Rep. Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas changed her party affiliation today from Democrat to Republican. The move was first reported by Talk Business’ Jason Tolbert.
Collins-Smith, a first-term representative, was joined at a capitol press conference by House and Senate Republicans as well party officials, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, and Second District Cong. Tim Griffin. Her switch leaves the balance of political power in the Arkansas House at 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans heading into next year’s legislative fiscal session.
In prepared remarks, Collins-Smith said, “I came to Little Rock believing that it was not too late for the Arkansas Democratic Party to reject the far drift of the national Party. I truly hoped it could once again be the party of the people. I wanted to help move the Party back to the values of those everyday voters."
“Unfortunately, I found that in the politics of Washington and the politics of the liberal left in the Democratic Party of Arkansas that there is no room for conservatives. Those who question the folly of excessive taxation are unwelcome. Those who stand for the right of babies in the womb, they are outcasts. And those who seek to create jobs by making Arkansas a business-friendly state are punished,” she said.
“I have not changed. I am the same today as I was when the people of Randolph and Sharp Counties elected me. I have not left the Democratic Party, but the Party left me. And I believe it has left the majority of good decent freedom loving people of Arkansas behind,” Collins-Smith said.
She left during the middle of the press conference without fielding questions to attend a Conway re-election announcement for Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow).
The lack of answers leaves questions as to whether or not Collins-Smith would seek re-election in her newly drawn House seat against incumbent Rep. Lori Benedict (R-Sturkie). Political insiders suspect Collins-Smith may run for a Senate seat against an incumbent Democrat.
A number of GOP officials chimed in with accolades for Collins-Smith’s party change.
“Her decision is further proof that there is no room for conservatives in the Democratic Party, which is why Arkansas voters elected a record number of Republicans to the General Assembly and Congress last year," said GOP chairman Doyle Webb. "We look forward to Rep. Collins-Smith working with House Republicans to lower taxes on Arkansas families and create opportunities for businesses to put Arkansans back to work as we fight to overcome the highest unemployment in 24 years.”
Rep. Rick Crawford (R), whose First District Congressional seat encompasses Collins-Smith’s House district said, "I’ve heard from many Democrats who, like Representative Collins-Smith, say that they just don’t feel comfortable with the direction President Obama has taken the party. We welcome her into the Republican Party and are eager to work with her and every like-minded person, regardless of party affiliation, to advance job-creating initiatives and curtail out-of-control government spending.”
Democratic Party of Arkansas Will Bond said Collins-Smith’s move was a case of sour grapes. "She didn’t make this move until the redistricting process was complete," Bond said. "She was very disappointed in the redistricting process. We’re not surprised by her decision and announcement today."
Bond also said her assertions about the principles of the Democratic Party are "just false."
"Arkansas Democrats and Gov. Beebe have delivered the largest tax cuts in history, while preserving essential state services," Bond said. "And at the federal level, the last time we had a balanced budget in this country was when an Arkansas Democrat was President."
House Speaker Robert Moore (D-Arkansas City) said that he was "somewhat surprised" by the party switch.
"I have always recognized the House is made of 100 individual members, with individual ideas and values, and I will continue to work with all of our members, regardless of party, as we serve our constituents," Moore said.