The decision to switch political parties | Jim Ferrell

Are you a Democrat or a Republican? We have all been asked that question many times, either at family gatherings, by colleagues or by a new acquaintance. For some the answer is clear and stays the same for a lifetime.

Are you a Democrat or a Republican?

We have all been asked that question many times, either at family gatherings, by colleagues or by a new acquaintance. For some the answer is clear and stays the same for a lifetime.

For others, the true answer evolves over time.

As a non-partisan office holder on the Federal Way City Council for the past eight years, the question comes up more often than it might for others, usually every time I doorbell a home.

And I have always answered that question with a simple response — Republican.

That answer stemmed from an election in 1980 that inspired me to become active in government and politics, just as the election of John F. Kennedy did 20 years before for an earlier generation.

Since then, I have worked for the Republican Party in many different ways, from serving as a precinct committee officer, running for the state House, serving as a White House intern in 1992, serving as vice chairman of the King County Republican Party, and also attending two national conventions as an alternate delegate (1996 and 2000).

Those were formative experiences and I made a number of good friends in the process — people committed to our country and their party.

However, over the course of the past eight years, I have become increasingly concerned about the direction the party has taken and have felt out of step with that direction. As a fiscal conservative, I stayed in the party despite these misgivings because I thought that perhaps I could help, at some point and in some way, to correct this path. I see now that this is not possible.

To put it bluntly, the party of Lincoln has lost its way on the issues that face the great mass of the people of this country. Something much deeper and troubling is occurring within the party — a movement to the far right accentuated during the most recent presidential primary, in which the main contenders keep lurching toward more reactionary policies on a variety of issues.

As a father, the most concerning of these issues is the treatment of energy policy and environmental policy and the impact on our future generations. On the issue of global climate change, the party ridicules the assertion that we are having an effect on the environment.  The issue is treated as a punch line instead of the serious issue that it is.

The flip side of that coin, energy policy — the most important issue facing this country in the next 50 to 100 years is met with the retort of “Drill baby drill.” We cannot drill our way out of this situation. It will take years of patience, collaboration and investment to aid in this transition, but it will never occur if our major political parties pretend that it’s not a real issue.

Finally, as we are still in the grips of one of the greatest financial downturns in the history of this country, instead of working in the other Washington to help the displaced or to support policies that will help create jobs, the leaders of the Republican Party relentlessly search for tax breaks for the most fortunate. That is simply failed leadership.

As I have struggled during this time with the direction of the party, what kept me involved were the relationships and friendships that I have formed over the years. That’s the hard part of this.

But ultimately I have concluded, beyond any doubt, that I needed to make this change and let it be known why.

Recently, I sat down and listed the attributes and the policies of each party. Then I went down each list and asked myself the question I posed at the beginning: am I a Democrat or a Republican?

My answer has finally evolved, and for the future is clear. I am a Democrat.

While I embark on this new path, I want to emphasize that I know great people in both parties. Most people involved in politics truly love their country and are simply trying to make it a better place in the future.

What I have noticed that is missing, however, is a sense of civility. While we can disagree on policy, and we must in a vibrant system, we must learn to work together, collaboratively.

That is what I vow to continue to do, now as a member of the Democratic Party.