No explanation? Maybe he hangs out in the same chat rooms with Ritter. Maybe he doesn't think his wife would be so understanding.
Decker bolts GOP for the Democrats
Party switch angers Republicans, thrusts N.C. House into 60-60 tie
By David Rice
JOURNAL RALEIGH BUREAU
N.C. Rep. Michael Decker bolted the Republican Party yesterday, throwing the N.C. House into a 60-60 tie and Republicans into turmoil.
Decker, who has spent most of his career as an arch-conservative opposed to abortion, alcohol and annexation, made the announcement after he changed his party registration at the Forsyth County Board of Elections. In the midst of a battle over who will be elected speaker of the House when it convenes Wednesday for the 2003 session, Decker said he will support Democrat Jim Black to continue as the chamber's speaker.
The speaker makes committee assignments and controls the flow of bills on the House floor, and Black has held the job for four years.
"I believe he is the best man for the job, and I know that he is a man of his word and a person I can trust," Decker said in a statement.
He also hinted that other Republican legislators might jump ship, but he declined to name those legislators. The Republicans had a 61-59 majority in the House before Decker's move.
Decker, an 18-year veteran of the legislature, said that his party switch won't change the way he votes on issues and represents no change in his political philosophy.
"I promise to continue to work for the people of my district, both Republicans and Democrats," he said. "I have not changed the direction of my political life, my philosophy or my principles, but I have changed the vehicle in which I travel.
"There are a lot of good conservative Democrats, and I think I will feel right at home with them," he said.
Decker said that the party switch followed talks with Black, but he said he was offered no inducements to change parties.
In the hotly contested speaker's race, Decker had backed Rep. Connie Wilson, R-Mecklenburg, rather than Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, the Republican nominee.
But that changed yesterday.
Black applauded Decker's move.
"He has put his values - and what he believes is best for the people who elected him - above partisan politics. I respect him, and I admire his integrity and his courage," Black said. "I am proud to welcome Michael Decker to the N.C. Democratic Party."
With several Republicans running and Rep. Donald Bonner, D-Robeson, still recovering from brain surgery, Decker's move prompted speculation that Black is edging closer to the majority needed to remain speaker in the 120-member House.
Daughtry said that since Decker asked the state GOP last week to return a pledge he had signed to vote for a Republican candidate for speaker, he wasn't entirely surprised.
"We don't think it changes anything. In the vote count, we never counted him anyway," Daughtry said.
Reaction from Republicans was swift and harsh, though, prompting comparisons of Decker to Benedict Arnold and to Sen. Jim Jeffords, the Vermont Republican who switched to become an independent in 2001, throwing control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats.
"Given Mike Decker's conservative voting record in the General Assembly, I find this to be irrational and bizarre behavior," said Bill Cobey, the chairman of the N.C. Republican Party.
"Mike Decker will unfortunately go down in history as North Carolina's own Jim Jeffords, switching a closely divided state House from the party that was elected to the majority - the Republican Party - to the party that lost the majority in the November elections - the Democrat Party."
Despite Decker's denials, Rep. Frank Mitchell, R-Iredell, and others speculated that Decker cut a deal with Black to become speaker pro tem, make $10,000 more than other legislators and pad his legislative retirement pay. "He's a political whore," Mitchell said.
Mitchell and others questioned how Decker will reconcile his fierce opposition to abortion with the Democratic platform. "How can he claim to be such a devout Christian and now switch to the Democrats, whom he has constantly criticized for their views on abortion and alcohol?" Mitchell asked.
"He needs to resign. The honorable thing for him to do is resign. I mean, that is a strongly Republican district," Cobey said. "I would hate to be him. How do you go to church? How do you go to the drugstore? People look at you and say, 'Have you sold out?'"
Anchored by the 6,000-member Gospel Light Baptist Church in Walkertown, Decker's district is 47 percent Republican and 37 percent Democratic in registration, ranking it the 13th most Republican among the 120 House districts.
"It's just stunning," said John Davis, the executive director of N.C. FREE, a group that tracks legislative election trends.
"In my mind, Decker would be the last Republican I would expect would switch parties - which means anything could happen," Davis said. "I think we're going to see more surprises."
Local Republicans were incensed at Decker's move.
"It was a betrayal to the voters of the 94th District who supported Michael Decker as a Republican. He has sold out the Republicans here in Forsyth County," said Bill Miller, the chairman of the Forsyth GOP.
"If we had the opportunity - and I understand in North Carolina there is no such thing as a recall - by God, we'd ask for a recall."
Cobey said that if the rumors are true about Decker looking to become speaker pro tem - a largely ceremonial position - in order to pad his retirement pay, "it smells very bad. It's the sort of thing that really makes the public more cynical about politics. Because this is a selfish and greedy act if that's why he's doing it."
In an interview Thursday, Decker said he had hoped to become speaker pro tem before Republicans instead nominated Rep. Joni Bowie, R-Guilford.
"There were some things done in the caucus that didn't set too well with me," Decker said. "There were some deals cut and some lies that were told."
But he denied rumors that he and Rep. Steve Wood, R-Guilford, were making a deal with Black to make Decker speaker pro tem.
Decker has successfully beat back primary challenges from more mainstream Republicans, and he said he had little fear of retribution from GOP leaders if he didn't back a Republican for speaker. Yesterday, he again denied the rumors that he had been promised a position by Democrats. "I don't have any wish list at all," he said.
Wood, meanwhile, declined to answer questions yesterday about whether he might switch party affiliation as well. Wood briefly joined the Reform Party after Republican legislators ousted him from their caucus in 1999, but last year he rejoined the Republican Party.
But despite their obvious excitement that it could help Black, even some Democrats were puzzled by Decker's move.
"We advertise ourselves as the all-inclusive party," Rep. Ronnie Sutton, D-Robeson, said. "I didn't know we were that inclusive."
David Rice can be reached in Raleigh at (919) 833-9056 or at firstname.lastname@example.org