Doing a do-si-do between parties
He's in Dallas County, which has been trending Democratic for the past few elections, and reached the tipping point in 2006. Democrats won every countywide position they sought last year, and hope to continue that in 2008.
And, England won his seat in the first place over Democrat Katy Hubener in a special election in early 2006, by 351 votes (52.8 percent), and an even smaller margin - 235 votes, in the general election. With 2008 a presidential year, turnout should be up considerably, and if the Republican loss of popularity in 2006 continues, that could be good for Democrats.
England's party shift marks the first time a Republican legislator has switched to the Democrats in more than a dozen years, and only the second time researchers in the Legislative Reference Library were able to find.
That last R-to-D switcheroo was when Rep. Bernard Erickson, a dentist from Cleburne elected in a special election in 1992, left the Republican Party in 1993. But he was opposed for his re-election try by Republican Arlene Wohlgemuth in 1994, who narrowly beat him in an election that was finally decided on the floor of the House.
One question buzzing around the capitol is whether England's move is an isolated incident or the start of a trend.
Another question is whether Speaker Craddick's pronouncement during an attempt to remove him from the speaker's chair last May that he could only be ousted by impeachment will resonate in primary elections.
Some challenges to some Craddick loyalists in both the Republican and Democratic primaries are brewing, and there's also a presumption that Craddick and his allies are recruiting candidates to oppose Republicans dissatisfied with the speaker.
England, son of Grand Prairie's longtime mayor, says he switched because he had grown tired of the priorities set by the Republican leadership, including GOP House Speaker Tom Craddick and Gov. Rick Perry.
"My community's agenda and the Republican leadership's agenda are absolutely not the same" on matters like schools, health care and others, including Perry's veto of $154 million for community colleges, England said. "I realized that the leadership and the special interests they represent had very little in common with the principles and ideas I value most," England said.
Most Democrats in the House were glad to welcome England, to improve by a vote on the 81-69 edge the Republicans had before he switched. Whether Democrats in his district are as welcoming remains to be seen.
And so on. . . .
The past few decades have seen quite a few once-Democratic officials decide they were Republican.
Sen. Bill Braecklein of Dallas switched to the GOP in 1979, only to get beat in the primary by John Leedom.
Former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm switched to the R's in 1983 before running for the Senate in 1984. Gov. Rick Perry switched in 1989 to run against Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower.
And Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn, a name or two ago, switched in 1985 to run what turned out to be a miserable race against Democratic U.S. Rep. J.J. "Jake" Pickle. She later was elected to the Texas Railroad Commission and then comptroller, before losing as an independent to Perry in the 2006 governor's race.
U.S. Rep. Greg Laughlin of West Columbia switched to the Republican Party for his 1996 re-election bid in his Republican-trending 14th Congressional District, only to lose a primary runoff to former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson.
Contact McNeely at dmcneely@austin. rr.com or (512) 323-0248.