Such is the fate of rats. A year ago when Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched back to the Democratic party it was announced that he would keep his seniority even though it was earned as a member of the opposition party.
Today when revised committee assignments were voted on by the full Senate, Specter was bumped to the end of the seniority line. He is the junior Senator on every committee he sits on with the exception of the Special Committee on Aging (on that one he is next to last). Somehow it seemed so very fitting.
A local Pennsylvania newspaper, the Allentown Daily Call, is reporting that committee assignments are not the only disappointment Specter has seen as a democrat, and he is wondering if switching parties was the right thing to do.
For three decades, Specter prided himself on being a coalition builder, relishing a self-appointed role as a liaison striving to find the moderate solutions to liberal and conservative extremes.
Now as a Democrat, that role has vanished. For that reason alone, Specter has questioned his storied party switch.
”Well, I probably shouldn’t say this,” he said over lunch last month. ”But I have thought from time to time that I might have helped the country more if I’d stayed a Republican.”
Specter mused that perhaps if he’d remained in the caucus he could have persuaded one or two of his GOP colleagues to support health care reform. Not one Senate Republican voted in favor of it, but he swears he would have regardless of party affiliation.
”Coalition building has gone out of style in this wing of the building,” he said. Breaking from party ranks to vote with the other side is a ”very unpleasant experience.”
Gee that’s not how I remember it. When Specter changed parties he said “I am your 60th vote,” an indication that it was his role to allow the Democrats to do what they wanted without any participation from the GOP.
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Specter’s support of Obama’s stimulus package triggered a Pennsylvania primary challenge from Pat Toomey, a former Lehigh Valley congressman Specter only narrowly defeated in 2004. It seemed Republicans would turn on Specter this cycle in favor of a party loyalist.
Specter should feel comfortable in his new digs, after all according to Congressional Quarterly he voted with Republicans 58 percent of the time during when he was in the GOP. Since converting he has voted along with the Democratic Party leadership 95% of the time.
David Urban, a lobbyist who was Specter’s chief of staff from 1997 to 2002, said Specter seems less conflicted since switching parties. Urban would have preferred Specter stuck it out as a Republican, but saw firsthand how vicious the pushback could be when Specter took an independent stance.
”The [Republican] party in Pennsylvania was not exactly welcoming. It wasn’t a warm, fuzzy place,” Urban said.
…Despite occasional backlash through the years, Specter said he remained in the Republican Party so he could be its moderate voice. But as the national party shifted hard right, most notably in the aftermath of Obama’s election, Specter said he and other moderates were squeezed out.
By Specter’s account, he hasn’t changed. The world has.
‘It was no big deal’
Specter pledged not to be an automatic ”yes” vote for Democrats, but since switching he’s toed the party line on nearly every issue, even those he opposed in the past.
I believe the technical term for that is a political hack who wants to get his new party’s nomination. Most Pennsylvania voters agree:
His many critics (polls show more than half of Pennsylvania voters do not think he deserves to be re-elected) say he always has tacked left or right to suit his political needs. He’ll embrace liberal views until the May 18 primary, they say, then move right to counter Toomey in November.
Notably, Specter has switched positions on a number of issues. As a Republican, he said he did not support a public option plan in the health care bill. As a Democrat, he signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to include one. As a Republican, he secured money for abstinence-only education programs. As a Democrat, he said those programs probably don’t work.
Specter shows how out of touch he really is, he says he was ”stupefied” by the media onslaught that followed his party switch.
”It fooled me,” Specter said. ”I thought it was no big deal in the big picture and it wouldn’t be regarded as a big deal.”
…..”For me to say I had no place in the Republican Party was a significant commentary,” he said. ”The party had been heading there for a long time, and this was the identification of it.”
….Charles Snelling, a Republican activist in Allentown, ran most of Specter’s fundraising efforts in the Lehigh Valley for decades. He is decidedly supporting Toomey over Specter.
”I’m not as flexible in my values as it appears Arlen is,” Snelling said. ”I was disappointed, but Arlen and I are still friends. But I put my country’s needs ahead of that friendship. We are facing a lot of serious problems and I am not satisfied with the solutions Arlen has adopted since he switched parties.”
…It seems difficult for Specter to accept that he’s not standing alone in that phone booth any longer. When he was a Republican, his votes used to ”stick out like a sore thumb,” he said. ”Now nobody pays any attention to me.”
And after November that lack of attention will be permanent. That will be good for the country.