This afternoon, state Rep. Noble Ellington, a longtime conservative Democrat from Winnsboro, joined the stampede of Louisiana politicians abandoning his party for the GOP. Ellington’s switch, which is not a surprise, gives the Republican Party 53 members in the state House of Representatives, which is an outright majority for the first time since Reconstruction. There are now 48 Democrats, down from 55 a year ago, and four independents in the House.
State GOP chairman Roger Villere, who was remarkably silent when John Alario, the other longtime Democrat legislator switching to the GOP, issued a rather triumphant statement at the news of Ellington’s flip.
“For more than 100 years the Louisiana House of Representatives has remained under Democrat control, but today that has all come to an end. In just 3 short years a 16 seat Democrat majority has been erased and Rep. Ellington’s decision to become the 53rd Republican in the House gives the GOP our first controlling majority in that body since Reconstruction. This is a great and historic day for the Republican Party of Louisiana and I’m pleased to welcome Rep. Ellington to the new conservative majority in the House.”
Ellington, who served two terms in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1988-96 and then three terms in the Senate from 1996-2008 before switching back to the House thanks to term limits, is known as one of the state’s more conservative Democrats. He certainly describes himself so.
“I think at this point it would probably be hypocritical for me to remain in the Democratic Party because I find myself farther and farther away from what has become the liberal philosophy of the national party,” Ellington told the Monroe News-Star last week. “My way of thinking, which falls along a more conservative line, has been shrinking within the party.
“At least nationally, the Republican Party seems to fit my philosophy more than the current Democratic Party.”
Ellington’s recent history, however, indicates he has some work to do to fulfill Villere’s characterization of a “conservative majority.” In December of 2007, during the transition period when Ellington was angling to take over the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, then-incoming House Speaker Jim Tucker, then the Republican Speaker of a Democrat-majority House, stood in the way of the appointment on the grounds that Ellington’s record as a taxer and spender made him unacceptable for such a role. Tucker served as Ellington’s nemesis a second time, when earlier this year he stood for the vacant Speaker Pro Tem position. He lost a close vote to independent Joel Robideaux of Lafayette, who was Tucker’s choice, and when several Republican representatives – most notably hard-core conservative John Schroeder – bucked the leadership and supported Ellington, Tucker stripped them of committee assignments in retaliation.
One assumes that Ellington and Tucker may have patched things up. But Tucker is term-limited after next year while Ellington still has eight years remaining in the House, so this could be an example of one outlasting one’s enemies. And there is talk to the effect that Ellington will pursue Tucker’s job as Speaker in 2012; switching to the GOP would seem to be a prerequisite for such a run given the current political circumstances in Louisiana. Lake Charles Republican Chuck Kleckley and Robideaux appear to be candidates, though Robideaux is a potential candidate for the Senate, and Democrat Jim Fannin of Jonesboro could also be in the mix. Fannin, incidentally, is also talking about a potential party switch.
UPDATE: If there’s still bad blood between Ellington and Tucker, the latter is doing a nice job of hiding it…
“We’re excited to have Noble in the party and ecstatic about holding the majority,” Tucker said. “We as Republicans can continue to push for smaller, more efficient government, and we have the numbers to pass legislation that can do that if we stick together.
“It’s incredible that when I started in the House (in 2001) that we have more than doubled our numbers and indicative of where the state in going. It’s also a tribute to those who preceded us to helped build the party in this state.”