Anger over Bush, D.C. Republicans prompts Rep. Singleton to bolt party9:24 AM Mon, Sep 10, 2007 | Permalink
Email this author | Email this entry
One Rhode Island lawmaker was so upset with “the President of the United States and the Republicans in Washington” that he went to Cumberland Town Hall last Tuesday to shed his Republican Party affiliation.
Newly registered as an independent, Rep. Richard W. “Rick” Singleton, 53, told Political Scene late last week: “I am a conservative kind of person. My votes aren’t going to change. I just don’t want to be painted with the Republican brush any longer for reasons that are important to me.”
“I have decided I am not going to be painted by any party brush, Democrat or Republican.”
Singleton said he has been upset for some time over President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq and the support Republican lawmakers in Washington gave to a Bush-backed immigration bill that he described as “a disgraceful amnesty bill at the very least” and “some other scandals we’ve witnessed within the Republican party.”
One of the lead advocates at the Rhode Island State House for getting tougher with illegal immigrants, Singleton said: “The president of the United States was far more interested in making deals with big business people. On Iraq, he said: “I agreed with the president going into the war,” but “I think he kept the secretary of defense on board far longer than he should have ... was advised early on that we need far more troops to do this right, didn’t listen to that ... I just think he handled this thing poorly ...When we’ve got billions of dollars worth of arms that nobody knows where they are, we’ve got serious problems.”
Singleton said no one issue drove him to change his party affiliation. He said his dissatisfaction with the state and national GOP has been building, and procrastination was the only reason he didn’t disaffiliate earlier.
On the local level, he cited “disappointment over the past four years with the general management of the Republican Party,” and what he perceives as a “lack of interest” by Republicans in running for office or contributing. “It’s tough to get Republicans out to even donate.”
He also acknowledged frustration that most of his own legislative package — including a swath of “immigration reform” bills — never made it out of the House. “I think people are fed up with party politics. So am I,” he said. “There are a lot of politicians at the State House who, I believe, are not properly representing their constituents or they would [have been] much more supportive.”
As an independent, Singleton now joins the vast majority of Rhode Islanders. As of Sept. 4, there were 237,339 registered Democrats, 76,690 registered Republicans and 350,105 “unaffiliated” voters across the state.
In the overwhelmingly Democrat General Assembly, however, Singleton’s defection depletes the already tiny ranks of the House GOP. The split is now 62-12-1.
Quipped House Speaker William J. Murphy: “I have always had a great deal of respect for Representative Singleton. He has now moved closer to the correct side of the aisle.”
Singleton is not the first legislator — or even the first House member from his hometown — to switch parties in midterm, and he is not the first “independent” to serve in the General Assembly.
Former Republican Joseph Scott, D-Exeter, was the most recent House GOP dropout. He defected in December 2006, citing differences with House Minority Leader Robert Watson. In 1986, then-Representative-elect Donald Large returned to the House as a Democrat after an earlier stint as a Republican representative and 1982 GOP candidate for mayor in Cumberland. A number of former legislators — including Thomas Rossi of Providence and Cranston City Council president Aram Garabedian — served as independents.
As for what it means to the House GOP, Republican Rep. Nicholas Gorham’s answer is: not much.
“We are already a very small caucus, so let’s face it: we could hardly afford to lose any more. But when you really look at the ability we have to change the outcome, we are always relying on dissident Democrats or independents anyway, so I am not sure it will really change the dynamics in the room very much.
“Things are just as difficult now as they were before Rick left, not particularly more difficult to stem the tide of one-party ideas,” Gorham, R-Coventry, said.
House Minority Leader Watson, R-East Greenwich, said he likes and respects Singleton, thinks he made a mistake in this instance, but doesn’t expect to “see any changes in Representative Singleton’s voting pattern, and his voting record is a very Republican record.” While Singleton has not signaled which caucus he will align himself with, Watson said: “He’s indicated his willingness to continue to work with us and support the common agenda that we share.”
“Let’s face it,” Watson said. “Republicans are independents.”
--By Katherine Gregg, Steve Peoples, Elizabeth Gudrais and Scott MacKay
Journal staff writers