Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding officially declared himself a Republican on Thursday and accused his former party of endorsing flag burning, failing to acknowledge God and not supporting police.
Elected twice as a Democratic candidate, Wedding spoke to a large gathering of Republican officials and activists on the front lawn of American Patriot Group, a company led by major GOP donor Steve Chancellor.
Wedding is constitutionally limited to two terms as sheriff. His final term ends in 2022. He made no mention of future political plans in his speech. In an interview after his speech, he said he’s keeping political options open but has no specific intention at this time.
Wedding, after being praised by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch as a dedicated lawman who “exemplifies Republican principles and values,” began his speech by noticing the massive U.S. flag flapping in the breeze above him.
“Democrats want to burn that thing every day,” Wedding said. ” … I can’t tolerate that. Burning our flag? The symbol of our country, the greatest country in the world?”
Wedding then recognized his parish pastor in the crowd.
“The left wing, you can’t say God,” Wedding continued. “They can’t say God in the Pledge of Allegiance. What the hell is wrong with that? It’s ridiculous. I sit and watch this and say, how could I even be a part of idiots like that?”
Wedding went on: “I’m tired of seeing fires set in our streets. I’m tired of people defying God, our church, our police, our government and everything we stand for. You hard working people that have worked from the time you’re young until now to be successful individuals, and they want to get on you for being successful.
“I don’t believe in that. I believe most of my Republican friends are hard working individuals that believe in our country, and I believe in our country and and in Evansville, Indiana.”
Wedding praised Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, standing behind him, as well as Chancellor, who Wedding said supported his campaigns for sheriff despite being a Democratic candidate.
Wedding mentioned the civil unrest in major U.S. cities said defunding police “always seems to be a theme of the left-wing liberals.”
“I’m glad to be joining the Republican Party,” Wedding concluded. “I think we have a lot of work to do, including winning the presidential election.”
In an interview after his speech, Wedding was asked if his searing comments about Democrats applied to local Democratic officials and candidates he has endorsed in the past, and still endorses in some cases.
“I don’t believe the Democrats we have here in Evansville follow that lead or pursuit,” Wedding said. “We have some strong Democrats in Evansville and Vanderburgh County. I’ve supported them in the past and won’t turn my back on them in the future. There’s certain ones that have earned my trust and respect, and I won’t desert them because I’ve turned Republican. We do have some really good Democrat leaders in Vanderburgh County.”
Local Democrats react
The Vanderburgh County Democratic Party released a statement after Wedding’s official announcement.
“While we are disappointed with Dave Wedding’s decision to leave the Democratic party, we are more disappointed with the reasoning he provided the community for his choice,” the statement reads. “We are aware that there are many conversations regarding police reform on a national level. However, Sheriff Wedding knows that the Democratic majorities on the County Commissioners and City Council have been strongly and consistently supportive of local law enforcement. In contrast, he has always pointed out the Republican-controlled Vanderburgh County Council and Indiana State Legislature were responsible for the creation of budgetary restraints that made his job more difficult.
“His move to the Republican party after benefiting from years of Democratic support make his political opportunism all the more distasteful. Nevertheless, we as a party look forward to building on last year’s success and welcoming a new wave of fresh leadership this fall.”
Evansville City Councilwoman Missy Mosby, D-Second Ward, attended the announcement of Wedding’s party switch. Mosby said she came at Wedding’s invitation because the two have been friends many years.
“I decided to come because I fully support Dave Wedding,” said Mosby, who has been estranged from local Democratic leadership at times. “I think he’s a great man who does great things for Evansville. I completely understand his reasoning because he’s in public safety.”
Mosby said she remains a Democrat.
Beyond finishing his final term as sheriff, Wedding said he has no firm political plans but will consider opportunities to seek office as a Republican candidate.
He was asked specifically about the Indiana Senate seat held by Republican Jim Tomes. Wedding said he would not run for that office if Tomes seeks re-election in 2022.
Tomes, who attended Wedding’s announcement, said he has not made a decision about 2022. He represents Senate District 49, which includes western Vanderburgh County, southern Gibson County and all of Posey County.
“I would only consider that if he told me he was going to retire or vacate that seat. I would not challenge him,” Wedding said of Tomes. ” … I do enjoy working in and around Indianapolis. There’s a lot of things to get accomplished up there. So I would not mind finding my way somewhere around Indianapolis in the future.”
No comment from Chancellor
Chancellor is the leader of American Patriot Group, the parent company of AmeriQual Group, a supplier of field-ready meals to military personnel. He is the former CEO of Black Beauty Coal and a 2018 laureate in the Evansville Regional Business Hall of Fame.
Chancellor is known as a major political campaign donor, usually to Republican candidates. Big dollar events over the years at Chancellor’s Vanderburgh County home included a 2016 event for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
He’s also a big-game hunter who has traveled the world.
Winnecke and Crouch made brief comments at Wedding’s announcement. Chancellor stood alongside the officials but did not speak. When the event ended, Chancellor went back into his office.
Someone at the door said he was in a meeting and not available.
The outdoor announcement of Wedding’s party switch drew a large partisan gathering. Despite the pandemic and a statewide mask order by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, the vast majority of attendees didn’t wear masks and stood in close proximity.
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