- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Texas Rep. Ralph M. Hall switched parties last night, filing for re-election as a Republican after nearly a quarter-century as one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress.

“I’ve always said that if being a Democrat hurt my district I would switch or I would resign,” Mr. Hall said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Mr. Hall, 80, said GOP leaders had recently refused to place money for his district in a spending bill and “the only reason I was given was I was a Democrat,” and that he didn’t agree with “all these guys running against the president.”

Mr. Hall’s defection had historic overtones. His district in Texas includes territory once represented in Congress by the late Sam Rayburn, who served as a Democratic speaker for much of the time between 1940 and 1961.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, called Mr. Hall last night to welcome him to the party.

“Democrats are reaping what they’ve sown,” Mr. DeLay said. “Their leaders have lined up behind Howard Dean’s brand of angry, intolerant politics. They’ve made their message clear: ‘moderates need not apply,’ and that’s a sad trend for a once-great party.”

Before Mr. Hall’s move, the House had 228 Republicans, 205 Democrats, 1 Democrat-leaning independent and 1 vacancy.

President Bush praised Mr. Hall.

“I welcome Congressman Ralph Hall to the Republican Party,” Mr. Bush said. “Ralph is a close friend of the Bush family. He is a well-respected leader of the highest integrity, and a tireless advocate for the people of Texas.”

Republican sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Hall privately relayed word of his intentions to White House officials and other senior GOP officials earlier in the day.

Mr. Hall, who was first elected to Congress in 1980, has long been among the most conservative Democrats in Congress. Speculation that he might switch parties first surfaced in 1995, when the GOP gained control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

He said then he wouldn’t, arguing that it would be better to try and move the Democratic Party toward the middle.

Rep. Martin Frost, Texas’ most senior Democrat, declined comment.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said he looked forward to working with Mr. Hall in the majority party.

“Ralph is a man of courage and a man of great conviction,” Mr. Hastert said. “Common sense continues to guide him in Washington and now in the Republican Party.”

Mr. Hall’s sons, one a Texas judge and the other a lawyer, had been considered possible candidates for their father’s congressional seat if Mr. Hall resigned. Mr. Hall said last night his party switch would make it easier for his sons to run should he eventually resign, but he added, “Neither of my sons seems interested in coming to Congress.”

Texas Republican Party spokesman Ted Royer said Hall was the 174th elected Texas Democrat to join the Republican Party since 1992.

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