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Former Rep. Jim Kolbe says he left Republican Party 18 months ago

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Former Rep. Jim Kolbe says he left Republican Party 18 months ago

Ex-congressman represented Southern Az for 22 years

  • Kolbe in 2017.
    April Brady/Project on Middle East DemocracyKolbe in 2017.

Jim Kolbe, a Republican who represented Southern Arizona in Congress for 22 years, confirmed Friday that he left the GOP — in 2018.

"I've told people but I didn't make a public announcement," Kolbe said Friday.

The Pima County Recorder's Office confirmed Kolbe changed his registration to Party Not Designated in September 2018.

"I thought the Republican Party had veered off in a direction that doesn't represent the values of the past — fiscal responsibility, strong national defense, free and open trade and a respect for human rights. I think they've lost their bearing," he said.

Kolbe said he contributes to Republicans and will continue to support many of them in the future.

"I didn't change any of my views," he said.

Kolbe wouldn't say whether President Trump played into the decision.

"I've been thinking about it for the last few years," he said. "Since the last presidential election, it made more sense for me to register as an independent to support some of the candidates whose views I agree with."

"I think the driving force is the fact that the Republican Party has changed its directions, its values — it lost values that I thought were important, that I thought were the bedrock of the Republican Party," he said.

Kolbe, 77, represented Southern Arizona in the House from 1985-2007, after three terms in the state Legislature. He currently is part of a think tank and does consulting.

GOP reaction

David Eppihimer, chair of the Pima County Republican Party, said he was unaware of Kolbe's decision to leave the party.

"If that's the way he feels, obviously I respect his decision to do that. Seems like a modest move on his part in that he says he'd still be voting for many Republicans," he said.

Eppihimer disagreed that the party has stepped away from its roots.

"I don't think that's true," he said. "I think the party is still as dedicated to principles that we've always been aligned with and respect," including personal freedom and personal responsibility.

Eppihimer said he didn't want to assume that the president was the reason for Kolbe's decision, but said, "President Trump is certainly a galvanizing force. We think he has galvanized the party as no president has before."

"We'll miss him," he said of Kolbe. "He was a great representative all the time he was in the House."

For Arizona Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who served with Kolbe, said life after Congress presents certain challenges.

"When you leave office you take a look at where you are, you take personal inventory. Obviously, he does a lot of lobbying in Washington and it might be more advantageous for him to be more neutral," Hayworth said.

"Are there changes (in the party), certainly," Hayworth said, "I remain a Republican, and I'm probably more conservative."

Others have moved

Two active members of Congress have made headlines over the past year with similar decisions.

Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican serving in the House, became an independent in July after he was targeted by Trump and party leaders over his positions.

"I've become disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it," he wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece.

The five-term congressman was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave and plans to run for his seat this year as an independent.

Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey left the party and joined the Republicans in December after the House voted to impeach Trump. Nearly his entire congressional staff resigned after his decision.

"I believe that this is just a better fit for me," Van Drew said during a White House visit in December.

Next for Kolbe

Nearly 18 months after his decision, "I'm feeling fine with it," Kolbe said. "It (2020) will be the first primary that I'm not registered as a Republican."

He said he has told people of his decision but was routinely identified as a Republican in media reports in 2019. He said his intention was never to make a point.

"If I were trying to send a big message I'd have made a big public announcement," he said. "I was just trying to adhere to my own principles."

Would he come back to the Republican Party?

"That's what I'm hoping, I hope the party returns to its basic principles."

This report was first published by the Green Valley News.

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