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Malcolm prefers switching party to fighting conscience

When Hernando County Commissioner Nancy Robinson decided to turn her back on the Democratic Party, the local Republican Party turned it into a photo opportunity.

Several of the GOP's high-profile members, including retired Sheriff Tom Mylander, state Rep. David Russell Jr., and County Commissioners Jeff Stabins and Rob Schenck met Robinson at the Supervisor of Elections Office and welcomed her with a big group hug.

Reporters, who had been notified via a news release earlier that day, witnessed the partisan pampering, and the next day's newspapers carried front-page stories about the contrived event.

In other words, Robinson's switcharoo made the splash Republican leaders intended.

But when another well-known elected official changed political parties about two months ago, there was no fanfare. No confetti. No headlines.

Not even a hug.

James Malcolm, who was re-elected Aug. 31 to his fourth four-year term on the School Board, left the Republican Party and registered as a Democrat in mid November. He didn't issue a statement or alert the media. He, along with his wife, Louise, simply gave a party official their voter registration forms, along with a check to help the Democratic Executive Committee pay rent on its office next to the pink dinosaur on U.S. 19.

Malcolm was first elected to the School Board in 1992. At that time, unlike now, a School Board seat was a partisan office and he was a Democrat. Prior to being re-elected in 1996, Malcolm made his own headline when he changed his voter registration to Republican. He said then he did so because he wanted to support presidential candidate Phil Gramm, R-Texas.

"It wasn't too long after I did it that I realized I had made a mistake," Malcolm said when I called to ask about his defection from the GOP.

Malcolm said he never did fit in with the Republicans. He has "never voted for anyone named Bush," and he disagrees with the party on "education, the environment and social issues."

But what "really sealed it for me," Malcolm said, was the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee's opposition to the School Board referendum last March that increased the sales tax by one-half percent. "That showed me just how out of touch they are with the community," he said, citing the desperate need for money to build schools and the majority of voters who approved the referendum.

"Ultimately," Malcolm said, "I did what I was most comfortable with. I was tired of fighting my conscience about it," he said.

The office Malcolm holds now is nonpartisan and he said that because he has "no plans to seek another elected office," he no longer is compelled to curry favor with the party.

That sort of straight talk apparently has served Malcolm well. He is the only politician I know who has been elected to the same office as a Democrat, a Republican and nonpartisan (twice!).

Malcolm said there has been almost no reaction to his decision to switch parties, but it's probably because "no one knows."

"I'm still on the mailing list of the First Hernando Republican Club, although I suspect I won't be after you write about this," he said.

And if Democrats are aware he switched allegiances, they haven't shown it, Malcolm said. "No one else has called to say "Welcome.' "

Correction

In Sunday's column I wrote that Monday's joint meeting of the County Commission, School Board and Brooksville council was the first for elected representatives of all three government entities. Turns out that is incorrect. According to Brooksville City Clerk Karen Phillips, the three boards and their staffs met together twice, on April 21 and Nov. 10, 1999, although not all elected officials were present, as they were at Monday's summit.

My apologies to readers for allowing those gatherings to slip my mind.

Reach Jeff Webb at webbsptimes.com, or (352) 754-6123.

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