Calhoun County Commissioner Eli Henderson is a Democrat no more.
On Monday night, Henderson ended his affiliation with the Democratic Party and became a Republican. Henderson said he made the switch because he feels the Republican Party’s views are more closely aligned with his own.
“I go there way more than I go the Democratic way,” Henderson said. “The Democratic Party has left most of its roots behind and they’ve gone into a different trend that I don’t agree with.”
Henderson cited among the rifts between him and his former party the Democrats’ support of social programs, stance on defense spending and the state party’s reluctance to embrace his own long interest in establishing Civil War monuments.
“I’ve been getting a little flak from the Democratic Party for the things I do at Janney Furnace, relative to our history,” Henderson said. “I feel comfortable being in the Republican Party doing these types of things.”
The decision comes after about a year’s worth of talks with the local Republican Party, months of consideration and one long chat with Paul Bryant Jr., Henderson said. He said Bryant, son of the legendary University of Alabama football coach, teased him into the decision while visiting a Confederate site on Blue Mountain about two weeks ago.
“Two weeks ago he put the clincher in me when he was kidding me about being a Democrat,” Henderson said. “When he talks, you listen.”
Gene Howard, chairman of the Calhoun County Republican Party, said the organization had been courting Henderson for months. During that time, they had several discussions about philosophy, conservative stances, liberal views and “concern for the country,” Howard said.
The switch comes on the same night as Calhoun County school board member Mike Almaroad’s switch to the Republican Party. The pair’s decisions follow similar moves by a number of local officials, all former Democrats, who have switched over to the Republican Party in recent months.
That trend is one that is line with what’s happening across the state, said William Stewart, professor emeritus of political science atÊUniversityÊofÊAlabama.
“Alabamians in the majority certainly don’t fit what we think of as the Democrat model nationally, which is more liberal,” Stewart said. “I think more Alabamians are realizing they’re not conformable in the Democratic Party.”
That analysis echoed comments by both Henderson and Almaroad.
“The Republican Party seems to be more aligned with me than ever,” Almaroad said. “After a lot of prayer and thought I just thought that this is something I need to do.”
It’s not his first party switch. In 1988, Almaroad ran as a Republican. Six years later, after the other board members had become Democrats, he followed suit.
His switch back to the Republican ticket means that the board will once again be a one-party entity. Not one Democrat remains.
Sheila Gilbert, chairwoman of the Calhoun County Democratic Committee, said the losses are a notable blow for local Democrats, but one that is balanced, for her, with optimism.
“We just keep moving forward, we don’t get discouraged,” Gilbert said. “The pendulum swings all the time. It’s going to switch back at some time.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.