Veteran Las Vegas Democrat Ray Shaffer, who has been openly disgruntled with his party's leadership in the Nevada Senate, made the switch Tuesday, changing his party registration to Republican.
"There are 110,000 people I'm trying to represent, and I don't know if my leaders behind me or not," said Shaffer, a conservative Democrat who represents Clark County Senate District 2. "I have to make a move to do the best for these people."
He said being in the majority will help him better represent his constituents.
Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said his caucus would welcome Shaffer with open arms, but he reportedly made no commitments to Shaffer.
"He comes with a great deal of experience and he shares our views on things," Raggio said.
Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, questioned Shaffer's timing, pointing out that he'll have to run in a district with nearly 5,000 more Democrats than Republicans in two years.
"I don't know what he gains or they gain from the switch," she said, pointing out that Raggio's GOP already had a 12-9 margin in the Senate.
"I always hate to lose a Democrat but, as far as making a difference in policy or anything, I don't see it being that big a change," she said.
One change the switch will cause is that Democrats will be cut from three to two out of seven seats on three different committees. Titus said she expects that will include Senate Finance, but probably not the tax panel.
"If the Republicans want five on tax, I'd say let them have it," she said referring to the tough and, likely, unpopular tax decisions facing the 2003 Legislature.
Shaffer has been open about his dissatisfaction with Titus's leadership, saying she didn't respect his 19 years of seniority in making committee assignments and hasn't helped the party regain the majority.
He and Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, made abortive attempts to oust her from the leadership post following elections two years ago and this past week.
"My seniority will now be recognized for whatever committee assignments Raggio hands out," Shaffer said.
He said he would like to replace Bill O'Donnell, who retired, as chairman of the Transportation Committee. "That's a tremendous issue here in Southern Nevada, and that's an open committee chair," Shafer said.
Titus said she doubts that will happen, because veteran GOP Assembly members Sandra Tiffany, Barbara Cegavske and Dennis Nolan have won Senate seats and are all looking for plum assignments as well. She said if Shaffer gets priority over them, "I think Raggio faces insurrection."
Raggio is expected to announce committee assignments in the near future.