Superintendent of Schools Sandra “Sam” Himmel, the last remaining Democrat in Citrus County partisan office since Jeff Dawsy’s retirement as sheriff two years ago, switched to the Republican Party on Tuesday.
Himmel, whose father Walt Connors was a Democratic giant in Citrus County when he served as clerk of courts before his retirement in 1988, completes a years-long decline by Democrats who have seen their voter registration numbers and representation in office plummet locally.
Himmel, a lifelong Democrat who has announced she will seek her fifth term in 2020, said the switch had nothing to do with trying to win another election.
“This is a personal deal,” Himmel, 64, said outside the Supervisor of Elections Office.
The tipping point, she said, is her belief that the Democratic Party is continuing to push late-term abortion.
“It’s crossing the line,” she said. “I haven’t heard any of the national Democrats stand up against it.”
Himmel’s switch may leave Citrus County without a Democrat in a partisan office since ... ever.
“We can’t think of a time when there wasn’t a Democrat in office,” Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill said. “Dawsy and Himmel were the last ones.”
There are two Democrats on the school board — Ginger Bryant and Thomas Kennedy. But that office is nonpartisan, as is the Mosquito Control Board, to which county Democratic Party State Committeeman Joe Adams was just elected in November.
Coincidentally, when Connors retired in 1988, his successor was Betty Strifler — the first Republican elected to a constitutional office in Citrus County.
Himmel said she spoke with some longtime Citrus County Democrats after making her decision.
“Joe and I talked. He was disappointed,” she said, referring to Adams.
Though her political success first on the school board and then as superintendent of schools came as a Democrat, Himmel also reached across to Republicans for support. She often attended the annual Republican Lincoln Day dinners and advertised in the dinner programs.
And, Himmel said, like the school board, superintendent of schools should not be a partisan job.
“We live in Citrus County. We’re one group of people,” she said. “Party affiliation has no impact on the decisions I make in the school system.”
Republican State Committeeman Mike Moberley, who was on hand to watch Himmel make the switch Tuesday morning, acknowledged the coup for Republicans in calling the last remaining partisan officeholder in Citrus County one of their own.
“We’re very happy,” he said.
Himmel said no one should expect any changes.
“Sam Himmel is Sam Himmel,” she said, “no matter what party affiliation she is.”