Roanoke Rep. Laird dumps Democrats, becomes an independent
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 04, 2013 | 11930 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke. (AP Photo/Phillip Rawls/file)
State Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke. (AP Photo/Phillip Rawls/file)
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MONTGOMERY — Longtime state Rep. Richard Laird of Roanoke announced Monday that he's leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent.

"I'm leaving the party because I think it left me a long time ago," said Laird, 73, who was first elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in the late 1970s.

Laird had been one of the few remaining white, rural Democrats in the legislature. While Democrats in mostly-black districts held onto their seats when Republicans swept the 2010 elections, many majority-white districts went to the GOP. Since that election, several former Democrats, including Rep. Steve Hurst of Munford and Sen. Jerry Fielding of Sylacauga have switched from Democrat to Republican.

Asked why he left the party, Laird on Monday cited many of the same reasons given by earlier Democrat-to-Republican party switchers. He said that the national Democratic Party has grown more liberal, and that the state party has moved along with it.

"We used to call ourselves Alabama Democrats," Laird said.

He said the state's Democrats are no longer ideologically distinct from the nationwide party.

Laird said he hadn't discussed the switch with Democratic leaders. He said he didn't make the change in order to make re-election easier, though he acknowledged that the Democratic label was a disadvantage with some voters.

While Laird didn't join the legislature's majority party, House Speaker Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, announced Monday that Laird will caucus with the GOP.

The former Democrat said he chose not to become a Republican because his constituents didn't vote for a Republican.

"They voted for a Democrat," he said. "But they know I've always been independent in my thinking."

Bradley Davidson, spokesman for the Alabama Democratic Party, phrased that a different way.

"He has always been one of the most self-serving, squirrelly members of the party," Davidson said.

By "squirrelly" Davidson said he meant that Laird's past votes had been unpredictable.

Davidson said Laird was the last of the old-school Democrats the party had worried about losing. He said that Laird was "deadwood" in the party and his departure would help Democrats rebuild.

"If he's seeking another term, this is not a good strategy," Davidson said.

He said that despite its rural nature, Laird's district was largely Democratic.

While his independent status will protect Laird from a primary challenge in 2014, the senator will likely face two opponents, a Democrat and a Republican, in the general election.

Asked about his platform as a party of one, Laird said: "I believe in good conservative government, fiscal responsibility and spending no more than you take in."

The change makes Laird one of two independents in the legislature. Sen. Harri Anne Smith, an independent from Slocomb, is a former Republican.

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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