CNN Access: Former Democrat explains his party switch
CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve spoke with one of the five-party switchers currently serving in the U.S. Senate, Republican Richard Shelby. In 1994, one day after the Republicans gained control of Congress, then-Democratic Shelby of Alabama jumped the fence.
MESERVE: Senator Shelby, let me ask you how hard it is for someone like yourself or like Jim Jeffords, who have come of age in one political party, to sever ties and join another.
SHELBY: Well, it's a tough decision, but it's a decision that one has to make. I had to make it. Philosophically, I was not tuned in to the Democratic Party; I had not been. The party had become more liberal. I always had espoused the idea of a smaller, efficient government, people keeping more taxes -- that's the opposite of the Democratic Party. And I thought, after reflecting on it many, many months, that it was time to leave.
I'm glad I left. I feel very comfortable in the Republican Party, with the Republican philosophy, and I wish everybody well. I don't know what went through Senator Jeffords' mind, but he's a senator, he's been here a long time...
MESERVE: Well, what he says, Senator Shelby, is that he could no longer reconcile his views with the Republican Party. Do you have some sympathy, some empathy, since you seem to have gone through the same thought process?
SHELBY: Well, that's a decision that he had to make, and he's made that decision, and he'll live with it, and he might flourish that way. I certainly have; and I certainly had a burden off my back, and maybe he'll have one off his. I'd liked to have seen him stay in the party. There were a lot of people who told me they would have liked to have seen me stay in the party, but I was glad to leave the party, and I'm glad where I am.
And, you know, a Senate seat's important. This changes a lot here in the Senate, but things go on every day.
MESERVE: Senator Jeffords said, in his remarks today: "My colleagues, many of them my friends for years, may find it difficult in their hearts to befriend me any longer. Many of my supporters will be disappointed, and some of my staffers will see their lives upended."
Are his fears justified? Did you suffer some of those things when you switched parties?
SHELBY: Oh, I didn't suffer them. But you've got to remember, I was not a committee chairman. I had not flourished in the party. I was, I guess, was in my 10th -- eighth year in the Senate as a Democrat, and so I had no position of power. What I did did not cause a political earthquake here. I just crossed the aisle and voted just like I've always been voting, and feel very comfortable there.
What Senator Jeffords did was change the whole political landscape, but he knew what he was doing; and, you know, I don't shun him, I wish him the best.
MESERVE: Well, will others shun him -- that's my question, about the personal interaction...
SHELBY: Oh, I hope not. Well, some will. You know, there are some people that are bigger than others.
But a man or a woman, they have to do what they feel that they should do. I wish that -- myself, that Jeffords had stayed in the party, although he was at odds with a lot of the philosophy of the party. I realize that, just like I was at odds with a lot of the philosophy of the Democratic Party. That's just common knowledge, common sense.
MESERVE: Some people are speculating about impact of Senator Jeffords future. Your switching parties didn't hurt you in the least, did it?
SHELBY: No, it probably helped my future; but I didn't do it because of that. I did it because I felt like it was time to leave the party because I felt like the party had left me and my followers many years before.
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