The Democratic Party has a serious problem keeping legislators in its ranks. With the recent departure of Georgia State Representative Mesha Mainor, the number of Democrats who have left the party is up to to 21 since Joe Biden entered the White House. This is not a new situation for the Democratic Party. Since 1994, 82 Democratic state legislators have switched to the GOP during their terms.
Mesha Mainor officially announced her switch to the Republican Party this week after denouncing pressure in her party. Mainor, a representative for Georgia's 56th district, supported the Republican bill in the House in defense of freedom of choice in schools for parents. "When I decided to stand up for disadvantaged children in support of school choice, my Democratic colleagues did not support me," Mainor said during her announcement. "They crucified me. When I decided to stand up for safe communities and refused to support efforts to defund the police, they didn't support me. They abandoned me." In the same Georgia House, another Democratic representative, Vernon Jones, did the same in 2021.
Don’t listen to me, watch me. I will do everything to support District 56 pic.twitter.com/iYyJnrkWoV
— Rep. Mesha Mainor (@MeshaMainor) July 11, 2023
With Mainor, that makes five Democratic state senators and representatives to switch to the GOP. Two more state senators left the Democratic Party to become independents. In 2022, there were four more legislators to do so. In 2021 there were 10, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. This brings the total to 21 legislators. The last four to do so before Mainor all did so in April.
Legislators who changed in 2023:
From Democrats to Republicans:
- Francis Thompson (Louisiana)
- Tricia Cotham ( North Carolina)
- Jeremy Lacombe (Louisiana)
- David Pritt (West Virginia)
- Mesha Mainor (Georgia)
From Democrats to Independents:
- Mia McLeod (South Carolina)
- Kelvin Butler (Mississippi)
Why are they leaving?
The reasons behind the changes do not seem to be clear, and although there is a paradigm that over 30 years has favored the Republican Party, it seems that the changes usually respond to personal and exclusive issues of each legislator. Like Mesha Mainor, Tricia Cotham joined the GOP after claiming that her fellow Democrats were bullying her and that her values were more in line with the Republican Party. In West Virginia, the chair of the state Democratic Party could only comment in reference to David Pritt's departure that "the Democratic Party of today is not the Democratic Party our parents grew up with." Francis Thompson, a legislator from Louisiana, also claimed that he felt out of place in the Democratic Party because of his religious beliefs on several issues.
A negative balance for the Democratic Party
The Democrats' balance is negative compared to that of the Republicans. In Biden's just under three years in office, only nine GOP lawmakers have left their ranks to join other parties. Among them, three went to the Democratic Party in various state legislatures.
The electoral information portal BallotPedia collects the data of defectors from one party to another since 1994. Since that year, 172 state legislators changed parties while in office, 125 state representatives and 47 state senators. Of all of them, 83 switched from being Democrats to join the GOP and only 23 legislators did the opposite in the last 30 years.
During Barack Obama's two terms in office, Democratic defections were even harsher than under Joe Biden. Between 2009 and 2016, a total of 57 state legislators fled to the GOP or became independents. Most of them (40) did so during Obama’s first term. The worst year was 2010, when 25 legislators left the Democratic Party. That year’s midterms were tough for Obama and the Democrats, who had just passed the Affordable Care Act.