News of a longtime Iowa legislator switching parties this week quickly became a national discussion point. The reaction from political observers was swift and predictable — to Republicans, it was treason; to Democrats, it was a profile in courage.
In fact, it was neither.
State Rep. Andy McKean of Anamosa has served more than 30 years as a Republican in elected office — in the Iowa House, the Iowa Senate, on the Jones County Board of Supervisors and then back to the House. Effective this week, he’s changing his voter registration and caucusing with the Democrats.
In a letter to colleagues, McKean fondly recalled the bipartisan projects he pursued during his first stint in the Legislature. However, when he returned to Des Moines a few years ago after a 15-year hiatus, he “found a very different place.”
The Legislature today is far more partisan than it used to be, according to McKean, and big money is unduly influencing the legislative process.
McKean also dragged President Donald Trump, who he correctly calls “reckless” and “shortsighted” on fiscal issues. The president has “created an atmosphere that is a breeding ground for hateful rhetoric and actions.”
“With the 2020 presidential election looming on the horizon, I feel, as a Republican, that I need to be able to support the standard-bearer of our party. Unfortunately, that is something I’m unable to do,” McKean wrote.
On one hand, I applaud McKean for having the guts to change his voter registration. That’s no easy task in these hyperpartisan times of ours, and as a disgruntled Republican myself, I sympathize with his concerns.
Party affiliation is not in our DNA, and should not be fundamental to our identity as humans.
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On the other hand, though, I reject McKean’s contention that partisans must support their party’s standard-bearer.
As a Democrat, McKean will be in no position to deliver effective criticism of Republican policymakers. They and their voters have already written him off.
If he had the courage to say what he really thought of Trump as a Republican, it would have been much more potent.
Democrats in the Trump era are giddy at the prospect of voters and politicians abandoning the GOP. Anyone with a brain and a conscience, they insist, has no choice but to leave the party of Trump.
That line of thinking does not lead us anywhere good. The result will be a major political party comprised only of Trump loyalists, with no hunger for intraparty dissent.
To that point, we can find some wisdom from an unlikely source.
“Ultimately, the only long-term solution to the migration crisis is to help people build more hopeful futures in their home countries — make their countries great again,” Trump said before the United Nations General Assembly last year.
Combined with border restrictions and deportations, that is a terrible approach to immigration, contemptuous of the basic human right of free movement.
In the context of party affiliation, however, there is a nugget of truth. The health of our republic will not be restored by evacuating one party or the other. Instead, we must make our own parties great again.
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