The Tucson city council has lost its lone Republican member.
Councilman Steve Kozachik renounced the Republican Party Friday and registered as a Democrat, saying the Republican party has “lurched too far to the right” in recent years.
“This party, whether it’s on immigration, women’s reproductive rights or the whole social panoply of issues . . . is just out of touch with this community,” Kozachik said.
It’s been clear since he ran for office in 2009 that his political disposition has always been to the center, Kozachik said.
In an open letter to Tucson residents, Kozachik said it has been impossible to ignore that over the past few years the local and state GOP leadership have been usurped “by a small, but vocal faction” that has left no place at the table for centrists.
“The Arizona Republican Party is an outlier,” Kozachik wrote. “I am not, and I see nothing that indicates that leadership is inclined to move in any direction but further away from what I believe are the values of this community.”
At the state GOP level “they throw out a guy like (State Senator) Steve Pierce and replace him with (Sen.) Andy Biggs up in the state legislature. They continually try to pass legislation aimed at Tucson and Pima County specifically. It’s just one thing after another,” Kozachik said.
Pima County Republicans have been incognito when it comes to important issues facing the city, he says.
Instead of being productive and working on meaningful solutions to problems, “what is heard from Party leadership is extreme partisan rhetoric that serves no productive role in crafting good public policy on the bread and butter issues with which the Mayor and Council deal,” Kozachik wrote.
Many on the right have claimed for months that Kozachik is an ersatz Republican.
Pima County GOP Chairman Carolyn Cox said she had no comment on Kozachik’s switch.
His critics most recently have jumped on Kozachik’s attempt to change state gun laws and his organization of a gun buyback earlier this week.
Kozachik said while the disputes over firearms may have been a tipping point, no single issue weighed heavier than another on his decision.
Even though he is joining the majority on the city council, Kozachik said it won’t mean he will abandon his assiduous study and common-sense approach to the issues.
“I have shown that I have committed to this seat on the council,” he wrote.
By changing parties, Kozachik hopes to make the council run more smoothly.
“I just think it will make a more productive working relationship on the council. It will eliminate one possible barrier between us,” Kozachik said. “Some of the other council members may feel less constrained by party politics as long as we’re on the same label. I don’t really care for labels. My goal is to make us a more cohesive working unit.”
He said he elected against registering as an independent because he’s doesn’t believe in fence-sitting.
“Independents are not a party. They are a group of people who are standing on the sidelines evaluating candidates and making their selections based on a candidates record,” Kozachik said. “That’s totally fair and they have a right to do that. So if I decide to run again, I’m happy to have Democrats, independents and Republicans judge me on my record too. But based on policy, not on label.”
Councilwoman Regina Romero said she welcomes Kozachik to the party with open arms, even if they haven’t seen eye to eye on every issue.
“The Democratic party has a wide tent. There are many different shades of blue,” Romero said. “It has become a much better option for moderate Republicans.”
Kozachik is the first sitting elected official in the city to switch parties since Councilwoman Carol West went from Democrat to independent in 2005.
He is the third sitting elected official to change parties in Pima County since 1991. Supervisor Ed Moore went from Democrat to Republican. Moore later ran as an independent in 1996, but did not change his party registration.
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.