News - Rooney Bowen, Don Cheeks and Dan Lee

For taking opportunism to a new low

You've heard of rats jumping from a sinking ship. Now meet state Sens. Bowen, Cheeks and Lee, three rats whose jumps actually caused the ship to sink — or at least to raise a new flag.

There are ways for politicians to change parties that reveal careful deliberation and integrity, such as Sonny Perdue's pre-campaign switch in 1998 at a point when he had little to gain by joining the GOP. Or, consider Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords' controversial 2001 decision to leave the Republican Party (technically not a party switch), a move that gave control of the Senate to the Democrats. Both men's choices were clearly based on deep-seated principles and the painful realization that their chosen party no longer reflected their political views.

On the other hand, there are ways to switch that reveal craven opportunism, political expediency and disrespect for the democratic process, such as former state Rep. Randy Sauder's 2000 election fake-out, designed to curry favor with Gov. Roy Barnes. An ineffectual, back-bench Republican, Sauder was unopposed for re-election in the GOP stronghold of Smyrna when he waited until minutes before the qualifying deadline to register as a Democrat, thereby cheating his former party out of the chance to put a candidate on the ballot. Sauder's constituents, however, didn't take kindly to being hoodwinked and overwhelmingly tossed him out in favor of a Republican neophyte running as an independent.

At least voters in Sauder's district had that option. Sens. Bowen, Cheeks and Lee all won re-election last week as Democrats — the latter two unopposed — before their fair- weather party flips handed the state Senate to the GOP. It's our guess that the voters who supported them as Democrats won't be satisfied by the claim that the switch was simply a selfless move to help their districts sop up more pork-barrel funds now that Georgia has a Republican governor. It doesn't take a cynic to sniff out this kind of blatant, pandering career- promotion by a politician. It smells like a rat — three of them, in fact.

The Weekly Scalawag is now accepting nominations. E-mail scott.henry@ creativeloafing.com.??

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