SANTEE — Mayor Randy Voepel has taken the unusual step of changing political parties while in office, saying the Republican Party has become too "liberal" for him and that he identifies more with the tea party movement.
The three-term Santee mayor has shed his Republican affiliation after four decades with the party and become an independent.
"Basically the Republican Party has left me, I didn't leave it," he said. "I'm fed up with the taxes. Fed up with the earmarks. Fed up with the money-grubbing of both sides."
His move comes amid scattered reports of discontent with the local Republican Party and a desire among some to re-evaluate the party's performance around the state after last month's election. San Diego GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric said the local party had been so successful that he has received calls from other county GOP parties around the state asking for advice. He said enthusiasm levels were "through the roof" in last month's election and that the top 15 races on which the local party focused most of its attentions went its way.
In an interview, Voepel, 60, said his change of heart came after the selection of Sen. John McCain as the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, but records showed he re-registered this year. He said he hasn't been pleased with the local GOP either.
Some speculate the move will hurt Voepel in a right-leaning area such as East County, especially if he tries to run for higher office. Though such local races are nonpartisan, political parties often still end up playing a role. The 58,000-resident city of Santee is Republican territory, with nearly 45 percent of voters registered Republican, 28 percent Democrat, about 21 percent independent and the rest another party.
Like Voepel, though, voters countywide have gravitated in increasing numbers to the nonpartisan designation in recent years.
And voters in Santee already know Voepel. He pointed out that city voters backed him with nearly 78 percent of the vote in 2008, and he said he does not have plans to run for any higher office.
He's not alone in questioning the job the local GOP has done following last month's elections, though it's hard to tell how widespread the feeling is.
Republican political consultant John Dadian said he had heard discontent "a lot," and said "that sentiment is growing among Republican activists in the county."
Rick Powell, a Republican who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Democratic Assemblyman Marty Block in the 78th District last month, suggested that Republicans around the state evaluate what went right and what went wrong in the recent elections.
"I won't get into accusations about the leadership," he said. "What I am concerned about is what we could have done better to turn out the vote better, even having better candidates. ... Why did the Republicans not have the sense of urgency for change like the rest of the nation?"
Michael Crimmins, a Republican who lost to Democratic Rep. Susan Davis in the 53rd Congressional District in 2008 and again this year, has also been critical of the leadership at the San Diego County Republican Party.
"There are a lot of people that are very upset with the direction the county party has taken in actions, behaviors, the way they treat people," he said.
But Krvaric said that rather than criticizing the organization, people with ideas and energy should step forward and help.
He said that the party had seen more volunteers and more excitement than any time since George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, and said he planned to run for another term as party chairman this month.
As for Voepel, Krvaric said that there's always been a natural ebb and flow of people complaining the party is either too moderate or has been "hijacked by conservatives."
He said a couple of other high-profile candidates this year went the opposite direction, changing their registration from independent to Republican.