Jenkins' party switch gives voters a choice
Although Democratic leaders are criticizing the move, the switch by State Sen. Evan Jenkins' from the Democratic to the Republican Party is good for the voters of West Virginia.
The three-term Democratic state senator changed his voter registration and announced he will seek the Republican nomination for the 3rd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and challenge long-term incumbent Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va.
Rahall has held the seat since Jimmy Carter was president. Five different presidents have served eight separate four-year terms during that time.
Before the 2014 campaign, however, Jenkins will still serve one more session in the state Senate. His switch slightly changes the balance of party power in the state Senate, reducing the number of Democrats in the 34-member Senate from 25 to 24.
Senate President Jeff Kessler made a pre-emptive strike - stripping Jenkins of his leadership positions on Senate committees even before Jenkins made his announcement.
"I do not want anyone on my leadership team or in a leadership position that does not show decisiveness or loyalty," Kessler said.
Actually, Jenkins' switch shows strong decisiveness and loyalty, although not the kind of loyalty the Democrats want.
Taking on a 35-year entrenched incumbent like Rahall is not a decision that Jenkins would have taken lightly, considering the 54-year old could safely and comfortably have stayed in his Senate seat for many more terms.
And his decision to switch signals to West Virginia voters that they matter more to him than party politics. State residents have cast a majority of votes for the Republican presidential candidate in the last four elections.
"My priorities have not changed," Jenkins said. "My party has changed."
Jenkins' switch gives the people of the 3rd District a choice between a strong candidate with a record of promoting fiscal conservatism and a competent long-term officeholder.
Besides Kessler, other Democratic leaders were quick to condemn Jenkins, resorting to name-calling and character assassination. Rahall called him a "flip-flopper" and a "traitor."
Smearing Jenkins' name is probably not good strategy for the Democratic Party. Like Jenkins, many West Virginia Democrats hunger for economic growth and oppose much of President Barack Obama's agenda.
A smear campaign could get those Democrats to realize that they have more in common with the Republican Party.
Perhaps Jenkins' move is the first of several, and may lead to the potential of a two-party system in West Virginia after more than 80 years.