BILOXI — State Rep. Randall Patterson of Biloxi switched to the Republican Party on Thursday, boosting the GOP majority in the lower chamber of the Mississippi Legislature to 66-56 with 2015 elections just around the corner.
Patterson, a 66-year-old mechanical contractor who has served in the Legislature as a Democrat since 2004, made the announcement Thursday at Biloxi City Hall with House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton and other GOP lawmakers.
“The philosophy of the party has changed and I felt it was time for me to change,” Patterson told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “It’s been a gradual thing, nothing earth-shattering.”
Patterson describes himself as conservative, but has mostly voted with Democrats and against Republicans on controversial issues such as charter schools and changes in worker’s compensation during the current term. He said his voting record wouldn’t change.
“I’ve pretty much stayed in the dog house with both parties since I’ve been up there,” Patterson said.
He is vice chairman of the House Ports, Harbors and Airports Committee, and committee assignments won’t change because of the switch. Patterson said that while Republican friends have approached him about switching over the years, he and his wife made the decision on their own.
“Representatives like Randall Patterson, who are conservative, no longer find comfort with the politics of the Democratic Party,” Gunn said in a statement. “The Mississippi House Republican caucus is proud to welcome Representative Patterson as one of our own.”
Patterson is the third House member to switch to the Republican side since the 2011 elections. Reps. Donnie Bell of Fulton and Jason White of West switched earlier. The move leaves only three Democratic House members representing parts of Mississippi’s six southernmost counties, as opposed to 17 Republicans. It reduces the number of white Democrats in the House to 18, with only one of those, David Baria of Bay St. Louis, on the coast.
For about 70 years, every state representative was a white Democrat, ending in 1963 when Lewis “Mac” McAllister became the first Republican to serve in the 20th century. In 1968, Robert Clark became the first black member of the Legislature in the 20th century.
Patterson represents District 115, redrawn in 2012 to account for a steep population loss following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in eastern Biloxi, traditionally inhabited by a mix of ethnic groups. After 2015, the district will also include parts of D’Iberville south of Interstate 10, an area less friendly to Democrats.
“The dynamic has changed but that didn’t play into my decision to change parties,” said Patterson, who voted for the new House map.
Two senators — Nicky Browning of Pontotoc and Gray Tollison of Oxford — have also switched to the Republican Party since 2011, giving the GOP a 32-20 edge in that chamber. In the Senate, Democrats can’t block certain bills that require a three-fifths majority on a party-line vote.