This week Guilford County commissioners and some voters in Guilford County were still absorbing the bomb dropped last week by Guilford County Commissioner James Upchurch.
Upchurch, in a move that took many in the county by surprise, sent out an open letter informing Guilford County officials and the public that he had changed his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, a Democrat, weighed in on the implications of the move going forward.
“It makes absolutely zero difference,” Alston said.
Alston said that if the nine-member Board of Commissioners had held a 5-to 4 Democratic majority then Upchurch’s jump may have mattered. But now the current board has gone from a 7-to-2 Democratic majority board to a 6-to-3 Democratic majority board.
The important thing, Alston said, is that the board is still controlled by Democrats – and Democratic initiatives that Republicans oppose can still lose the support of a Democrat and gain approval.
Alston said he was perturbed not so much by Upchurch becoming a Republican as the way he did it. Upchurch didn’t merely announce that he was switching parties. He also stated in his open letter that he had “repeatedly witnessed those in the Democratic Party vote to waste taxpayer money – sometimes on items they didn’t clearly understand…The Democrats’ carefree spending goes against my promise to be honest, transparent, and responsible with my constituents’ hard-earned money.”
Upchurch also called a new commissioners’ district map adopted by the board as “gerrymandered.”
Alston said that last claim was completely unfounded.
“I talked to everyone,” Alston said.
He said he went to the Republicans on the Board of Commissioners and Republican state representatives and he made changes after talking with them. In the end, Upchurch was the only no vote on redistricting.
Alston added that he knew the final product had to get the approval of the Republican-led NC General Assembly, so he couldn’t make a map that favored the Democrats.
Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who’s one of two Republicans on the Board of Commissioners, said he applauds Upchurch.
“We’re glad to have him,” Conrad said.
Conrad said Upchurch seemed to be a free-thinking commissioner who tries to make the right call when he votes.
“I’m not totally surprised,” Conrad said of the move.
He said that, before it was announced, Upchurch had suggested the possibility to him in a sort of “what if” scenario.
Conrad also said he prefers a “big tent” Republican party such as the one former President Ronald Reagan favored which welcomes a wide variety of perspectives.