June 1, 2012 11:34:49 AM
This week, seven Mississippi elected officials announced they had switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. As you might imagine, the news was heralded as a triumph among giddy GOP leaders. The Democratic response, just as predictably, was terse. Switching parties six months into a four-year term is not something to be taken lightly.
The group of Democrat defectors included two justice court judges, two sheriffs, a constable, a coroner and a county supervisor.
There is nothing new about politicians changing parties, of course. As long as there have been political parties, there have been those who changed teams. Notably, Abraham Lincoln was a Whig until he became a Republican. Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican until he became a Bull Moose (sort of a primitive Tea Party). Ronald Reagan started his political career at a Democrat then became a Republican.
Closer to home, State Rep. Jeff Smith of Columbus switched to the Republican Party just last year to run for Speaker of the House.
There is nothing inherently wrong about changing party affiliation. Philosophies change, as do policies. When a politician finds himself in opposition to his party's views, it makes a certain degree of sense to make a change.
But in the case of these seven officials, the switch is not only silly, it also calls into question where their priorities really lie.
The state GOP trotted out Leake County Sheriff Greg Waggoner the poster boy for the seven defectors. Waggoner said he changed parties on moral grounds; he left the party because of the pro-gay marriage stances recently announced by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
"My first allegiance is to Jesus Christ," Waggoner said.
Presumably, his second allegiance is to the party he represents. The people he was elected to serve get whatever allegiance is left over after that.
What relevance a sheriff's views on gay marriage has in his role as the county's top law enforcement officer is hard to fathom. Likewise, a coroner's views on illegal immigration seem equally irrelevant. Is it important for a constable to have the "right" stance on taxes?
It would be easy to merely shrug this off as a bit of silly grandstanding were it not for the implications that emerge. When sheriffs and coroners and constables begin to see themselves as politicians, the real work they were elected to perform is compromised. The people deserve sheriffs who want to be sheriffs and constables who aspire to be constables. The last thing you need is a coroner with a constituency.
Beyond that, there is a question of integrity.
No one should ever be criticized for acting on conscience.
If a person's morals do not permit him to serve as Democrat or if his sense of honor doesn't allow him to serve as Republican, it's an admirable thing to walk away. Resign and, if you are so inclined, run in the next election as a candidate for the party whose support you rely on to win office. "Dance with the one that brung ya,'' as the old saying goes.
That would be the honorable course of action.
After all, it is easy to make grand gestures when they don't cost you anything.