By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—There is an old saying that rules are made to be broken, that may be exactly what happen when Democrat Senator Jerry Fielding switched to the GOP.
According to the bylaws of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee, Standing Rules Adopted by the Alabama Republican Party there is a very specific procedure that must be followed for “Switching parties.”
The first step is “The elected official shall contact the Chairman or Vice Chairman of the Republican Executive Committee of his/her county of residence, and request a meeting before the county Republican Executive Committee.”
According to Danny Hubbard, chairman of the Talladega GOP, Senator Jerry Fielding did not contact him prior to being “welcomed” into the republican party and caucus.
“I have talked to Jerry about that [since his announcement] and he has asked about meeting our executive committee, and about them accepting him into the party,” said Hubbard. “It will actually happen later on.”
In fact all 22 members of the Senate Republican Caucus and Governor Robert Bentley welcomed Fielding even though the party switcher had not followed the most basics of the GOP rules.
In July the Talladega Chairman was asked his opinion on party switchers. Then Hubbard’s position was that there was a process to switching parties. He also believed that an office holder who wants to switch parties should be accountable for their voting record. “When you have a staunch liberal voting record then I would say that individual is not a conservative at heart. I would have a problem with that person switching parties.” At the time, Hubbard was not specifically addressing the question of Fielding but a generic lawmaker wanting to change affiliations from democrat to republican.
But with regards to Fielding and as if to answer Chairman Hubbard’s thoughts, the Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party said last week, “I’m interested to see how Senator Fielding operates in this next legislative session. The Republicans welcomed him today with open arms, but he voted against nearly every major Republican piece of legislation during his two years in the Senate. My guess is that he’ll be a pretty miserable member of the Republican Caucus.”
Kennedy seems to think that Fielding’s voting record is not very conservative, a criteria that Hubbard says is important.
While Hubbard admits that Fielding has circumvented the rules, he says that he is scheduling a meeting between Fielding and the Talladega GOP executive committee after the November elections.
The rules say that, “Upon learning of a request, the Chairman of the county Republican Executive Committee shall schedule such meeting at a regular or special meeting of the county Committee, within 30 days.” Hubbard’s timeline for Fielding meeting with the executive committee is outside the 30 window.
Not to put too fine a point on the issue but the rules also state that, “At the meeting, the elected official shall present his/her reasons for wanting to switch parties and should be prepared to answer questions by county Committee members. The county Republican Executive Committee shall then deliberate on the request in a closed session. After due deliberation, the county Republican Executive Committee shall vote on whether or not to recognize the elected official as a Republican.”
Hubbard said, “I think the party here in Talladega county will let him [Fielding] in.”
Under what scenario would it be conceivable for a county executive committee to deny an office holder the privilege of switching parties after he or she has been welcomed by the top legislative leaders and governor of the party?
Elbert Peters, a longtime GOP official from Huntsville and a member of the state Republican Party Executive Committee who helped craft the rules on party switching, said that the rules on switching parties is, “a relatively new rule,” [adopted in August 2011].
Mr. Peters also said that in the Fielding situation, the rules “have not been followed so far,” but he does offer Fielding the benefit of the doubt with a caveat.
“The person who needs to take the first step is the person who wants to switch parties,” said Peters. “Jerry Fielding should have contacted his county chairman and said, ‘I am thinking about switching to the republican party and I would like to meet with the executive committee, and answer any questions you might have, and get you folks to vote on whether you will accept me into the republican party.’” He says maybe Fielding didn’t know to do that, but adds, “The process broke down on the first step.”
The word now coming from the Senate leadership is that Fielding is caucusing with the GOP and so presumedly Fielding will still be classified as a democrat who will caucus with the GOP, in much the same way Senator Harri Anne Smith, who was not allowed to run as a republican as punishment for endorsing Bobby Bright a democrat.
While the GOP rules on switching parties are very clear, there seems to have been an undisclosed reason for subverting the process and rushing forward to bring Fielding into the fold.
Fielding claims he had a change of heart after hearing the new National Democratic Party platform. More than a few people believe Fielding’s real change occurred sometime during reapportionment.
Fielding voted against the GOP plan for redistricting on all levels, perhaps knowing the under the new plan he would have a difficult time retaining the seat he won two years ago against Republican Ray Robbins.
The Republican Party poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into defeating Fielding who was backed by huge campaign contributions from democrat sources. Including $206,834 from the Tennessee Valley Citizens for Economic Development PAC in Huntsville. That PAC received $700,000 of its more than $1 million in contributions from A-VOTE, which is part of the AEA, according to reports in the Press register. Fielding also received $139,227 from Progress for Alabama Chaired by Democrat Steve Raby. The [Democrat] Senate Majority and Senate Majority PAC contributed over $120,000 to Fielding campaign.[Fielding’s campaign contributions can be viewed at the Alabama Secretary of State website]. All of this money was given to Fielding because he was a lifelong democrat with over 20 years of loyally serving the party.
Even though there seems to be plenty of excuses for Fielding not following the GOP rules, there still is Hubbard statement, “When you have staunch liberal voting record then I would say that individual is not a conservative at heart. I would have a problem with that person switching parties.”
Fielding’s recent voting record had him oppose the GOP on redistricting, he also voted against the bill prohibiting mandatory participation in any Health Care System, a GOP bill to block Obamacare in Alabama.
He voted against the GOP on increasing retirement contribution for public employees and repealing the deferred retirement option plan. All of these bills were critical pieces of the conservative republicans agenda. This on the surface does not appear to be a conservative voting record by most standards.
Perhaps his first test will be how vigorously the newly minded Republican Senator supports local GOP candidates in the up coming elections in Talladega county.
Since the GOP took control of the government of Alabama in 2010, over 50 one-time democrats have had said they experienced a political and ideological awakening. Fielding is the latest to hear the call. The question remains, was it one of conviction or convenience, that goes for Fielding and those who welcomed him with open arms.
STANDING RULES ADOPTED BY THE ALABAMA REPUBLICAN PARTY
This procedure shall be followed when an elected official of another political party other than statewide, congressional, or state school board desires to become a Republican. The elected official shall contact the Chairman or Vice Chairman of the Republican Executive Committee of his/her county of residence, and request a meeting before the county Republican Executive Committee. Upon learning of a request, the Chairman of the county Republican Executive Committee shall schedule such meeting at a regular or special meeting of the county Committee, within 30 days. At the meeting, the elected official shall present his/her reasons for wanting to switch parties and should be prepared to answer questions by county Committee members. The county Republican Executive Committee shall then deliberate on the request in a closed session. After due deliberation, the county Republican Executive Committee shall vote on whether or not to recognize the elected official as a Republican. An affirmative vote of two-thirds of those present and voting shall be required for recognition. The Republican County Chairman shall verbally notify the official and the Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party of the vote as soon as practical and the county Executive Committee secretary shall do so in writing within ten calendar days. A news release and other appropriate publicity shall be at the discretion of the county Republican Executive Committee and/or the Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. With the prior approval of the County Republican Executive Committee, the County Chairman may use either the county Republican Executive Committee or the county Steering Committee for the meeting. If a county Republican Executive Committee is so inactive that a meeting is not likely to take place within 30 days, the Steering Committee of the Alabama Republican Party shall assume the responsibility for acting on the request to switch parties.