Two African-American Democrats on Thursday announced that they were joining the Republican Party.
Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell and former state executive committee member Andre Walker said the Democratic Party had grown too liberal and they are finding a new home with the Republicans.
The state GOP touted Bell as the first black elected official in modern times in Georgia to leave the Democrats for the GOP. But that distinction belongs to former state Sen. Roy Allen of Savannah, who joined the Republican Party in 1994.
Bell was introduced as a Republican at a news conference Thursday at party headquarters.
“My district is pretty Republican as it is,” Bell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “My wife and I have been thinking about this for six months.”
He said they are both conservative “and the Democratic Party has been our home. The party had conservatives and liberals both in the party. [But] this election showed us the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is very, very strong. If your’e a conservative, it became more difficult to be in the Democratic Party.”
Bell, a former national president of the College Democrats of America, was a 2004 delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
Bell has two more years left on his term and said he was switching now to make his intentions known. He said he plans to run for re-election as a Republican.
Walker, who runs the political blog Georgia Unfiltered, resigned from the Democratic Party’s state executive committee. Walker was a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention and is a former president of College Democrats of Georgia.
“Since the first Democratic lawmaker bolted to the Republican Party, left-leaning activists have mocked and ridiculed those individuals as being self-serving people only looking for ways to remain in office,” Walker told the AJC. “But I’m not an elected official. I don’t hold public office. I’m not trying to protect my seat. I don’t have a seat to protect. I’m just a regular citizen with a healthy interest in the political process, and I’m joining the GOP because of ideology.”
Walker, who has been increasingly critical of the Democratic Party in recent weeks, said he looks “forward to convincing other people who look like me that it’s okay to vote Republican and support Republican candidates. It’s time for the black vote to be competitive again.”
But Democrats were critical of the decisions by Bell and Walker.
“Over a year ago at an event at the White House, Ashley Bell looked me in the eye, and told me that the rumors weren’t true – he wouldn’t switch parties,” said College Democrats of America alumni spokesman Frank Chi in a statement. “We need politicians who stand on principle, not opportunism. We’re disappointed in Ashley, but we’re not surprised. As the College Democrats Alumni Association fosters a new generation of principled leaders, we know that Ashley Bell will be our cautionary tale.”
Eric Gray, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia, was more succinct: “Andre Walker switching parties is news?”