Democratic state Senator Tom Butler will announce that he is changing parties and run for the state’s 5th Congressional District seat as a Republican, according to two sources close to the situation. Sen. Butler of Madison is one of the “dissident Democrats” who caucuses with Senate Republicans in a minority coalition.
Many believed that Butler’s differences with Senate Democrats were more personal than political. State Sen. E. B. McClain (D – Midfield) once described Butler’s relationship with the party as wounded. (Another Senate insider described it to the Parlor in much the same way. See also here.) Democrats had hoped that he would return to the party’s mainstream (for example, in 2000 he was an Al Gore delegate to the Democratic convention and in 2004 he endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark) to provide Senate Democrats a 21-vote, “filibuster-proof” majority. Instead, Gov. Bob Riley has apparently welcomed Butler, and Butler has put aside unhappiness he was reported last year to have with Riley, at least to the point that he will run for Congress as a Republican.
Butler is four years older than the man he seeks to replace, Democrat Bud Cramer. If he loses the race, his party switch will not dramatically alter the state Senate landscape since he had caucused with Republicans already, though it will presumably squash Democrats’ efforts to bring him back to the majority caucus.