All the talk about Democrat Bill Orton switching political parties is "ludicrous," the newly elected congressman says. But he doesn't totally close the door on that happening eventually, either - which is raising the eyebrows of some national Democratic leaders.
Ever since Orton nailed the biggest political win in the state's history, people - mostly Republican heavy hitters - have been talking about converting him to the GOP before the next election. Pressure from the liberal Democrats in Congress may be nothing compared to the pressure Orton appears to be getting from Utah Republicans.But Orton says Democrats can rest assured: "I'm not talking about changing parties," he said this week at his campaign office in Provo. "I don't think we need to send a shock wave through the Democratic Party like we just sent through the Republican Party," he said.
Orton acknowledges he's had plenty of offers from members of the Republican party, saying they'd be "more than happy to welcome me into the party."
"Why on earth would I want to do that?" Orton said. "Obviously, you don't have to be a Republican to win election in the district. I just won - by a wide margin," Orton said.
But, Orton is leaving all future options open, saying that he would entertain the notion of realigning himself politically if "in the future I discover that I could not be a Democrat and still maintain my own personal philosophy or if I could not adequately represent the interests of the people in my district, and it is apparent to me that by changing parties I could do that."I'm not opposed to anything to get the job done," Orton said.
Still, he "can't conceive of any reason to switch parties. It's very premature to keep raising that kind of question."
An aide to a top Democratic House leader in Washington said she is not sure how much the talk of Orton switching parties - or him not firmly slamming the door on it - could affect his position with the party or his bid to obtain a preferred assignment on the House Ways and Means Committee.
"It may not affect a freshman much. They usually just have to take what committee assignments are open anyway," she said. She added that Democratic leadership may also give Orton some slack for a while on such comments because he is new. "It will be interesting to see what he says after he is back here a while and sees exactly what it takes to be a congressman."
Doug Sosnick, political director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also said he would not guess how the rumors could affect Orton in Washington.
But he added, "The best way to end your political career is to switch parties. With the exception of (Sen.) Phil Gramm, R-Texas, everyone who has switched parties recently is now in the private sector . . . That's the advice we would give him."
Sosnick said word of the rumors had not reached the East much, but Democratic leaders would likely want to meet with Orton to verify exactly what his views and plans are.
Orton downplayed partisan politics throughout his campaign but said he'd be a more effective representative of the 3rd District as a conservative Democrat than a Republican would be. He maintains he'll operate on principles, not on party lines.
"I'm first of all an individual. I'm second of all a representative of the people of my district," Orton said. "And I'm third a Democrat. If I find situations where I disagree with the Democratic Party individually or in representing my constituents, I'll voice that."