. With her vote, North Carolina Republicans protected babies from abortion after 12 weeks gestation, as well as banning partial-birth abortion and born-alive protections. Passed over the governor’s veto by the slimmest possible margin, their pro-life law also stipulated reporting requirements for abortion, established conscience protections, articulated informed consent requirements, imposed a 72-hour waiting period, granted a pregnant woman the right to view the ultrasound, and authorized funds to support motherhood and adoption.
With this demonstration of Republican unity, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) declared a state of emergency over Cotham’s school choice bill. “There’s no Executive Order like with a hurricane or the pandemic,” he said, “but it’s no less important.”
The emboldened North Carolina legislature then ventured into the more controversial arena of LGBT policy, passing bills to protect women’s sports, parental rights, and minors from gender reassignment procedures. Cooper vetoed all three bills, but Republicans in the legislature plan to hold votes to override all three vetoes.
In Louisiana, two Democratic legislators switched to the Republican Party this spring. State Representative Francis Thompson explained his decision this way: “The push the past several years by Democratic leadership on both the national and state level to support certain issues does not align with those values and principles that are part of my Christian life.” Thompson’s switch handed the Republicans a supermajority in the House.
A month later, State Representative Jeremy LaCombe also switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, explaining that “values and principles … will never change,” but that “the part of the state I represent has become more conservative, and I no longer think I can [do] the best that they deserve as a Democrat.” Thompson and LaCombe both voted for the Stop Harming Our Kids Act, which would protect minors from gender reassignment procedures. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) vetoed the bill, but the Louisiana legislature has convened a rare veto override session to attempt to override his veto.
Yet another state legislator to switch parties is West Virginia Delegate David Pritt. “I simply cannot continue down the road that the Democratic Party is headed if I am to accurately represent my constituents and my people as well as my own conscience,” he wrote. “It has become more and more obvious that there is very little room in the party for traditional values or differences regarding political opinion — we are being pushed out.” He added that “the values, beliefs, and way of life” of his constituents “are no longer compatible with the trajectory of the Democratic Party.”
Not every state legislator who switched parties went from Democrat to Republican. In New Jersey, 87-year-old State Senator Samuel Thompson changed from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party because Republican leaders urged him to step down in favor of a younger candidate. In Vermont, State Representative Jarrod Sammis switched from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party due to ideological differences over same-sex marriage, abortion, civil liberties, “social rights,” drug legalization, and foreign wars. Louisiana Representative Roy Adams switched from Independent to Democrat, while South Carolina Senator Mia McLeod and Mississippi Senator Kelvin Butler switched from Democrat to Independent — but both remain ideologically liberal.
In total, 10 state legislators have changed their party affiliation so far in 2023. This is nearly double the 30-year average of 5.5 legislators per year, according to Ballotpedia. So far, 2023 is tied for the sixth-most party changes of the past 30 years, and tied for the third-most party changes from Democrat to Republican.
According to Ballotpedia’s analysis, the most party changes over the past 30 years came in 2010, the year Obamacare was signed into law. In 2010, 28 state legislators switched parties, including 25 who switched from Democrat to Republican. Every other year with 10 or more party changes is odd-numbered (coming after a national election), and no other year has seen more than 15 party changes, or more than six Democrat-to-Republican party changes.
State legislators switching parties in 2023 have had a particularly noteworthy impact, granting the Republican party legislative supermajorities in two states with Democratic governors, and contributing to the success or advancement of a number of pro-life, pro-family bills.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.
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