And then there were 53

Representative Dawn Pettengill has made it official. She stood next to House Minority Leader Chris Rants today and announced that she is joining the Republican Party.

In a really classy move, she told the press before she told her former colleagues in the Democratic caucus.

Cue gloating from Republicans and hand-wringing from some commentators that the Democrats are allegedly outside the mainstream.

Pettengill said she wants to better represent her district in the House, which is fine by me. If she thinks her political future is safer by hitching her wagon to the Republican Party, we are better off without her.

The Des Moines Register adds,

Even worse for Democrats, Pettengill said there have been talks among some of the half-dozen or so other conservative Democrats of switching parties. She would not give names.

I consider this unlikely to happen with Democrats in control of the Iowa Senate and Terrace Hill, but just to be on the safe side, we’ll all have to work a little harder in 2008 to elect more progressive Democrats to the Iowa legislature.

John Deeth asks some important questions, including will she give back the money she got from Democrats (I doubt it) and how long has she been planning this.

House Speaker Pat Murphy and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are saying that Pettengill’s move is unlikely to affect their ability to get things done, since

Rep. Ray Zirkelbach, a Monticello Democrat, is expected to return from serving in Iraq next year. That means their majority lead will remain about the same. In addition, they noted that Pettengill frequently voted against the Democratic majority anyway.

“This is more of a shift on paper then something significant that will affect our ability to govern,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also told reporters today that the Democratic Party spent $250,000 helping Pettengill defeat a Republican incumbent in that House seat in 2004.

Murphy added some fighting words as well:

“The bottom line is, we feel we can win that seat back,” Murphy said. That is a Democratic seat and we expect to win it back. We’re going to go after it very aggressively.”

I’d rather try to win that seat with a real Democrat than be continually trying to placate someone like Pettengill, who clearly does not share the core beliefs of most Iowa Democrats.

Let the recruiting begin! Anyone have any ideas about who would be a good candidate for that district?

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