Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, who has been a Republican for 45 years and has been elected mayor four times as a Republican, has left the party.
Jones announced Friday that he has switched his party registration to “unaffiliated.”
He pointed to multiple factors, specifically the social conservative bent of the West Virginia House of Delegates and the rise of Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee.
“For the first time in my life, I cannot support the Republican nominee for president,” Jones said, although he described himself as “not a Trump hater.”
He also cited “the obsession of the West Virginia House of Delegates’ leadership with the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Republicans said that bill, which failed in the state Senate, was necessary to protect religious liberties, but opponents derided it as a thinly veiled rationale to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
“The fact that the House speaker came down to the floor to talk, not about the budget which is in crisis, he came down to talk about RFRA,” Jones said. “I’m basically a city guy, and I believe [in] live and let live and stay out of each other’s bedroom.”
Jones said he had decided before his party switch to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, for president.
“A whole lot of things make me uncomfortable about partisan politics, and I do not want to be identified with the political partisanship that is shaping so much of the debates nationally and in West Virginia,” Jones said. “I plan to complete my current term, and have no plans to run for any office ever again. I am not trying to pick a fight with anyone and, in fact, I am proud about how we’ve made so much progress in Charleston, where partisan politics has been non-existent in the 13-plus years I’ve been mayor.”
Jones has never been a favorite of more conservative Republicans, who point to his position on social issues and the city’s “user fee,” a $2-per-week tax on people employed in the city, as evidence that he is too liberal.
He fended off a conservative Republican challenger in last year’s mayoral primary.
Jones has been an active supporter and donor to Republican state Senate President Bill Cole’s gubernatorial campaign.
That support is illustrative of the deep divides that Trump has opened in the Republican Party.
Cole has wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s campaign, appearing with him on stage in Charleston and declaring “I stand with Donald Trump” on the night of West Virginia’s May primary election.
Jones said he first registered as a Republican in 1971 and has won 12 primary and general elections, all as a Republican, since 1984.
He changed his registration at the Kanawha County Clerk’s Office on Thursday, he said.