BOBBY HARRISON: Party -switchers look more opportunistic than principled

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Rep. Jason White said last week during a news conference he was switching to the Republican Party because he did not feel comfortable as a member of the Democratic Party.
White, a West attorney, said he could no longer represent his constituents in rural District 48 as a Democrat.
“I’m conservative,” White said. “I didn’t hide that fact when I ran and have never hidden that fact. Democrats in the House weren’t interested in my conservative approach, and quite honestly, I wasn’t interested in perpetuating their agenda, which has held this state back.”
Gov. Phil Bryant, who attended the news conference, repeated that famous Ronald Reagan line that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left him.
Perhaps, the Gipper deserves the benefit of the doubt. But it is hard to believe that the Democratic Party changed much from when White qualified to seek the open House seat as a member of that party in 2011 from when he changed parties in December 2012.
The same can be said of Rep. Donnie Bell of Fulton and Sen. Gray Tollison who changed to the Republican Party in 2011 days after being elected as Democrats.
Truth be known, it appears Bell and Tollison changed because they wanted to be on the winning side. White’s switch, perhaps, had less to do with the direction of the Democratic Party and more to do with his political expediency.
District 48, which includes portions of Attala, Carroll, Choctaw, Holmes, Humphreys and Leake counties, by most reasonable counts, is heavily Democrat.
But it is a vulnerable district on the edges of the Mississippi Delta. With the Delta losing population and with the need to preserve minority majority districts in the Delta, District 48 was an obvious candidate for merger.
During the 2011 session when the Legislature was unable to pass a redistricting plan because of partisan bickering, both the plan proposed by the then-Democratic House majority and the alternative offered by the Republicans collapsed District 48. Both of those plans failed and the legislative elections were held later in 2011 under the old, malapportioned districts.
But it was understood that whichever party won in November 2011 would have an upper hand in the redistricting effort that had to be done in 2012 to match population shifts found by the 2010 census.
So when White qualified for office in 2011 he was doing so in a district that did not have the brightest of futures, though conventional wisdom was that the district as it was currently configured was pro-Democratic.
White ran as a Democrat and won.
But the Republicans gained control of the House.
Getting rid of White’s district made sense for the new Republican majority. After all, he was a Democratic and he was representing a district that both Democrats and Republicans agreed during the prior 2011 session – when they did not agree on much – should be put on the chopping block.
But White, upon his election as a Democrat, immediately began voting when the Republicans – not some times or most of the time, but all of the time.
When the Republican leadership got around to redistricting the House late in the 2012 session, White was placed in a merged district, but one where the Republican stood at least a better than even chance of winning.
Bingo.
White, no doubt, liking those odds, changed parties.
Maybe he was a Republican all the time. But that is not what he signed up as in 2011 and it was definitely to his advantage to change to the Republican Party after redistricting in 2012.
At last week’s new conference White was asked if he had accepted any contributions from Democratic groups in 2011.
He said he had not.
But a quick look at his campaign finance reports on the Secretary of State’s web page reveals he accepted a total of $1,000 from the Believe PAC and from BobbyPAC.
Both of those political action committees were started by House Democratic Leader Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto, who would have been a favorite for the post of speaker if the Democrats had maintained control in 2011.
It is worth asking would Jason White still be switching parties if Moak was speaker and he had drawn him a district favorable for a Democrat?
History tells us he would not have switched.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.