Supervisor Ferris M. Belman Sr., an independent known for speaking his mind and holding his ground, has taken a political right turn and joined the Republican Party.
"I have to say the Republican Party philosophy is much like what I believe in," Belman said, explaining his surprising decision. Belman has been an independent for more than 30 years.
Although decrying it, Belman pointed to the trend toward partisan politics in local government as the major reason he joined forces with the Republicans. "It's gotten to be a big thing for local politics," Belman said, adding that such formerly nonpartisan issues as roads and schools are now being decided along party lines. "It seems right now that's the way to go."
Furthermore, Belman, who shows up regularly at local GOP meetings, said that he was tired of Democrats constantly challenging him for his at-large seat on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and that he needed the support of the Republicans to combat their efforts. Belman is up for reelection in 2001.
Despite his new allegiance, Belman said he will be the same outspoken supervisor and will not buckle to party pressures. He cited the recent budget battle, during which he supported a 3 percent tax increase as an example:
"I think most Republicans will tell you they don't want a tax raise," he said. "But my responsibility is to see the county in a good fiscal position. I'm going to do what is right for the county as a whole."
It is unlikely that Belman's party alliance will have any major effect on local politics. Almost all elected officials in Stafford are Republicans, including every board member except David Beiler (I-Falmouth). Belman's action, therefore, doesn't represent any shift in power.
GOP officials said they are quite pleased to have Belman on board. "We've been trying to recruit him for a number of years," said John Van Hoy, chairman of the Stafford Republican Party. "He's always voted with us and attended our meetings. But heretofore, he couldn't be put on our ticket. It solves a recognition problem for us in our constituency."
The unexpected move completes a lifelong political metamorphosis for the 72-year-old legislator. As a young man, Belman was a Democrat -- albeit of the conservative Byrd vein -- but when the party's ideology started changing about 1968, Belman left the party and declared his own political independence.
Belman was an independent on the Fredericksburg City Council and Stafford Board of Supervisors for dozens of years, and making the formal move to the Republican Party was not an easy decision.
"I gave it some very serious thought," Belman said. "It was a tough thing to do because I have so many friends in the Democratic Party. There are still a lot of good Democrats, good Democrats, in Stafford County and across the state. But I don't believe that those who have supported me will see a change in my voting record or my positions."