Griffith Switch from Dem to Rep to Shake Up Health Reform

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What impact will Rep. Parker Griffith’s switch from Democrat to Republican have on the hotly contested congressional health care reform bill? Many eyes and ears will be tuned in to find out.

Politico reported today that Rep. Parker Griffith, a Democrat from Alabama, will announce his departure from the Democratic party and his new role as a Republican party member this afternoon in his district in northern Alabama. Griffith’s switch will make him the first Republican to hold the seat in the Huntsville-based district, which has historically been Democratic.

One thing that makes Griffith’s switch interesting during the health care reform debate is the fact that he is a physician, a radiation oncologist who first studied neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston before going into radiation oncology, for which he became board certified. He established the Huntsville Cancer Treatment Center, Alabama’s first comprehensive cancer treatment facility. As a physician, he reportedly provided discounted and sometimes free medical care for individuals who did not have health insurance.

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Griffith’s party switch is not a complete surprise given his voting record, which is among the most conservative in the Democratic party. He has voiced opposition to Democratic supported legislation, including the stimulus package, health care legislation, and financial regulatory reform. He was one of only 11 House Democrats to vote against the stimulus package. According to Politico, Griffith also once told a local newspaper that he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi to remain as Speaker of the House.

Griffith is the first House Democrat to change parties since Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La) did so in 2004. The most recent member of Congress to switch parties is Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa), who made his announcement in April 2009.

In August 2009, the Huntsville Times reported that Griffith was at a gathering at the University of North Alabama, when a union member reminded him that he had made a promise to US Steel Workers Local 193 in Courtland last spring that if they helped to elect him, he would do whatever he could to get health insurance for all Americans. Griffith was then challenged by union President Phil Everett: “Are you a Democrat or are you a Republican?” Now we know the answer. It remains to be seen what impact Griffith’s switch will have health care reform.

SOURCES:
Huntsville Times, Aug. 25, 2009
Parker Griffith medical biography
Politico, Dec. 22, 2009

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