Lawmakers from both parties were taken aback when a long-time Republican from New Jersey declared he was switching parties.
Senator Sam Thompson, 87, made the unexpected change on Monday, surprising members on both sides.
Thompson left his Republican peers due to pressure from the party and local authorities for him to step down owing to his age, according to the New Jersey Globe.
The announcement by 87-year-old Republican Sen. Sam Thompson that he will run as a Democrat is just the latest sign that this year’s state legislative races are shaping up to be a bumpy ride. #NJDecides https://t.co/ozIEa0rHp4
— NJ Spotlight News (@NJSpotlightNews) February 15, 2023
The senator did not take these calls well, and he expressed his feelings about the matter to the press, accusing the party leadership of ageism.
“I decided to do this because my party leadership had abandoned me,” Thompson told reporters.
“Do I want to stay with people that want to cut my throat like that?”
Thompson took criticized GOP leadership, namely Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho, for not allowing him to say goodbye to his former colleagues.
Thompson, Oroho retorted, offered no notice with his abrupt turn.
“It’s clear he made a unilateral decision to switch parties without talking to anyone from either side,” Oroho stated as reported by the Globe.
“This afternoon, Sen. Thompson became extremely agitated after he was denied entry to our budget committee pre-meeting in the Senate Republican caucus room. He didn’t seem to understand that it was inappropriate for him to try to join us after he announced he had become a Democrat.”
Thompson has told his constituents that he will not move parties.
“I am not a liberal; I’d put myself as a moderate conservative,” the octogenarian said.
“I will continue to vote the way that I vote — that is to say, from a moderate conservative position… I just got done meeting with the Democrats, and we didn’t seem to have any problems.”
While some Democrats believe Thompson will liberalize his voting record now that he has left the GOP, others see it as a cynical attempt to maintain power.
According to the New Jersey Monitor, the senator was facing a strong primary challenge from Old Bridge, New Jersey mayor Owen Henry, who is a favorite of local officials who want Thompson to resign.
Considering some of Thompson’s policy positions, the Monitor speculated that Democrats may find it difficult to coexist with Thompson in their caucus.
“He voted no on codifying abortion rights. He voted no on bail reform. He voted no on the recent bill restricting where people can carry guns. He voted no on early in-person voting. He voted no on the bill expanding job protections for temporary workers,” the Monitor author pointed out.
Thompson is also an open admirer of former President Donald Trump, which many Democrats find repugnant.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has welcomed Thompson, saying, “the Democratic Party has always been a big tent party, and I welcome Senator Thompson to our ranks.”
Nevertheless, the governor did not support him in his campaign.
“There is a process in each of the counties the senator represents by which a candidate must secure the nomination of his or her county party,” Murphy said.
“I wish the senator luck as he begins that process and know he will continue serving his constituents admirably as he enters this new chapter of public service.”