laneends.jpgBack on August 1, Phoenix Woman posted about rumors that Chris Koster, the head of the GOP Caucus in the Missouri State Senate was about to bolt the GOP and become a Democrat.

He did.

And he did it with style:

. . . In a prior era, during the tenure of former Republican Senator Jack Danforth, political moderates existed comfortably within the Missouri Republican Party ranks. Today, Republican moderates are all but extinct. When I came to the senate, I naively thought I could influence a change in this regard. It is painful for me to admit today that I was wrong.

Part of my decision today should quite clearly be viewed as a formal break with the new Missouri Republican philosophy, particularly regarding issues on which I have always differed with Republicans; namely, stem cell research, the vigorous protection of workers’ rights, support for an increase in the minimum wage, and defense of an independent judiciary.

However, part of my decision, I hope, will also be viewed also as an embrace of the Democratic agenda, as my three years of involvement in Jefferson City has created a strong and sincere personal desire to turn my own attention toward more progressive directions, toward championing the state’s poor and disabled communities, expansion of economic opportunity in our urban centers, and support for family planning services.

Each of these convictions, it is clear to me, flies more comfortably beneath a Democratic flag.

[snip]

Let us be clear as to their extremist agenda. The Republican desire is to criminalize early stage stem cell research in our state. The very same Harvard scientists celebrated throughout the world for their potentially life-saving research would, within the borders of Missouri, be imprisoned for fifteen years for conducting the identical laboratory work. Researchers actively recruited by the States of Kansas, Massachusetts, Illinois or California would be prosecuted and imprisoned here at home. Go to Boston for your Nobel Prize; come to Missouri for your leg irons. And the Missouri Republican Party not only tolerates this lunacy, but embraces it.

Their far-right crusade has infected everything, from the life-saving research itself, to economic development in our state, to the sale of the MOHELA assets, to the larger debate over abortion, to the nomination of curators and high governmental appointees, to the reform of our State’s Medicaid system.

I cannot in good conscience remain in Republican ranks and pretend that attempting to modulate extremist priorities is enough. Faced with such stakes, there is no compromising left to be done. . .

(The full text is here at Koster’s website, if you scroll down a bit.)

As you might guess, Koster’s switch messed with lots of political calcuations in Missouri. The publisher of the Columbia Daily Tribune sums it up like this:

Critics might say Koster is switching sides out of simple political self-interest. They would be wrong. Koster was on his way to becoming the Republican candidate for state attorney general, a fast track turned into a detour if he decides to continue his quest in the Democratic primary, where he faces one of the most appealing vote-getters the Democrats could field, our own Rep. Jeff Harris. Had Koster faced Harris in the general election, I would not have put all my money on our local favorite. Now that Koster will have to do without Republican support, his prospects are bleak.

I’ve only just landed back in Missouri, and have yet to dig into the state politics enough to sort this out. Some of Koster’s positions I like, and I have questions about others. MO House Minority Leader Jeff Harris’ website is here for those interested in comparing the two, and state Dems are lining up on both sides of this primary. Whatever the political calculations around the AG race, though, two things are clear: there’s no guarantee of the outcome, and that election is next year. In the meantime, Koster gave up a leadership post in the majority to take a seat with the minority, and did so loudly and forcefully. Koster’s farewell speech to the GOP is priceless, as a fullblown description of the way they’ve been taken over. I’d love to hear more lifelong democrats speak with the passion and directness he displays.

But the echoes go well beyond Missouri. The Kansas GOP has had its defection problems, and the virus is spreading throughout the west. The LA Times wrote about it earlier this week (h/t sofistic), and Joan McCarter, a political blogger at NewWest.net, goes even further, pointing to similar defections in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Idaho and Colorado, all tied to the same disgust with the TheoCon extremists who want to turn the GOP into their new church.

We focus a lot on action here at FDL, and readers take to heart the need to call their senators, their representatives, media outlets, and others in power. But as important as that is, it’s not enough, not nearly enough.

This weekend, it’s time for some local outreach, and not to the powers that be. For every Jim Webb at the national level and every Chris Koster at the state level who have given up on the GOP, there are thousands of similarly disenchanted republican voters, especially if you live in the west. They’re the people you see at the grocery store, the folks in your office, your neighbors across the street, the parents of your kid’s best friend, and the folks sitting next to you in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. They’re the people you’re going to see this weekend, all over the place, and lots of them are hungry for an alternative to the TheoCons and NeoCons.

When you see them, you might want to tell them about Chris Koster’s speech. Because lots of them have had enough, too.