West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday at a rally with President Donald Trump he would switch parties to become a Republican.
Justice’s defection – leaving just 15 of 50 states with Democratic governors – may have surprised some, but North Carolina is familiar with party switchers. Many Democrats became Republicans as the parties’ platforms shifted in the second half of the 20th century, including Jesse Helms in 1970, two years before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Other Tar Heel politicians who switched parties include:
- Lauch Faircloth: Faircloth was a longtime Democrat who worked on the gubernatorial campaigns of Democrats W. Kerr Scott, Terry Sanford, Robert Scott and Jim Hunt, and ran unsuccessfully for governor himself in 1984. On Valentine’s Day, 1991, Faircloth switched parties to challenge Sanford for the U.S. Senate. “Here I am an avowed conservative, under the charade of a liberal Democratic Party,” he said in 1992. “At that point I knew that I had to make a change.” Faircloth was elected and served one term in the Senate before Democrat John Edwards unseated him in 1998.
- Walter Jones: Jones, of Farmville in Eastern North Carolina, came from a long line of Democrats. His father, also named Walter Jones, was a Democratic congressman for 26 years and Walter Jones Jr. grew up in the Democratic Party. Jones served in the N.C. House for 10 years as a Democrat. He ran for U.S. Congress in 1992 but lost to fellow Democrat Eva Clayton. He switched parties in 1994 and ran for Congress in North Carolina’s 3rd District. Jones was elected and still holds the position today.
- Henry McKoy: McKoy was an appointee of Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt and Republican Gov. Jim Martin. McKoy switched from Democrat to Republican in 1989, during the Martin administration. In 1994, McKoy won a state Senate seat to become the first African-American Republican elected to the N.C. Senate since Reconstruction. He lost his seat in the 1996 election and ran unsuccesfully in 2000 for state treasurer.
- Michael Decker: Decker, who served 10 terms in the N.C. House, was a Republican until the 2003-2004 session. The Republican Party would have had a majority in the House in that session, but Decker’s switch to the Democratic Party created a power-sharing arrangement between the two parties. Decker in 2004 switched back to the GOP but lost the election. After he left office, Decker helped bring down House Speaker Jim Black when he admitted to taking $50,000 from Black to switch parties and vote to keep the Democratic speaker in power. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
- Paul Tine: A Democrat from Kitty Hawk when he was elected to the N.C. House in 2012, Tine changed his political affiliation in 2015 from Democrat to unaffiliated. He said he hoped he would be able to do more for his district by caucusing with Republicans. Tine retired from the General Assembly instead of running for re-election in 2016.
- Chris Mintz: A financial adviser from Cary, Mintz switched to the Democratic Party in 2005 to run for the N.C. House but lost in the 2006 Democratic primary. He briefly ran for state treasurer before dropping out of the race. In 2009, Mintz pleaded guilty to embezzling $1 million from his clients and was sentenced to four years in prison.
- Don Frantz: Frantz is in his third term as a member of the Cary Town Council. Before running for re-election in 2015, he changed his political status from Republican to unaffiliated because he said he was “disgusted” with hyper-partisan politics – mostly on the national level.