Republicans, Tea Partiers — even Democrats — to use Boehner fundraiser as an excuse to protest against Griffith

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Party-switcher Parker Griffith is raking in campaign cash thanks to Washington Republicans, but the congressman’s not exactly feeling the love in his northern Alabama district these days.

In an unlikely bipartisan alliance, both liberal and conservative activists are set to protest together in opposition to Republican Minority Leader John Boehner’s visit to raise money for Griffith’s re-election at a Huntsville hotel on Monday.

Griffith, who was a Democrat he became a Republican in December, is taking shrapnel from all sides as June’s Republican primary approaches in his state’s 5th Congressional District. Democrats are furious about his new party affiliation, GOPers say he’s not a real Republican and Tea Party groups say he’s not one of them.

Griffith and Boehner have created strange bedfellows, and groups from the Huntsville Tea Party to the Alabama A&M University Democrats Student Club will be at the protest. The Madison County Republican Executive Committee will stand side-by-side with North Alabama Healthcare for All. The Athens-Limestone Tea Party Patriots and the Limestone County Republican Executive Committee will also protest, as will the AFL-CIO.

Griffith, in a statement provided by his office, did not acknowledge the protests, saying only he’s, “pleased that Congressman John Boehner, the leader of the Republican Party in the House, prepares to make a visit to our great state.”

“Having the top-ranked Republican for the House of Representatives here in our community will give us the opportunity to discuss policy that will help create new jobs in our district and curb government spending. As a Republican, I will continue to work hard to make sure that he gets elected as speaker of the house,” he said.

The groups participating in the protest may be aligned in their opposition to Griffith, but vary widely on message. Christie Carden, the founder of the Huntsville Tea Party who is handling logistics for the protest, says they “are sending a message to the national Republican establishment” to stay out of the primary, encouraging them to look at other Republican primary candidates Les Phillip and Mo Brooks.

The AAMU Democrats Student Club president Sharda Lofton said their “opposition is not based on his politics but rather his complete lack of integrity and character” and called Griffith  “an unprincipled opportunist.” Hugh McInnish, a member of the Madison County Republican Executive Committee that passed a resolution calling for Republicans to support anyone but Griffith in the primary, called the congressman “an imposter, a liberal Democratic opportunist” who “should not be allowed on the Republican ballot.”

Griffith, a physician who voted against President Obama’s health-care bill, is even taking it from Linda Haynes, coordinator of North Alabama Healthcare for All, who said, “Griffith has shown us that he is not serious about helping people get affordable, quality care. Griffith needs to step out of this race and let someone else represent the people of North Alabama.”

Griffith is hardly the first conservative Democrat to make the switch to the Republican Party. But unlike other Alabamians who left the Democratic Party for the Republican Party — like Sen. Richard Shelby in 1994 — he has not been welcomed with open arms. Rex Davis of the Limestone County Republican Executive Committee said some Republicans in Alabama still have a bad taste in their mouth after Griffith’s “pretty nasty” race in 2008 against Republican Wayne Parker, where Griffith “had a habit of bad-mouthing Republicans.”

Also, Davis said a lot of Republicans are frustrated with some in the Republican leadership — like Boehner — who likely encouraged Griffith to make the party switch even though Les Phillip and Mo Brooks, “two excellent Republican candidates,” had qualified to run as Republicans for the seat. He said it’s hard to recruit qualified candidates, and some Republicans don’t find it fair to abandon Phillip and Brooks.

But one high-profile Alabama Republican, Rep. Robert Aderholt, said because of Griffith’s switch, “this is the 1st time in over 140 years that Alabama’s 5th Congressional District has been Republican,” and,  “Leader Boehner’s visit indicates just how much we want to bring Republicans back to the majority.”

“I believe that most of the residents in north Alabama are very honored that Republican Leader John Boehner would come to Huntsville. He is one of our primary nationwide leaders in the conservative movement that is turning the tide against the Obama-Pelosi-Reid liberal agenda,” he said.

Asked for comment, Don Seymour, the communications director for Boehner’s political action committee, the Freedom Project, said “Griffith has been a conservative voice in Congress who has worked closely with Congressman Boehner and House Republicans to fight a government takeover of health care, the jobs-killing ‘cap-and-trade’ energy tax and reckless spending like the president’s budget and the so-called ‘stimulus’ bill that added to the national debt.

“While north Alabama Republican voters will make their own decision on who to support in this election, Congressman Boehner fully supports Parker Griffith and looks forward to working closely with him to keep fighting the liberal Obama-Pelosi agenda,” he added.