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Ark. rep. switches to GOP from Democratic party

By Andrew Demillo

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 10 2011 11:00 a.m. MDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas state Rep. Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas announced Wednesday that she is switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party, complaining that the state's Democrats had moved too far left for her to remain in the party.

"I haven't left the Democratic Party, but the party has left me," Collins-Smith said in a news conference at the state Capitol with GOP lawmakers and top party leaders.

The change narrows the Democratic majority in the 100-member state House of Representatives to 54. Democrats hold a 20-15 majority in the state Senate.

Collins-Smith, 49, represents a district that includes Randolph County and a portion of Sharp County in northeast Arkansas. Her seat was redistricted, meaning she would have had to stand against the incumbent Republican next year.

It's unclear whether Collins-Smith will seek another term to the House or will instead run for a state Senate seat. She did not respond to reporters' questions as she left Wednesday's news conference.

House Minority Leader John Burris indicated it was unlikely that Collins-Smith would run against fellow Republican Rep. Lori Benedict for her House seat.

"I don't think she switched parties to have a primary," Burris told reporters.

Burris said Collins-Smith had approached him about a possible switch after the Legislature wrapped up this year's session earlier this year. He said Republicans are talking with other Democratic representatives about potentially changing parties, but would not say how many or who.

Collins-Smith said she was raised a Democrat, but believed that the state party no longer had room for conservatives like her. She singled out Democrats' opposition to a capital gains tax cut that passed the House earlier this year but failed before a Senate committee.

"I wanted to help move the party back to the views and the values of those everyday voters," she said. "Unfortunately, I found that the politics of Washington and the politics of the liberal left have become so entrenched in that Democratic Party of Arkansas that there's no room for real conservatives."

The party switch comes as Republicans say they believe they have a chance to win control of one or both chambers of the state Legislature. The GOP made historic gains at all levels of government in traditionally Democrat Arkansas, including at the legislative level.

All 135 seats in the state Legislature will be up for election next year because of redistricting.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe said Collins-Smith had not reached out to him about her plans and declined to comment before her official announcement.

Republicans hold three of the seven constitutional offices in historically Democratic Arkansas, in addition to three of the state's four U.S. House seats and one of the state's U.S. Senate seats.

Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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