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Anti-Cop Rhetoric Forces 3 Virginia Sheriffs to Buck Democratic Party, Switch to Republican

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If there’s any state that’s getting bluer than a frostbitten toe, it’s Virginia.

Once a swing state, the Old Dominion now reliably goes Democratic in the presidential election, with George W. Bush being the last Republican to carry it back in 2004. The last Republican senator from the state, John Warner, retired in 2008. Both houses of the state legislature passed into Democratic hands during the 2019 off-year election, leading to a host of gun-grabbing reforms.

Yet quietly, over the course of the last year, the state has gained three Republican sheriffs — not because of elections, but because of defections. And all three came over because of anti-police rhetoric.

The latest to switch was Smyth County Sheriff Chip Shuler, who joined the GOP last month due to “defund the police“-style rhetoric supported by the Democrats.

According to WJHL-TV, Shuler was elected sheriff of the southwest Virginia county in 2015 and re-elected in 2019.

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His application to join the Republican Party was filed and approved on May 24.

“I am changing to the Republican Party because of the relentless attack on law enforcement by Democrats in Richmond and Washington,” Shuler said in a statement.

“My deputies work hard to serve and protect the citizens of Smyth County,” he said. “As sheriff, it has been difficult to watch my deputies try to move forward during this unprecedented assault on our profession.

“We (law enforcement) remain an honorable profession and should not be judged by the bad acts of a few. I have always been a conservative throughout my law enforcement career of 38 years.”

Adam Tolbert, head of the Smyth County Republican Party, welcomed the sheriff to the GOP.

“I congratulate Sheriff Shuler on taking this bold move to leave the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party,” Tolbert said, according to WJHL. “We are thrilled to have him as a member of the Republican Party in Smyth County.”

This came after Buchanan County Sheriff John McClanahan flipped from Democrat to Republican last September, announcing the decision in a post on the Facebook page of the Buchanan County Republican Party. He cited similar reasons.

“I have said it many times but the Democratic Party that we know today is no longer the party my grandfather was involved in,” McClanahan wrote.

“Currently the Democratic Party is going against everything I stand for, pushing for defunding the police and the taking away of safeguards that have been put in place for us.”

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He added that “Democratic leaders across the country have been ones that are pushing for bills that negatively affect Law Enforcement as well as other values I stand for.”

The party noted in the post that while “Sheriff McClanahan was elected as a Democrat, he has been a steadfast defender of conservative values and our Second Amendment rights. We are pleased to welcome him to the Republican Party and look forward to working with him and his family as we fight to re-elect President Trump and the Republican ticket this November and beyond.”

The trend was initiated by Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt, who announced his switch on July 13, 2020.

“After much prayer, thought and deliberation, I am giving my resignation for the Tazewell County Democratic Committee,” Hieatt said, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in nearby West Virginia.

“I appreciate the friendships and support I have had through the years by being affiliated with this party; however, I feel the Democratic Party’s interests, especially on the state and national levels, have continued to rapidly go in the opposite direction of the beliefs that my wife and I share.”

Hieatt gave a number of reasons for his decision, including state laws. However, he said he was particularly affected by a Father’s Day demonstration at the county courthouse with upside-down flags and “Defund the Police” signs.

“I’m not saying our locally elected Democratic officials are bad. What has upset me is on the state and national level,” the sheriff told supporters at a meeting. “I think our locally elected Democrats truly care for our people in Tazewell County, but the ones in the state and national level do not care about our citizens.

“The day after the election we were hit with several Democratic proposed laws to infringe on our gun rights that I, along with all our [Tazewell] Board of Supervisors, spoke out against. Along with several of my deputies, I attended a mass protest in Richmond because I believe in the right to bear arms and the right to be able to defend ourselves.”

Three sheriffs in one state is big news — particularly when you don’t see these kinds of defections to the Democratic Party. If there’s been any small-government Republican sheriff with libertarian leanings who heard the incessant Democrat drums of “defund the police” rhetoric and thought, “Well, that’s what I’ve been saying for years” and jumped ship, I haven’t heard of them. I doubt you’re going to hear about very many of them, either.

It’s almost as if those who get elected to protect and serve have an inkling about which party’s policies and rhetoric will protect and serve Americans best — particularly when a state’s going blue and these sheriffs are turning red.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture