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State Rep. Kirk England switches to Democratic Party

Wow.

State Rep. Kirk England, R-Grand Prairie, has scheduled a news conference at 10 a.m. Thursday to announce he’s switching to the Democratic Party.

“In December of 2005, when I filed to run for office, I made a promise to the hardworking families in our community to fight for our public schools, fight for affordable health care and to fight for them on pocketbook issues,” Mr. England said in a statement. “After one session in the House, I found that the Republican leadership in Austin had no tolerance for the values and priorities of the folks I represent. That is why… I will announce my intention to seek reelection to the Texas House as a Democrat.”

By late Wednesday afternoon, Democrats were already welcoming him to the party.

“Kirk will bring a different perspective,” said State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “He’s not just jumping off a sinking ship. He’s trying to represent the views of his district.”

The news of Mr. England’s departure stunned Republican leaders.

Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Kenn George said Wednesday that Mr. England’s move caught him by surprise.

“I hadn’t heard about it at all,” he said. “Needless to say, I’m disappointed.”

As the story notes, the Dallas Dems are also welcoming back a onetime D-to-R switcher, a Criminal Court Judge. Way to go, Dallas Dems!

This brings the Democrats one step closer to a majority in the State House, even before the 2008 elections. Note that this is not the same as being one vote closer to ousting Tom Craddick, since England was already in the anti-Craddick camp. But it’s still a step in the right direction.

This assumes that England will be able to hold the seat. The Lone Star Project looks at the trends in England’s HD106 and suggests that while he was a good enough politician to win either way, the district was definitely going blue. I know he was going to be a top target as a Republican after his extremely close loss to Katy Hubener last November. If nothing else, now he’ll be a top target of the GOP.

Assuming as well that he’s the Democratic nominee:

Ms. Hubener, a real estate agent who had planned to make another run for the seat, said she was considering her options in light of Mr. England’s switch. She now must be prepared to wage two campaigns — a primary race against Mr. England in March and a general election in November 2008.

Dallas County Democratic chairwoman Darlene Ewing said Mr. England’s move to the party was a positive. But she said that many grass roots party activists would not support Mr. England if Ms. Hubener decided on another run.

Though the party remains neutral in primary elections, Ms. Ewing said she personally backs Ms. Hubener.

“If Katy runs, I’m sticking with her,” Ms. Ewing said. “He’s going to have trouble beating her in the primary. The grass roots Democrats are going to back Hubener.”

I said it before in the case of Wendy Davis in Tarrant County, and I’ll say it again: We Democrats are never going to be a majority in this state unless we convert a few Republicans as we go. The best way to demonstrate that it’s okay to change sides and that you’ll feel welcome once you do is to have a few of those converts make the case for switching by running on the Democratic ticket. While I respect Ms. Hubener and certainly won’t tell her not to run, I hope that the grassroots Democrats in HD106 will listen to what England has to say for himself about why he’s switching and how he’d represent them as a Democrat, and make up their own minds.

In the meantime, I say “Welcome to the Democratic Party, Kirk England”. May there be many more like you in the coming days. BOR, who appears to have been out in front with this, has more.

UPDATE: Boadicea offers a welcome and some “unsolicited advice”.

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