McCracken judge-exec switches parties

The Jackson Purchase, Kentucky’s old “Gibraltar of Democracy,” is down to just two county judge-executives who are Democrats.

McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer is GOP-bound. He announced his switch on Monday, and plans to make the switch official later this week, possibly on Tuesday.

“It is an action that reflects my considered opinion as to which party is most closely aligned with my views and, I believe, the majority of McCracken County residents,” Clymer explained in a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell, Congressman James Comer, Gov. Matt Bevin, state Sen. Danny Carroll and state Rep. Randy Bridges.

All are Republicans; Carroll and Bridges are from Paducah.

The eight-county Purchase is as far west as Kentucky goes. The territory beyond the Tennessee River was famously and fiercely loyal to the party of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson for years. The region didn’t go Republican in a presidential election until 1972 when Richard Nixon carried all eight counties.

Republican presidential hopefuls have carried the region every time since 2000; Trump won in a landslide in 2016.

Every Purchase lawmaker in Frankfort is a Republican. So are many county officials; all three McCracken County commissioners belong to the GOP.

In his letter, Clymer said he planned to make the switch official, tentatively on Tuesday.

Clymer also wrote that he could “no longer work under the banner of a party that has abandoned the conservative beliefs that I hold dearly. The federal Democratic party leadership diverted from conservative beliefs long ago. I join in [Senate Majority] Leader McConnell’s disbelief that the party would be entertaining socialistic views as right for our country.”

Clymer added that on the state level Kentucky has “some good Democratic leaders with conservative viewpoints.” He didn’t name any but said that “Governor Bevin and Republicans appear to stand alone in a willingness to challenge special interest bodies in addressing the Kentucky pension crisis that is crippling our cities and counties.”

Reactions to Clymer’s switch

“I am extremely disappointed in Judge Clymer and any candidates that manipulate the system to get elected, and then betray the voters that supported them by switching parties,” said Jennifer Smith, McCracken County Democratic Party chair.

Last November, no Republican challenged Clymer, who won a four-year term. “I know that in Clymer’s case, he ran unopposed, so there probably weren’t any donations taken in,” Smith said. “But I feel like it’s fraud when a candidate does what he did. If he had switched parties before the election, we would have found a candidate to run against him.”

Nate Crawford, county Democratic vice chair, said he’s “disappointed to see Judge Clymer’s true colors revealed.”

Crawford, also a member of the state Democratic Party Central Executive Committee, added that Clymer was “happy to use his Democratic Party affiliation to get elected and scare off other contenders. Now that he’s gained power, we see what his beliefs really are.”

Clymer’s switch is drawing fire from other Purchase Democrats as well. “So this guy wants to be associated with Matt Bevin?” asked Tom Waldrop, party chair in Graves County, McCracken’s southern neighbor. “Good for him; now we know his real beliefs. I guess he is okay with the way Bevin is treating Jeanean Hampton?”

The two remaining Purchase Democratic judge-executives are Greg Terry, Carlisle County, and Jim Martin, Fulton County.

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Berry Craig of Arlington, Ky., is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of seven books and co-author of two more, all on Kentucky history. His latest book is Kentuckians and Pearl Harbor: Stories from the Day of Infamy, published last fall by South Limestone Books, an imprint of the University Press of Kentucky.