When State Rep. Chuck Hopson switched from the Democratic to Republican party, the partisan balance for the GOP in the Texas House has improved. But does his switch mean an improved voting record? Apparently not. Indeed, it seems centered more on his own political convenience than any sense of conservative conscience.

Hopson scored a 45% on the Fiscal Responsibility Index, and has similarly low voting records with other conservative and center-right organizations. Folks in the district tell me privately Hopson is saying his voting record won’t change.

That’s not good news.

According to Harold Cook, former executive director of the Texas Democratic Party:

“Chuck says that he will continue to vote just as he has in the past, indicating that he won’t change a bit.”

Cook quotes Hopson’s comments from the Jacksonville Preogress: “I will vote like I have always voted … I don’t anticipate anything will change.”

That probably won’t help Hopson with his electoral problems at home with conservatives, and it should trouble the Republican elected officials now rushing to embrace him.

Hopson barely won election in the great Democratic year of 2008 — squeaking by with a less-than-150-vote margin over a poorly-funded GOP challenger. The Libertarian in the race received almost 1,000 votes.

That GOP opponent, Brian Walker, endorsed Hopson this week.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Walker and a legion of Republican Party officials can convince GOP voters in the rural East Texas district to stop worrying and learn to love Chuck. One suspects it might not be an easy sell.

The Republican strength in that district has been growing, evidenced in part by increasing numbers of GOPers voting to unseat the same lawmaker they will now be asked to embrace.

For the Republican Party, embracing a Hopson switch is an act of faith at a precipitous political moment. In New York, party officials expended time and money defending Dede Scozzafava, a very left-of-center politician running as a Republican. The conservative base revolted, choosing the man who many believe should have been the party nominee. But because he was running as a third-party candidate, he lost.

Chuck Hopson is certainly no Scozzafava, but he also isn’t a Ralph Hall or Phil Gramm. When Messers. Gramm and Hall switched party labels, their conservative bona fides were beyond dispute.

The same can be said of a more recent flipper. State Rep. Kirk England left the Republican Party to be a Democrat after one term in the Legislature, but no one was much surprised. In fact, more people were surprised when he ran originally as a Republican. And his voting record certainly showed no real allegiance to conservative principles.

The GOP needs to know what it wants to be, and be known as. The lessons from the NY CD-23 race are clear: Republicans cannot win by rejecting conservative principles and embracing the center-left; conservatives cannot win unless they work within the two-party system.

If the Texas GOP is eager to embrace Hopson — whose voting record apparently won’t change — just to inflate the R-to-D ratio in the Legislature, they may find their situation worsened. Conservative voters could well end up sitting out races (or, perhaps worse for the GOP, gravitating to third parties as in NY CD-23) and giving victories to the Democrats. So much for that R-to-D ratio improvement.

Short-term gain for long-term loss doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s best interest, especially with the GOP still recovering from the mistrust engendered during the Bush years. If Hopson is, indeed, planning to keep his record unchanged, even if he wins, the conservative movement loses. Principles tend to be what motive conservative voters, not party labels. That frustrates the “reasonable” observers to no end, but it is what it is. A conservative voter increasingly would rather suffer an electoral loss than accept an ideological loser.

Perhaps Mr. Hopson will win and really vote better. Possibly he will find his voice as a conservative, which would be exceedingly easy given how brightly red the district tends to be.

Or, maybe, he’ll lose dramatically because the grassroots feel betrayed once more by what they perceive as Republican leaders motivated more by partisan gamesmanship than philosophically grounded statesmanship.

At Empower Texans, our mission remains the same. Regardless of labels and parties, we focus on enduring principles, practical issues and successful ideas. Whether it’s an elephant or a donkey, wearing red, blue or purple, we make our decisions based on values, not sound-bites or political expediency.