Colorado Democratic Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the only American Indian in Congress, stunned the political establishment Friday by switching his party affiliation, citing unbridgeable philosophical differences with Democrats.
His switch boosts the Republicans’ majority in the Senate, giving them 54 seats to the Democrats’ 46.
Also beset by disputes with Democrats back in Colorado, the maverick freshman said Friday that the final straw was the Senate’s defeat of the balanced budget amendment, which he has championed since coming here as a congressman in 1987.
“Five weeks on the balanced-budget debate has brought into focus that my personal beliefs and the Democratic Party are far apart,” said Campbell.
Democrats, surprised by Campbell’s defection, immediately asked him to quit and run for reelection as a Republican.
“Out West, all you’ve got is your word,” said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo. “Even Phil Gramm did it,” she said, referring to Gramm’s resignation in 1983 after he switched parties while a House member.
But Campbell and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole rejected such suggestions. Campbell’s current term expires in 1998.