Charleston County Councilman Elliott Summey plans to switch political parties, a move his father, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, made more than two decades ago.
Summey, 34, said he plans to officially announce his switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party at an 11 a.m. press conference Friday in the lobby of the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building at 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston. Summey, who landed his council seat as a North Charleston Democrat in 2008, expects many Republican supporters to attend.
His decision has raised questions in political circles about the possibility that he's planning a run for a higher-level office in the future.
"I haven't ruled anything out," said Summey, senior vice president for real estate developer Weber USA. But, he said, he intends to seek re-election to his County Council seat this year. "I've got a real burning in my belly for public service."
The party change is something he has been considering for the past few years, he said. He thinks his values -- such as fiscal conservatism and promoting economic development -- are more in line with the Republican Party. But it was the Democratic Party's response to the National Labor Relations Board's lawsuit against Boeing's nonunion plant in North Charleston that solidified his decision.
The Boeing plant will bring unprecedented job growth and economic development to the region, Summey said. "The NLRB slapped us in the face with what they tried to do with the Boeing plant, and the Democratic Party stood behind the NLRB," he said.
Summey said his father in 1978 became a Democratic appointee to the Charleston Election Commission. But Keith Summey ran as a Republican for a Charleston County Council seat in 1988 and has since been a member of that party.
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said he will be standing with Summey on Friday. The Republican Party is a better fit for Summey "because he has a business background and the philosophy of a leaner government," Limehouse said.
Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett said she's not aware of a local politician making a similar party change since "the Ronald Reagan days." But she's not surprised by Summey's decision.
"Charleston is famous for its conservative brand of Democrat," she said. And many of those Democrats seem to be growing tired of "big government that wants to control everybody's life day in and day out."
State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said he likes Summey and thinks he will serve his constituents no matter his party affiliation. But Ford doubts Summey can be re-elected as a Republican.
Summey said about half of the voters in his district are Democrats and half are Republicans.
Ford said many Democrats, especially black Democrats, would be reluctant to vote for a Republican because they don't think the Republican Party is responsive to the needs of lower-income residents. Black voters, who helped elect Summey, "could feel like he's stabbing them in the back," Ford said. And he predicted that "a lot of people, black and white, will run against him."
County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, a Democrat from North Charleston, said he's sad to see Summey make the change because Summey is "an up-and-rising star." But he doesn't think the change will affect anything on County Council. "On council, we're too close to the people to be partisan," Pryor said.
Less than 1 percent of the issues and services that come before council are partisan in nature, he said. "If someone needs EMS or police, they don't care what party you are. They just want help."