State Rep. Kirk England, R-Grand Prairie, has scheduled a news conference at 10 a.m. Thursday to announce that he's switching to the Democratic Party.
"In December of 2005, when I filed to run for office, I made a promise to the hardworking families in our community to fight for our public schools, fight for affordable health care and to fight for them on pocketbook issues," Mr. England said in a statement. "After one session in the House, I found that the Republican leadership in Austin had no tolerance for the values and priorities of the folks I represent. That is why... I will announce my intention to seek re-election to the Texas House as a Democrat."
By late Wednesday afternoon, Democrats were already welcoming him to the party.
"Kirk will bring a different perspective," said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. "... He's trying to represent the views of his district."
The news of Mr. England's departure stunned Republican leaders.
Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Kenn George said Wednesday that Mr. England's move caught him by surprise.
"I hadn't heard about it at all," he said. "Needless to say, I'm disappointed."
Mr. England becomes the first Republican lawmaker in recent memory to become a Democrat. And his departure illustrates the changing political face of urban Texas counties where demographic shifts are creating opportunities for Democrats.
And though Mr. England's defection only mildly dents the Republican majority in the Texas House – it's currently 81-69 GOP – it signals that the Democratic strategy of targeting swing districts with vulnerable Republican incumbents is working.
"In the south, all the shifts have been in the other direction, said Southern Methodist University political scientist Matthew Wilson. "Ten or 15 years ago, Democrats were switching to the Republican Party and now there's a move back to parity or beyond parity.
"We're not going to see in the near future Democratic dominance like Republican dominance in the last 10 years, but certainly Democrats are becoming a lot more competitive in urban Texas areas. These are the building blocks of statewide competitiveness down the road."
Just this past year, we've seen several legislators switch to the Democratic Party in Kansas, Missouri, and Kentucky, and now Texas. More and more of the moderate Republicans are rejecting the Religious Right's agenda of forcing creationism down our throats in science classes, while neglecting people struggling to make ends meet.
Also, note that the current GOP advantage in the Texas state house is 81-69, soon to be 80-70 come tomorrow. After the Republicans won control of the state legislature in 2002 for the first time in 130 years, thanks to Tom DeLay's TRMPAC, they had a 88-62 advantage.
Burnt Orange Report has more on the significance of this switch. Welcome, Mr. England. :-)
Reminder: Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day.