A Democrat in the Iowa House of Representatives today announced she’s joining the Republican Party. Democrats controlled the debate agenda for the past four months, and Representative Dawn Pettengill of Mount Auburn says she didn’t get elected to pursue some of the issues Democrats pushed, like gay rights and pro-labor bills.
"This year’s been a tough year," Pettengill says."…I’ve been assured that in the Republican caucus I’ll be welcome and be able to represent the moderate to conservative district that I have." Pettengill’s husband disconnected their home phone earlier this year because union activists were calling repeatedly to lobby on a union-backed bill. "I’m totally over that and just want to move on," she told reporters at a statehouse news conference.
Pettengill says she became a Democrat because of President Nixon and the Watergate scandal. "My whole family’s Republicans, so I’ve always been a more conservative Democrats," Pettingill says.
Pettingill also sent an email to House Democrats in March complaining about the way she was being treated by her party and some interest groups. "You know, I don’t want to poke anyone in the eye," Pettengill told reporters this morning. "I’d rather not comment."
Pettengill says she had "conversations" about her discomfort with the House Democrats’ agenda, but House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, says he is surprised by Pettengill’s defection. "It’s an individual decision that she has to make," Murphy says.
Murphy rejects the idea Democrats pursued an agenda over the past four months that’s driving moderates away from the party. "I don’t think we pursued anything that was extreme," Murphy says.
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines suggests Pettengill’s departure has more to do with her "emotional journey" than with Pettengill’s philosophical differences with Democrats. "I wish Dawn well. I wish whatever issues that she has that she’s able to work through them and I certainly wish her success in life," McCarthy says. "…I know she’s been working through some very difficult emotional issues. We tried to help her through those…but in the end, this apparently was the decision that she reached on her own."
Pettengill expects to lose friends. "It’ll be hard," Pettengill says. "I care about a lot of those people, but I wasn’t sent down here for friends. I was sent down here to do a job and that’s why I made this decision."
Democrats estimate they spent as much as a quarter of a million dollars to help Pettengill win re-election to the House last November and both parties say they’ll send whatever it takes to win that seat in November, 2008.