Perhaps the most famous political party flip-flopper is Donald Trump, the Republican president of the United States, who was once a Democrat (and twice a Republican, once an independent, and once a member of the Independence Party). When he changed his affiliation before his successful 2016 run for president, maybe he’d truly changed his mind. Or maybe – and more likely, given the cynical lens through which Trump seems to view the world – it was an opportunistic political strategy.
So it’s ironic that Steve McShane, a nine-year member of Salinas City Council and now a candidate for county supervisor, has just changed his party registration to Democratic for the first time, because, he says, Trump’s Republican party no longer reflects his values.
“My parents raised me when I was in the schoolyard not to be a bully. They also raised me to stand up when someone else is bullied,” McShane says.
McShane registered to vote at 18 with no party preference, then became a Republican during his college years at Cal Poly when Republican Pete Wilson was governor. He worked for then-Republican lawmaker Bruce McPherson’s Salinas district office (McPherson, now a Santa Cruz County supervisor, also quit the Republican party years ago).
Three years ago, McShane says he dropped his Republican registration in favor of no party preference, because of Trump.
Why switch parties now? One reason, he says is to ensure he can vote in the March 3 presidential primary. McShane also says it’s about the projects he wants to get done, specifically in environmental protection, arts, jobs, housing and public safety. “These are the issues that I’m passionate about,” he says. “Where are those solutions? They’re not in the Republican Party.”
Although McShane says it’s about the presidential primary and ideals, it’s hard not to see the timing as opportunistic as he campaigns for county supervisor, facing off against Alex Miller and Wendy Root Askew, both Democrats.
In Salinas’ District 3, where McShane has won three elections, 44 percent of voters are registered Democrats; 25 percent are Republicans; and 26 percent have no party preference, according to Monterey County Elections Department records. Compare that to the bigger district he’s now campaigning in – District 4, now occupied by Jane Parker, a left-leaning progressive who is retiring (and who Askew works for), and which includes Marina, Seaside and a swath of Fort Ord. There, 47 percent of voters are Democrats, shy of 20 percent are Republicans and 28 percent have no party preference. That 3-percent margin of Democrats could mean the election.
McShane is proud of the switch, announcing it with a press release and photos of himself filling out the paperwork.Maybe he truly has changed his mind, but it’s worth looking at McShane’s record against some of his purported goals and values today. He took a position against Measure Z, a ballot initiative that county voters passed in 2016 to ban fracking and expansion of the oil industry. Now he’s against the Trump administration’s proposed expansion of lands for oil extraction, and against fracking. In 2017, he voted against making Salinas a sanctuary city, but voted yes on a watered-down proclamation to make Salinas a “welcoming city” instead; now he calls increased ICE raids the “last straw.”
“Our president has gotten more extreme,” he says. “Separating families is absolutely against my moral beliefs. I was appalled there was a proposal to reopen offshore oil drilling.”
He has supported banning styrofoam and plastic bags in Salinas, but also said yes to sprawl instead of infill. Last year, he worked hard to make the point that CalPERS funds were not invested in assets like “abortion clinics.” He’s an active member at Compass Church, which in 2015 split from Presbyterian Church USA when the latter lifted a ban on ordaining gay clergy. Now, he says, “I am pro-choice, absolutely. And I am pro-LGBTQ.”
Both the City Council office McShane holds and the higher office he seeks are nonpartisan positions. And issues McShane is proud of – boosting community engagement, traffic safety, a blight ordinance – have nothing to do with either political party.