It’s no secret that a big rift formed late last year between Guilford County Commissioner James Upchurch and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston when Upchurch announced suddenly that he was changing his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
According to Upchurch, Alston, a lifelong Democrat, has encouraged speakers at commissioners’ meetings to criticize him and Alston has been giving him the cold shoulder ever since.
“We haven’t spoken since,” Upchurch said recently.
At county commissioner meetings, some speakers from the floor have been critical of Upchurch, who said he was certain Alston had arranged for at least one speaker – a local NAACP leader – to rail against him at a county commissioners meeting.
During the “speakers from the floor” segment of commissioners meetings, as well as on Facebook forums, some area Democrats have argued that Upchurch pulled a bait and switch and stabbed his supporters in the back.
Upchurch said that, after a year of working under Alston, he was struck by the amount of unnecessary spending he saw by the Democrats – and also by Alston’s iron-fisted rule over other Democrats. He said the wasteful spending was one of the main reasons he switched his party affiliation to Republican.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners still maintains a solid 6-to-3 Democratic majority, but Alston,who sent out his own public statement the day after Upchurch’s statement announcing his party change and the reasons for it, clearly didn’t take kindly to the move.
Upchurch said that, in late January, when Alston spoke at a Boom Supersonic announcement at Piedmont Triad International Airport, he was surprised Alston even said his name when Alston was acknowledging the various county commissioners seated in the audience.
“I really thought he wasn’t going to call my name,” Upchurch said, noting the chilly relationship between the two men since the split.
Alston said Democrats across the county are legitimately upset at Upchurch because he billed himself as one type of commissioner, got elected, and then turned out to be someone else entirely, with a set of values in opposition to the values of those who elected him.
Alston said it was a huge slap in the face to all the Democrats who voted for Upchurch and worked to elect him. The chairman said no one needs encouragement from him to be critical of Upchurch.
“It’s something that’s never happened in the history of Guilford County,” Alston said of a sitting commissioner changing parties.
Alston added that, though he’s clearly displeased with Upchurch’s action, he still keeps Upchurch informed with emails the same way he does of the other two Republicans on the board – Commissioners Justin Conrad and Alan Perdue.
“I respect him as a commissioner,” Alston said. “I show him the same respect as other commissioners.”
Alston said that means that Upchurch is kept in the loop on board matters and is recognized at public events, but Alston added that’s now about where it ends.