By Jared Allen - 12/22/09 05:43 PM EST
Rep. Parker Griffith’s party switch announcement caught Democratic House leadership by surprise -- so much so that they were still preparing official statements when contacted on Tuesday morning.
“He didn’t tell anyone in leadership,” a leadership aide said. “He didn’t even tell his staff. In fact I understand he’s telling most of his staff right now.”
As of 12 p.m. on Tuesday, neither Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) had commented on Griffith’s announcement.
Van Hollen issued a statement later Tuesday afternoon that said Griffith "has a duty and responsibilty" to return members' financial contributions to his campaign.
"House Democratic Members and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took Parker Griffith at his word and, as a result, invested a great deal in working with Alabamans to bring Mr. Griffith to Congress. We were committed to helping Mr. Griffith deliver for his constituents and successfully helped Mr. Griffith fend off the personal attacks against him from the far right.
"Mr. Griffith, failing to honor our commitment to him, has a duty and responsibility to return to Democratic Members and the DCCC the financial resources that were invested in him. His constituents will hold him accountable for failing to keep his commitments," the statement said.
And while leadership aides said Griffith was well known to be the most likely candidate to switch parties, the manner in which Griffith made his announcement still came as a shock.
“Of all the people, this was the guy who’d switch,” said a leadership aide. “But this whole thing was orchestrated by the Republicans and leaked.”
A senior aide described Griffith’s announcement as “classless,” noting that the DCCC spent over $1 million last year helping Griffith get elected to the seat being vacated by conservative Democrat Bud Cramer (D-Ala.).
Griffith, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, occupies one of the most conservative districts held by a Democrat. The first-term congressman won his seat by 4 points last year.
Leadership aides said they were not worried about Griffith’s action triggering a wave of subsequent party switching despite it coming on the heels of three Blue Dog Democrats and a fourth centrist Democrat announcing their retirements.
Griffith has one of the most conservative voting records in the Democratic Caucus, but other freshman Democrats – including Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) and another member of the Alabama delegation, Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) – have very similar voting patterns.
Griffith voted against the Democrats' bills on financial regulatory reform and the estate tax, as well as the omnibus. He was one of four Democrats to oppose healthcare reform, climate change and the stimulus package. The others were Bright, Minnick and Gene Taylor (Miss.).
Griffith also said in August that he would not back Pelosi for House Speaker again because she is too divisive.
"I would not vote for her. Someone that divisive and that polarizing cannot bring us together," he told the Huntsville Times. "If she doesn't like it, I've got a gift certificate to the mental health center."
-- This story was updated at 2:14 p.m.