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Political Notebook

Democrat in House switches to GOP

Parker Griffith represents Alabama. Parker Griffith represents Alabama.
December 23, 2009

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Representative Parker Griffith, a first-term Democrat from Alabama, said yesterday that he is switching to the Republican Party, another blow to Democrats facing a potentially tough midterm election next year.

“I believe our nation is at a crossroads and I can no longer align myself with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy, and drives us further and further into debt,’’ Griffith said as his wife, Virginia, stood by his side.

Griffith, a 67-year-old radiation oncologist, was narrowly elected last year from a region of northern Alabama that includes Huntsville and Decatur and that President Obama lost badly to Republican John McCain.

Griffith had accumulated one of the most conservative voting records of any House Democrat. He was one of seven Democrats to oppose Obama’s economic stimulus measure early this year and one of 39 House Democrats who voted against a major health care bill that narrowly passed. He also voted against an anti-global warming bill pushed strongly by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats will hold 257 House seats to the GOP’s 178 after Griffith’s switch.

-- Associated Press

Steele questioned over speaking fees

WASHINGTON - Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele drew bipartisan criticism yesterday after it was revealed that he is giving paid speeches, at up to $20,000 apiece, while holding his full-time post as party head.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor, who was elected chairman in January, has given a dozen speeches to corporate boards and colleges while collecting a salary of $223,500 as party leader, the Washington Times reported yesterday.

Former RNC chairman Richard Bond said he was shocked by the news, while White House spokesman Robert Gibbs joked about it at his daily briefing. Democrats said their current party chairman, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, does not collect speaking fees.

Curt Anderson, a longtime adviser to Steele, said the party chairman has long worked as an “inspirational speaker’’ and continued to do after taking the RNC’s helm.

Steele had made much of his income through speaking engagements and as a lawyer before taking over the RNC and he earns less in his current role, Anderson said.

“When a state party calls or a coalition groups calls, or a candidate calls, none of those are paid speeches,’’ Anderson said. “The suggestion that he is less than a full-time chairman is crazy.’’

A number of top Republicans, both in and out of Washington, declined to comment publicly on the matter but privately noted the conundrum of Steele: Tapped for the job in January by a party eager to have a charismatic African American as one of its main public figures, he has become a lightning rod for controversy.

-- Washington Post