JACKSON - A sheriff in central Mississippi said this week he's switching from Democrat to Republican because of President Barack Obama's support of same-sex marriage.
During a Wednesday news conference at the state Republican headquarters in Jackson, Leake County Sheriff Greg Waggoner said he has run as a Democrat since 1999 but voted for Republicans for president and governor. He said he has nothing against local Democrats, but he decided to switch parties after Obama and Vice President Joe Biden recently each said they support same-sex marriage.
"In the past few years, as we have heard and as we know, the Democratic Party has taken an extreme left turn - and the things that have come out the last few weeks when our national Democratic leaders have endorsed same-sex marriage," Waggoner said. "I'm Christian, and my first allegiance is to Jesus Christ. There comes a time when you have to stand on what you believe in. And I can no longer have any connection with the Democratic Party if that's the route that they're going to take."
Several people said "Amen" as Waggoner spoke. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann were among those who applauded the sheriff's statement.
Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who's seeking re-election this year, said after the news conference that he agreed with Waggoner's criticism of Obama on same-sex marriage.
"I think that the sheriff today represented grassroots America in what he said," Wicker said.
State Republican Party chairman Joe Nosef announced during the news conference that Waggoner and Newton County Sheriff Jackie Knight are among seven local officials switching to the GOP. The others were a justice court judge and a constable from Jones County and the coroner, a supervisor and a justice court judge from Leake County.
Republicans control both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature and hold seven of eight statewide offices, both U.S. Senate seats and three of four U.S. House seats. But Democrats continue to control many local offices, including sheriffs and county supervisors.
"As we build the Republican Party, continue to build the Republican brand, it's not going to be from the Statehouse down, but from the courthouse up," Reeves said.
Rickey Cole, executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Party, responded that he welcomes all Democrats to call the party office at any time with any concerns or questions about the direction of the party. He also said the party switchers should resign from office and seek re-election under the new party label.