January 20, 2011 4:06:00 PM
JACKSON - Two Mississippi lawmakers switched from Democrat to Republican on Thursday but said the new party affiliation won''t change the way they vote because they''ve already been siding with the GOP on many issues.
Reps. Margaret Rogers of New Albany and Russ Nowell of Louisville announced their switch Thursday during a news conference at the state Republican Party headquarters in Jackson.
With the changes, there are now 53 Republicans and 68 Democrats in the state House of Representatives, with one vacant seat.
"My friends and supporters know I''m conservative. They know I''m focused on the needs of my district," said Nowell, who''s been in the House since January 2008. "Now, my party label matches my philosophy, and my votes will always continue to match my district."
Rogers, in the House since January 2004, said she has long been "agonizing" and praying about whether to switch parties.
"When I finally reached my decision to become a member of the Republican Party, I''m completely at peace with it," Rogers said. "I feel like I''m definitely in the right place."
Nowell and Rogers received a standing ovation from more than two dozen Republican and GOP statewide officials, including Gov. Haley Barbour.
Barbour, standing with the all-white group at the news conference, said Republicans are "the party of inclusion."
"I just want to say to anybody''s who''s listening who might run for justice of the peace or supervisor or governor or anything in between: Our party welcomes you," Barbour said.
Barbour pointed to a vote by the state Democratic executive committee in 2007 to take longtime Insurance Commissioner George Dale off the Democratic primary ballot because Dale had publicly said he voted for President George W. Bush in 2004. A judge reinstated Dale to the ballot, but he lost in the party primary and a Republican later won the commissioner''s race.
Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Jamie Franks could not immediately be reached for response Thursday.
In late December, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven and Rep. Bobby Shows of Ellisville switched from Democrat to Republican.
There are 26 Republicans and 25 Democrats in the state Senate, with one vacancy. The Senate''s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, is a Republican.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who was narrowly re-elected to his position in the 122-member chamber three years ago, said Wednesday he''s not worried that the party switches will endanger his leadership.
"That''s a decision they make on their own. I have no criticism or comment," McCoy said of Nowell and Rogers. "That''s what makes America great. People have the ability to make their own decisions. And the world will continue to turn."