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Longtime Lawrence sheriff switches party allegiance

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, Joe Nosef (from left), welcomes Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames to the Republican Party. He is joined in the welcome by Sen. Sally Doty, Chairman of the Lincoln County Republican Party David Penny and Congressional Rep. Gregg Harper. The sheriff, a Democrat for 28 years, made the announcement official at the Lawrence County courthouse Thursday afternoon.

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, Joe Nosef (from left), welcomes Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames to the Republican Party. He is joined in the welcome by Sen. Sally Doty, Chairman of the Lincoln County Republican Party David Penny and Congressional Rep. Gregg Harper. The sheriff, a Democrat for 28 years, made the announcement official at the Lawrence County courthouse Thursday afternoon.

MONTICELLO – I am a Christian. I own a gun. I am a Republican.

These self-proclaimed precepts of longtime Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames converged together as one in an official jump to the other side of the political aisle Thursday.

Forgoing more than 28 years of service as a Democrat, Thames says he was recently swayed to the other side of the aisle and “can no longer support the direction the party is going” at a press conference held Thursday at the Lawrence County Courthouse.

“I can no longer run under the umbrella of the Democratic Party with the views nationally of its leadership,” Thames said during a short speech.

Prominent members of the Republican Party were on hand – including District 39 Sen. Sally Doty of Brookhaven, and openly welcomed Thames into the fold.

“Now, we are looking forward to the sheriff perhaps recruiting other Democrats to our side in the next election cycle,” said Lincoln County Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, David Penny.

The recent switching of parties comes as little surprise from both sides of the political aisle.

“This is by no means a surprise. It’s been a long time coming,” said Rep. Bob Evans.

Evans, the Democrat representative of District 91 that includes Lawrence County, summarizes Thames switch as “truth in packaging.”

“To anyone that has ever known the sheriff, there’s never been a question where he stood politically. The only question is why has it taken this long?”

Thames faces no significant political challenge for re-election in Lawrence County as sheriff, a point expanded upon by Third Congressional District Republican Rep. Gregg Harper.

“Joel doesn’t need the Republican label to be re-elected. That’s what makes this decision so sincere. He’s simply admitting what he has been all along,” said Harper.

Thames mentioned numerous conservative buzzwords at Thursday’s press conference including “sanctity of life,” “traditional marriage” and “right to bear arms.”

In July, the sheriff was an outspoken opponent of an injunction imposed by Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd over Mississippi’s open-carry gun law. Then, Thames said he would not recognize the injunction and promised that other sheriffs would not either. House Bill 2 would allow people without permits to carry firearms as long as they are within sight. In August, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the bill.

“I was taught at an early age of my Second Amendment right to bear arms allowing me to enjoy the pleasures of hunting and to be able to protect my family,” said Thames.

Earlier in the day, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant called Thames to congratulate the sheriff on his decision, mentioned Harper.

“He’s coming home to where he belongs,” said Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols.

Also at Sheriff Thames announcement, representative Harper called Senator Doty of Brookhaven “a rising star” and one of the more promising faces of the GOP moving forward.