Cumberland County commissioner Gary Eichelberger announced that he has left the Republican Party and changed his affiliation to independent.
The Sentinel reports that ongoing differences with current Cumberland County GOP chairman Lou Capozzi and committee leadership caused the six-term commissioner to make the change.
“This pains me greatly,” he wrote in an email Saturday to newspaper. “However, party leadership in [the] county has abandoned cornerstone Republican principles and has repeatedly and increasingly demonstrated overt hostility toward authentic conservatives, especially in its vicious opposition to my successful policies of smaller government and pro-taxpayer protections.
“I came to office as an outsider, not chosen by party bosses,” he wrote. “Despite great success over the years in delivering on our promises in county government, including nine straight years of no property tax increases, I was again targeted for defeat by the county’s Republican Committee, just as it had in each of the five prior elections.”
Eichelberger finished third in the November general election, finishing behind Republican Kelly Neiderer and Democrat Jean Foschi. He edged GOP challenger John Matthew Smith by 1,739 votes for the third spot.
Although the win allowed the GOP to maintain a majority on the board that it has had since 1987, there is little love between the Republican candidates who have sparred frequently as county officeholders in the past.
Opponents of the 62-year-old Eichelberger say he is difficult to work with, prone to bullying and creates a toxic work environment for county staff that has, at times, cost the county taxpayers extra money.
In his email, Eichelberger said he registered himself as a conservative to ensure there is a conservative voice on the new board of commissioners, adding that the Republican committee no longer welcomes or supports authentic conservatives or their policies. He said he is researching the independent Pennsylvania Conservative Party as a registration option.
“My hope is to someday return to the Republican Party, but only after its members police their ranks by purging the current band of charlatans, commit to support for core conservative fiscal practices and stop waging war on conservative candidates,” Eichelberger said. “The change of registration represents a loss of [the] Republican majority for the county board of commissioners.”