Stapler, a Ranburne resident, qualified to run as a Republican candidate for the commission’s District 3 seat on Feb. 4. It’s not the first time he’s run for the office, but it is the first time he’s done so as a Republican.
Stapler, 66, ran for the seat in 2010 as a Democrat against the now-incumbent Commissioner Benji Langley. He lost that election, but garnered more than 31 percent of the vote. (Langley will face fellow Republican Terry Hendrix in the next party primary for the district seat. No Democrat has signed up to represent opposition.)
A year later, Stapler decided that the Democratic Party no longer suited him, he said.
“Things have changed in our country and our county,” Stapler said. “It was going in the wrong direction.”
But he didn’t approach the local Republican Party until Jan. 31, when he called party chairman Tim Sprayberry and told him he wanted to run on the Republican ticket. Sprayberry asked him to come to the party meeting on Feb. 4, a Tuesday, and Stapler qualified then.
That Saturday, the day after qualifying ended, Sprayberry called Stapler to tell him his qualification was being challenged, Stapler said.
In 2000, Cleburne County Probate Judge Ryan Robertson became the first Republican elected in the county since the 1920s. Like much of the state at that time, the Democratic Party was the dominant political force in the county. When he was running for office, Robertson often heard from voters that he didn’t have a chance as a Republican, he said. But Robertson won on his own merits, he said.
Today, things have changed. Republicans are the majority in the state Legislature, and they hold the governor’s seat and many local seats as voters have changed their political preference. Elected Democrats have also changed parties, saying the party no longer represents their beliefs. But others believe their motives may be more about votes than ideologies.
Sprayberry said the county has had several Democrats defect to the Republican Party in the last five or six years; the last was District Judge Glea Sarrell who became a Republican in 2013, he said.
“We’re becoming more and more of a one-party state,” Sprayberry said. “The wave is moving to the right and so are the candidates who want to get elected.”
But Sprayberry also believes some of those candidates aren’t loyal to their new party, he said.
Robertson believes the party needs to protect itself to stay true to what it stands for, he said. So when Stapler qualified to run as a Republican without having approached the party requesting membership, Robertson challenged him.
“It was the principle of it,” Robertson said. “There have been several who have switched parties. But they all came before the board ... they all came a year or two ago.”
Stapler hasn’t made any effort to join the party, Robertson said. He hasn’t come to the party meetings or fundraisers, Robertson said.
But Stapler said he didn’t go to Democratic Party meetings either. He didn’t know he was supposed to come, he said.
Since Stapler was requesting to run for a local office, the local Republican Party had the right to hear the challenge, Sprayberry said.
The local party by-laws specify that the organization has the right to reject membership or access to its ballot to people “who have shown significant participation in the politics and/or affairs of another party.” Those people can apply for membership or access to the ballot with a two-thirds majority vote by the local candidate committee which hears the challenges. The committee heard the challenge Tuesday and denied Stapler a spot on the Republican ticket. Sprayberry said the committee, which he chairs, found that Stapler significantly violated its by-laws.
Robertson declined to give the final vote and Stapler said he was asked to leave before the vote.
Stapler has the right to run as an independent candidate in the November election, Stapler said. He said he is exploring that option.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.