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Denouncing partisanship, Weldon leaves GOP

October 01, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr. gives statement on party affiliation change

FREDERICK, Md. -- Citing frustration with party politics, Maryland Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr. cut his Republican ties Tuesday and changed his voter registration to "unaffiliated."

"The climate in Annapolis is such that accumulating partisan political power has replaced common-sense thoughtful discussions about the implications of our policy decisions," Weldon said, reading a statement in front of Frederick City Hall.

He said he's not sure how voters and other legislators will react, but he thinks shedding the party lets him focus more on issues like health care.

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Weldon represents Subdistrict 3B, which is mostly in Frederick County but includes the southern tip of Washington County.

His change does little to the power balance in Annapolis, where Democrats will outnumber Republicans 33-14 in the Senate and 104-36 in the House.

Weldon, the chairman of Frederick County's delegation, will be the only delegate or senator not part of a major political party.

Weldon is halfway through his second four-year term. He announced in February he won't run again in 2010.

His new independence was met with a mix of regret, skepticism and admiration within the Washington County delegation, which had one Democrat and seven Republicans until Tuesday.

"Rick was a very important part of our leadership team and our caucus, and I'm sad to see him go," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, the House's minority whip, or No. 2 Republican.

But he said he disagrees with Weldon's assertion that party affiliation supersedes progress.

Shank said the Republican caucus' collective efforts challenge the ruling Democrats.

"There are times when the far left that is running this state attempts to push their agenda on my constituents, and that's where partisanship is necessary," Shank said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, called Weldon's independent stance "courageous."

"I think he's making a statement to the Republican Party that he can work better with the party off his back," said Donoghue, who serves on the Health and Government Operations Committee with Weldon.

Weldon said he couldn't become a Democrat because of differences on key issues, such as tax increases, which he opposes.

Weldon, the CEO and executive director of the United Way of Frederick County, was criticized within his party for voting for Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan for a slots referendum.

He said he also bucked his party by voting for the proposed state budget.

For years, the GOP has fought for slots. Shank said the caucus' current opposition is not to the concept, but to O'Malley's plan.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said he understands Weldon's frustration with partisanship, but he thinks there is room for differing views within the GOP.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said Weldon is well respected in Annapolis, no matter his affiliation, and might not gain much with his move.

"I just hate to see him leave the party," he said.

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