Lee County Commissioner Kevin Dodson switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic on Monday, solidifying the Democratic Party’s control of the board and leaving Commissioner Andre Knecht its lone Republican.
In a statement released to local media Monday, Dodson said he’s voted with both Republicans and Democrats, and will continue to do so on an issue by issue basis.
“Elected officials serve the people, not party leaders,” the statement read. “I’ve had positive discussions with members of the Lee County Democratic Party, and I’ve found it to be an organization which accepts in good faith anyone who wants to serve this community.”
Dodson, a member of the Siler City Police Department and the owner of K&L Gun Sales in Tramway, first ran for office in 2014 for a district seat on the board of commissioners now held by Republican-turned-Democrat Larry “Doc” Oldham. It was on his second attempt in 2016 that he was elected, joining a board consisting of five Democrats and two Republicans.
Since joining that board, he’s voted with the Democratic majority on a number of issues, including economic development and the Sanford Area Growth Alliance (SAGA), a fact noted by the Lee County Democratic Party in a press release.
Dodson’s defection is a blow to the Lee County Republican Party, which under the leadership of new Chairman Jim Womack recently did not field a single candidate (subscription required) for the upcoming 2017 Sanford municipal elections. Dodson’s switch means that the GOP would need to sweep county elections next year – seats held by Republican Knecht and Democrats Oldham, Robert Reives Sr., and Tim Sloan will be on the ballot – to regain control of the board. Republicans haven’t fielded a candidate against Reives Sr. in at least 15 years, if ever.
Lee County now has just seven Republican office holders – Knecht, Sanford City Councilman Charles Taylor, Sheriff Tracy Carter, state Rep. John Sauls, and school board Republicans Stephen Coble, Sherry Lynn Womack and Sandra Bowen – many of whom could conceivably make their own claim to local Republican. Womack, who upon becoming the party’s chairman in the spring immediately announced what would ultimately be a losing campaign for the chairmanship of the state GOP. The Democrats have 17. (Charitably, the local GOP could claim 8 Republicans if Sen. Ron Rabin, who lives in Harnett County, is included).
It’s a far cry from just seven years ago, when Republicans during a national wave year elected friend of the Rant Mike Stone to the state legislature and Jim Womack to the board of commissioners. Two years later, Republicans captured control of the board of commissioners, and then fielded candidates for city-wide and district Sanford council seats a year later.
Local Republicans changing sides hasn’t been uncommon in recent years. Another fact touted by county Democrats in their press release is that Dodson is the fifth office holder in four years to leave the Republican Party and become a Democrat. Oldham, who at the end of his first term on the board of was defeated by Womack-aligned Republicans in the 2012 primary, became a Democrat and won a seat in 2014. Former school board member Tamara Brogan, as well as current members Mark Akinosho and Lynn Smith became Democrats after Stone-sponsored legislation made that body partisan. Commissioner Cameron Sharpe became a Democrat in 2016 before making his first run for that board.