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06-25-05 Political flap unfolds

By Timothy Cox

  The Mercer County Democratic Party has responded to county Engineer Jim Wiechart's recent decision to switch political affiliations from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

  Democratic Chairman Mark Uhlenhake, in a letter to Wiechart this week, expressed disappointment that Wiechart notified the media of his party switch before talking with party officials. Uhlenhake also questioned whether Wiechart's political move would hurt his image of integrity with county voters.
  "Your switch of parties, Jim, has that familiar ring of opportunism," Uhlenhake wrote in the letter. "Voters recognize honesty and forthrightness in elected officials and changing your party will in no way raise these attributes. In fact, I believe that the sad reality is Jim, yours has just lowered."
  Wiechart said in last week's news release that his decision had nothing to do with local politics but was based on his disenchantment with the party's stances on state and national issues.
  "I cannot in good faith continue to be in a party with this significant liberal realignment," Wiechart said in his news release announcing his decision. The same line appeared in his follow-up letter to Uhlenhake.  Wiechart said individuals such as Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, Sen. Hillary Clinton and television talk show host Jerry Springer do not represent his values.
  Uhlenhake challenged Wiechart's assessment of the Democratic Party on the state and national levels. Republicans in state government have made a mess of things in Columbus, and in Washington, GOP members don't really pursue the legislation their core constituencies want to see, Uhlenhake said.
  "What direction is the Democratic Party of Ohio moving and how in any way could our party provide more hardships than what has been given to the citizens of the state by the recent Republican administrations?" Uhlenhake asked Wiechart in his letter.
  Uhlenhake acknowledged that many local Democrats are pro-life, or against abortion, which was one of the issues Wiechart brought up. The Republican-controlled Congress' actions speak louder than election-time rhetoric, Uhlenhake said.
  "It is not politically prudent for the President or Republican leaders in Congress to change the abortion status quo," Uhlenhake wrote. "Accordingly, they whip up the pro-life forces come election time and do absolutely nothing about the issue when it comes to passing legislation or rendering Supreme Court decisions."
  Uhlenhake also praised Dean and Clinton. He dismissed Springer as not really part of the party's hierarchy, calling his TV show "crass entertainment."
  In his letter to Uhlenhake that followed his media statement, Wiechart said he has struggled personally with the issue for at least a year.
  "Several years ago, I thought there could be a niche that a conservative such as myself could fit into. Unfortunately, there are just too many differences that are important to me," Wiechart wrote.
  The second half of his letter to Uhlenhake is the same as his media statement.
  Wiechart, 34, is a former assistant county engineer who was first elected to the top job in 2000 as a Democrat. He won re-election last year to a four-year term. He was unopposed in both races.


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