Can’t beat ’em? Hopson joins ’em
Hance, of Lubbock, was walking through the Dallas airport with fellow conservative Democrat Ralph Hall of Rockwall. They ran into one of Hall’s constituents.
They exchanged howdies, and Hall asked, “And how’s that pretty little lady you’re married to?”
The man’s face clouded. “We divorced six months ago,” he said.
Without missing a beat, Hall gripped the man by the shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. “You were too good for her,” Hall told him.
A different version of that exercise is going on now. Spokespeople for the Democrats are trashing Hopson for his party switch -- in the most Republican Texas House district that had been represented by a Democrat.
Reactions from his fellow WD-40s – White Democrats Over 40 in Republican-leaning districts – who hope to reach a majority in the House in next year’s elections range from disappointment to betrayal. Some Democrats want Hopson to return their campaign donations.
Meanwhile, some Republicans say nice things about a man they have castigated for years. Besides U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Hopson was endorsed by Brian K. Walker, the Republican who lost to Hopson in 2008 by 120 votes.
Less welcoming is Jacksonville dentist Michael Banks. He’s announced against Hopson in the GOP primary.
The choice between “Dance With Who Brung You” versus “I Didn’t Leave the (fill in the blank) Party, It Left Me,” though not pretty, is an age-old ritual. Though sometimes genuine, it is helped along when office-holders realize their choice is switch, or lose re-election.
In the Reagan-Bush-Bush Era in Texas politics, it’s usually like Hopson’s: Democrat to Republican.
That’s a path traveled by, among others, former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm; Hance (to run for governor); octogenarian Hall (to keep his congressional seat in a district that had turned pretty solidly Republican); Gov. Rick Perry; former state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn (though she later became an Independent); a few congressmen; several other Texas House members; and lots of local elected officials.
It usually works: The switchers are elected by their new parties. That happened with Gramm and Perry and Hall.
It didn’t work, initially, for Strayhorn, who under a different last name was stomped in her 1986 Republican challenge of incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Jake Pickle of Austin.
Nor did it work for U.S. Rep. Greg Laughlin, DWest Columbia, when he switched to the GOP for his re-election bid in 1996, to try to survive in his increasingly Republican district.
Up jumped former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who’d left his House seat in 1984 to run for the U.S. Senate (he lost), and later was the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988 (also lost).
Paul, whose small-government conservatism has rallied a significant national following, regained his House podium by winning a sparsely attended runoff primary with 54 percent.
Laughlin, a lawyer, later added “lobbyist” to his credentials.
Bill Braecklein, elected to the Texas Senate as a Democrat, switched to the GOP for his 1980 reelection bid – and lost the primary to former Dallas City Councilman John Leedom.
Rep. Billy Clemons of Groveton switched to the Republicans in 1995, but was beaten for re-election in 1996 by WD-40 Jim McReynolds of Lufkin.
Only two legislators have switched from the Republicans to the Democrats in recent years. Bernard Erickson, a Cleburne dentist, won in 1992 as a Republican to succeed retiring conservative six-term Democrat Bruce Gibson of Godley. When he switched, Erickson was welcomed at his press conference by Pete Laney, the Democratic House speaker. But Johnson County Republican chairman Arlene Wohlegemuth beat Erickson by 46 votes in 1994, and significantly more in 1996.
More recently, Kirk England, of Grand Prairie, switched from the Republicans to the Democrats in 2007, after a narrow re-election victory in 2006. He was easily re-elected as a Democrat in 2008.
Then there’s Dallas County District Judge John Creuzot. He was appointed in 1991 by Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, and won re-election in 1992 as a Democrat. As Dallas trended red, Creuzot switched to the Republicans. Now that it’s going blue, he’s switched back.
Maybe he can borrow a quote from former state Rep. Charlie Evans. When Evans, who switched from D to R, in 1987, was asked about his party loyalty.
“I’ll probably,” Evans replied, “ be about as good a Republican as I was a Democrat.”