Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

February 18, 2013

Three Cherokee County Democrats switch to GOP

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

CHEROKEE COUNTY — Three very high-profile Cherokee County Democrats are in the process of defecting to the local Republican Party. Might this move cost them the trust of peers? Opinions vary.

County Treasurer Patsy Lassiter, County Clerk Laverne Lusk, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Byron Underwood all recently announced this intention to cross party lines.

Cherokee County Democratic Party Chair Caesar Roy said he learned about their decision when the three announced it in January during the executive committee meeting of the Cherokee County Democratic party.

Jerry Rix, GOP party club chairman, said he doesn't anticipate other  elected Democrats such as  District Judge Dwight Phifer or Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Judge Vera Foreman joining this political exodus.

"I wish I could include Vera," Rix said. "All four met with the Demos and resigned. I have submitted the paperwork to the Texas GOP on three but Vera has balked ... I hope she switches. … Phifer will never switch."

Foreman, who a reporter reached by telephone in her office Friday, declined to confirm over the phone if she had considered defecting. She promised to fax a response, which was not received by deadline Friday.

Meanwhile, Roy questions the logic of the three switching parties right now. Once upon a time, changing from the Democratic Party to the GOP meant crossover candidates could tap into the influence and power base of the local chapter of the Grand Old Party.

But Roy contends that is no longer the case because the National Republican Party is in disarray and decline around the country following the 2012 election.

"These elected officials should consider not just what they are leaving but where they are going," Roy said. "Their new friends may accept them but they will probably not trust them – and why should they?"

Roy said the Texas Republican Party is intent on legislating voter suppression laws to prevent minorities from voting, supports underfunding education, children’s health care, Medicare, and Medicaid for seniors.

"They (the defectors) are now associated with the Tea Party movement and those Republicans who oppose immigration reform," Roy said.

Rix disagrees strongly. He has cited Republican challenger Mitt Romney's trouncing of Barack Obama in Cherokee County during the recent presidential election as an example of Republican power.

Romney, in Cherokee County, garnered an even 75 percent of the vote – 12,291 to 3,935 cast ballots. This is a perfect  example of current Republican strength, Rix has said.

There were 5,884 straight vote Republican voters in the recent presidential election, as opposed to 2,327 straight vote Democrats, the polls show.

“Obama lost so heavily because we are such a heavy Republican County, and that's the way we like it,” Rix said in a previous interview. “We are a very conservative group and we live that way and believe that way. And there's nothing wrong with that.”

Lassiter said she isn't really looking to make a political statement by switching sides. She doesn't consider her job as Cherokee County treasurer to be political in nature.

"Really, it's a shame I have to pick a political party at all," she said. "I don't want to make this a party thing. This is my job. I thought this was the best move right now to help me keep doing that job. It may not  make any difference. I may not get reelected. But I needed to do it."

Lusk was out of the office when a reporter called Friday and could not be reached to comment.

But Underwood said he stands by his decision to change parties, which he said he made after much discussion with family, friends, elected officials and constituents.

Underwood did not provide a specific reason for defecting other than to say, "This was the time."

"I didn't take this decision lightly, nor did I make it hastily, but I believe this is what I need to do," Underwood said. "I still will be the same commissioner I have been in the past and will continue to do the best job of my ability for the citizens of Precinct 4 and Cherokee County.”