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February 9, 2013

District Judge Chaney steps over to Republican Party

CULLMAN — One of the longest-serving elected officials in Cullman County has traded in his blue ties and pocket squares for red ones.

Presiding district judge Kim Chaney, who’s served as a Democrat ever since first being elected to the bench in 1992, announced to a room full of jubilant Republicans Saturday he had officially become one of them.

“I’ve always been pro-business, and a fiscal conservative,” Chaney told those gathered at Saturday’s breakfast meeting of the Cullman County Republican Party. “As the presiding district judge in Cullman County, I’ve worked for the past 20 years protecting children — born and unborn.

“The truth is, I’m a lifelong conservative. Today, after much thought and prayerful consideration, I’ve decided to join the Republican Party, because it is the political party that better represents my core values.”

There might understandably have been a fair amount of soul searching on Chaney’s part. His political career was formed during a time when Democratic Party membership was all but requisite for a successful bid for local office. But things have changed — not only for state Republicans, who’ve enjoyed phenomenal resurgence from the Deep-South voter backlash against the presidency of Barack Obama — but for local Democrats, who are finding it increasingly more difficult to reconcile predominant regional values with the party’s national platform.

“During the past few years, I’ve struggled to work within the framework of the national Democratic Party,” said Chaney. “Their expanding platform no longer represents my principles, or those held in my community.”

“Fine by us,” said local Republicans, who stood for an ovation at his announcement Saturday.

“I was very honored. Humbled. It’s very humbling, the support that I received when I switched over,” said Chaney afterward. “I was not really expecting that, and was a little surprised.”

The process of vetting Chaney — long regarded as a community-minded bridge builder who places people before politics — may have yielded one of the easiest executive committee meetings the local Republican leadership has had in a long time.

“Of course, we look at the core beliefs that an individual has. If you’re not a conservative and don’t meet our core values and prove that over the years, then we will have a problem with you coming over to the Republican side,” said party chairman Kenneth Cornelius.

“We went through the interview process, and discussed it before the executive committee, and we talked about how judge Chaney has demonstrated his conservative values in the past, as well as into the present. And it was pretty much 100 percent agreement to welcome him into the Cullman County Republican Party. I know that I am elated and proud to call judge Kim Chaney a Republican now.”

While Chaney said the decision to switch parties was ultimately an easy one, it wasn’t one he took lightly. He’s always had close friends in both parties, and Chaney stressed that his move to the GOP doesn’t reflect an acrimonious spirit towards local Democrats. Rather, it reflects his growing belief that the party he once knew as an aspiring candidate has, over two decades, changed beyond recognition.

“I suspect my decision will hit some local Democrats hard,” Chaney said. “I share their frustration, because I truly feel like I’m not leaving the Democrat Party — it has already left me. My personal relationships and friendships have not changed, nor has my commitment to help the people of Cullman County.”

With Chaney’s move to the GOP, only one Democrat — Cullman County School Board district 6 representative Randy Hasenbein — remains in any locally-elected office, either in Cullman County or Montgomery. The local Democratic party fielded only one candidate, an incumbent, for last November’s general election, and lost that seat to a Republican challenger.

Attempts to reach Cullman County Democratic Party chair Ronald Dillashaw by phone were not successful Saturday evening.

* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

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