CHESTERTOWN — While Democrats outnumber Republicans in Kent County by just shy of 1,000 voters, the GOP has picked up a new marquee party member.
Longtime Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian announced late last month that he has changed parties. The lifelong Democrat said in an interview Tuesday, Sept. 28 that he switched his voter registration to Republican.
With Fithian’s party change, all three members of the Kent County Commissioners are now Republicans.
While he may be changing parties, Fithian said he is not changing who he is. He said while he has long been a Democrat, he has been “reasonably conservative” over his 23 years and counting as a commissioner.
“I’m not changing Ronnie Fithian,” he said. “I’m not changing who I am. I’m not changing the votes I take.”
Now 70 years old, Fithian has been a Democrat since he first registered to vote at the age of 21.
“I don’t think it’s really me leaving the Democratic Party as much as I believe that the Democratic Party is leaving me. Over the years it’s become too far to the left for me on the national level and even on the state level,” Fithian said.
He said his concerns with state politics are aimed at the Democrat-led General Assembly, not Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. He said he supports Hogan and caught some flak for that when he paid for an ad endorsing the governor’s re-election in 2018.
When asked his thoughts on the far right of the Republican Party, such as those involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Fithian said he understands concerns about that. He considers himself a moderate Republican and thinks there is room for improvement when it comes to the extremes of both major parties.
Fithian said when he first signed up to run for commissioner in 1994, it was Democrat R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., the Kent County resident who rose to become speaker of the House of Delegates, who walked him into the local elections office.
He highlighted other Democrats who represented Kent County like Dels. Wheeler Baker and Ronald Guns.
“They were probably in their day, the strongest delegation in the entire state,” Fithian said. “And these people you could look at and say, ‘They are really for the working man.’ They legislated that way.”
He said it is hard to argue that the Democratic Party continues to support the working man. He called his decision to change party affiliation something of protest against that.
Tatiana Croissette, chair of the Kent County Republican Central Committee, has welcomed Fithian to the GOP. She said in a statement that there is a political realignment underway in the country, with the GOP becoming the party of the middle and working classes.
“The Republican policies of protecting American jobs and entire industries against the pressure of globalization have been noticed by the average American. Renegotiating trade deals enabling American industries to stay at home while remaining globally competitive has born fruit,” Croissette said. “Protecting entire segments of the economy, vital to the U.S. independence and security, such as agriculture and steel, is important to average patriotic Americans.”
She said Fithian is correct that the Democratic Party is leaving behind “a number of traditional, down-to-earth, middle class Americans.”
For Fithian, the final straw was an interview gubernatorial candidate and Comptroller Peter Franchot gave to The Star Democrat on his policy stances. Franchot, a Democrat, said he would phase out the wild oyster fishery if he is elected governor and shift the industry to aquaculture to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
The statements have drawn the ire of watermen and concerned community members including Fithian, a former waterman himself.
“Maryland’s economy and the livelihood of generations of families that work in the oyster industry rely on strong leadership that supports their way of life. Our main goal in life should be to learn to live and work together, not do away with one another,” Fithian wrote in an op-ed to the Kent County News responding to Franchot’s statements.
As of the end of September, the Kent County Board of Elections reported 6,207 registered Democrats in Kent County to 5,348 Republicans. There are 2,643 unaffiliated voters, 55 Libertarians, 24 Green Party members, three members of the Bread and Roses Party, two members of the Working Class Party and 72 voters listed as “other, no specific party.”
Fithian said as long as he is healthy, he probably will run for commissioner in next year’s election.
“I like being county commissioner. I think that’s where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “I like on any given Tuesday you can come in here and get one of your colleagues to agree with you and you can change things — you can make a difference.”
Is he concerned about the voter registration numbers when it comes to running on the minority party ticket?
“I think there’s a lot of people like me out there,” Fithian said. “Look, maybe I’m rolling the dice and if it doesn’t work out, I’ve had a good career. I just don’t like what I see.”