albert-jones_web.jpgThe lone Republican on the nine-member Broward County Commission says he is now joining the majority.

Broward County Commissioner Albert C. Jones this week said he has returned to the Democratic Party.
Jones made the decision on the heels of Gov. Charlie Crist’s announcement that he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent.

Crist appointed Jones to the seat in October 2009 after suspending former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, who has since been convicted on bribery and money laundering charges.

When filing papers to run for his District 9 seat in the November 2010 special election, Jones on April 1 listed his party affiliation as Republican.

“It’s not about why I decided to do it now, but why I decided to do it,” Jones told the South Florida Times.

“I made the decision because I wanted to lead.”

Jones’ official announcement, which was scheduled for the May 4 Broward County Commission meeting, was canceled.

According to Torey L. Alston, Jones’ chief of staff, the meeting was “not the right time” to make the announcement.

But Jones did speak to reporters after the meeting.

Alston said that “no press conferences are scheduled at this time.”

Jones told reporters that as he went throughout the district, which is predominantly black and 72 percent Democratic, he spoke with homeowners groups and residents, and attended many events.

And people, he said, always told him, “But you’re a Republican.”

In order to better align himself with this district, Jones said, “I had to make sure that we were on one accord. Me being Republican and the rest being Democrat, it just didn’t line up.”

Other Democrats running in the November special election are former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Carlton Moore, Lauderhill city commissioners Dale Holness and Margaret Bates, the Rev. Allen Jackson, and Willie F. Roberson Jr.

As an elected official 12 years ago, Jones, a former Dania Beach city commissioner, was previously a Democrat.

“I switched parties in 1998,” he said, “so this move is nothing strange.”

Jones also cited his frustration with Senate Bill 6 (SB 6), which would have linked teacher pay to student test scores, as one of the reasons he switched parties. Crist vetoed the measure, which had been approved in the Florida House and Senate, last month.

“I dedicated 40 years to education; my wife 38 years and my sister-in-law, 32 years. [My] immediate and extended [family] are in education. And to have something like that come out of Legislature, out of Tallahassee, I was disappointed,” Jones said.

Under SB 6, half of a teacher’s evaluation would have depended on the students’ learning gains. Those evaluations would determine teacher pay. Also under the bill, new teachers would have been hired under contract, with no chance of tenure.

The bill had strong support under Republican Party leadership, but some in the GOP joined the Democrats in opposition.

“To say that teachers should be paid based on the test scores of the students,” Jones said, “wholeheartedly, I’m against that.”

Jones commented briefly on Crist’s recent decision to leave the GOP, which gives Crist a much better chance of winning his race for the U.S. Senate against Republican favorite Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

“It’s a shame that there is no place for [Gov.] Charlie Crist in the Republican Party,” Jones said. “For him to move forward, he’s got to come out of the party.”

Jones said he believes that Crist switched parties because “that was the best way he could represent the people, and that’s what it’s all about.”

As public officials, Jones said, “we need to make decisions together and base them on the input of the people. I think that’s where he [Gov. Crist] is.”

Jones said he does not know how popular or unpopular the Republican Party in Florida is, “but certainly if they are not aligned with my interests, being the people, then they won’t be popular with me.”

And that, Jones said, “goes for Republicans or Democrats.”

Editor’s note: South Florida Times investigative reporter Elgin Jones contributed to this report.

Photo: Albert Jones