On Monday, Amerson will meet with the executive committee of the Calhoun County Republican Party, which will vote on whether to accept Amerson as a party member.
“I’ve been approached by a number of different people over the years who’ve asked me to join the Republican Party,” Amerson said. “Over the last two years I’ve seen a steady change in the Democratic Party that’s been stressful and frustrating.”
Amerson said he’s had a hard time reconciling his own personal conservative beliefs with the “national speak” of the Democratic Party. He said in particular a softened stance from the party on drug-related crimes and a move away from more spiritual and faith-based matters has driven him away from the party.
“It wasn’t some blinding light moment,” Amerson said on the reason to switch parties. “It was just looking at the list of reasons and saying, ‘Why am I not a Republican?’”
Amerson was first elected sheriff in 1994. He said at the time, most Democrats serving in Alabama were Southern Baptists, like himself, and had more conservative views, but in the last several years the Republican Party has become the more conservative party at a national level.
Gene Howard, chairman of the Calhoun County Republican Party, said the sheriff approached him in July about making the switch, but a new policy adopted in 2011 stipulates the executive committee of the county party must vote to accept membership. Amerson will be the first Calhoun County candidate to go through the process.
In 2011, a number of local Democrats switched parties, including then-Circuit Clerk Ted Hooks, former County Commissioner Eli Henderson, Probate Judge Alice Martin, License Commissioner Barry Robertson, Coroner Pat Brown and Circuit Judge Brian Howell.
Amerson is currently one of only three elected Democrats serving in Calhoun County, alongside Revenue Commissioner Karen Roper and County Commissioner Rudy Abbott.
Sheila Gilbert, chairwoman of the Calhoun County Democratic Party, said Amerson had not informed her of the switch until Friday. She said she was blindsided by the decision.
“We took Larry at his word that he’d always be a Democrat,” Gilbert said. “We’re shocked.”
Gilbert said she had seen the writing on the wall with previous defectors, including Eli Henderson, who she described as “always coloring outside the lines.” She said Wednesday, however, she’d be “surprised” to find out rumors of Amerson leaving the party were true.
“I don’t know what his motivations or reasons are,” Gilbert said. “Somehow his principles must have been compromised, but we’ll carry on with or without him.”
Amerson said Friday he kept his promise to finish out his current term, which began in 2010, as a Democrat.
“I said I’d serve as a Democrat,” he said. “I didn’t switch flags midstream.”
Karen Roper, Calhoun County’s revenue commissioner, said Friday she was unaware of Amerson’s plans to switch parties, but said it won’t change her mind on seeking re-election next year as a Democrat.
“I guess more people vote Republican,” said Roper on Amerson’s switch. “It just depends on how die-hard you are for your party.”
Howard said the massive shift of local officials from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party comes down to conservatism, which he said is the defining characteristic of the party in the state and throughout the South.
“They don’t have a home,” Howard said of conservative Democrats. “They’re just like us. They’re discouraged and disappointed about the political direction of the country.”
Eli Henderson, who now serves as Calhoun County circuit clerk, said he had spoken several times with Amerson about running as a Republican.
“I always said he’d make a good Republican,” Henderson said. “I’ve talked to him a lot over the year, and me and him think a lot alike about how we think things should work and what we’d like to see done.”
Amerson said his shift in political parties won’t have an effect on how he runs the Sheriff’s Office.
“Our principle is equal justice under the law, and I absolutely believe that,” Amerson said. “Our job is to deal with criminals and protect the community, and I’m proud of the way we’ve done that.”
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.