Raising the Specter of GOP mass flight

I’ve been saying for years that people like my friend Emmett Hanger have been abandoned by their party’s lurch to the far right and that it’s only a matter of time before they realize it. I bring that up because it’s my strong feeling that Arlen Specter will not be the last moderate Republican to flee the sinking ultraright GOP ship.

“While each member of the Senate caucuses with his party, what each of us hopes to accomplish is distinct from his party affiliation. The American people do not care which party solves the problems confronting our nation. And no senator, no matter how loyal he is to his party, should or would put party loyalty above his duty to the state and nation,” said Sen. Specter, who has served in the Senate representing Pennsylvania as a Republican for 29 years, announcing his intent to run for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat.

He came to that conclusion this spring after touring the Keystone State to talk about the federal stimulus package that he had supported in the Senate. “It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable,” said Specter, who now feels that his moderate political philosophy is “more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

“I take on this complicated run for re-election because I am deeply concerned about the future of our country, and I believe I have a significant contribution to make on many of the key issues of the day, especially medical research. NIH funding has saved or lengthened thousands of lives, including mine, and much more needs to be done. And my seniority is very important to continue to bring important projects vital to Pennsylvania’s economy,” Specter said.

Why I bring Hanger up here is in thinking of his intraparty struggles related to his support for systemic tax reform in Richmond that would take the burden off property taxpayers to fund the bulk of local-government operations and his work to shore up a stable funding source for transportation funding and education funding at the state level. Part and parcel to this process would necessarily require increasing some line items in the tax area to account for reductions in other areas to leave things as close to a balance as possible, but the Grover Norquist libertarians in ascendancy in the minority party can’t accept in their rigid ideology even those kinds of commonsensical shifts because to them a tax increase is a tax increase is a tax increase.

I try to get across to Emmett every time I see him or talk to him on the phone that there is a home for disaffected Republican moderate fiscal conservatives in the Democratic Party. I know I’m fighting an uphill battle there, given that Emmett Hanger was a Republican back when being a Republican in these parts wasn’t cool, when Democrats here had been Democrats since their granddaddy’s granddaddy was a Democrat.

Well, Arlen Specter knows a thing or two about being a Republican-for-life. Maybe ol’ Emmett ought to give him a call.


– Story by Chris Graham

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