Ty Turner. Courtesy Ty Turner via The Charlotte Observer

by Jim Morrill, The Charlotte Observer
Ty Turner is not your typical Republican candidate.

In 2014 he ran for the state Senate as a Democrat.

He was a member of the North Carolina Democratic Party’s executive committee as recently as 2015.

He was a Charlotte LGBTQ activist who once helped manage a Planned Parenthood office.

Now Turner, 37, is the GOP candidate in House District 88 for the seat held by Democrat Mary Belk. Another Republican, 31-year-old Benton Blaine, says he’s dropping out of the race although his name remains on the ballot.

“I have the ability to say I was a Democrat and I was a Republican and I can see the difference,” Turner says.

The one-time Democratic activist, who is African-American, has become a self-described “avid Trump supporter.”

He says President Donald Trump has been “the number one advocate for the LGBT community.”

“I’m loving the fact that since the president came into office he has pushed inclusiveness,” Turner says.

Until now, Turner has generally made news as a partisan activist.

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In 2014 he finished a distant fifth in a Democratic Senate primary won by current-Sen. Joyce Waddell. He made news later that year when he was arrested during a Moral Monday protest in uptown Charlotte for distributing handbills in what police said violated city ordinance. 

Police claimed he was contentious and non-compliant when they asked for identification. Defenders said police over-reacted.

A delegation led by Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Monday movement, marched to the police station to defend Turner. Two days later the NAACP rallied behind him and asked police to investigate his arrest.

At a state Democratic gathering in 2015 Turner nominated Charlotte’s Janice Covington Allison, a transgender woman, for chair of the state party.

It was later that year, Turner says, that he realized he belonged in the GOP. The occasion was a political boot camp in suburban Maryland sponsored by the nonpartisan Congressional Black Caucus Institute.

“I went in as a Democrat,” he says of the experience. “From that point the wheels were starting to turn. … The (Institute) enlightened me that there is another side.”

Turner says he came to believe that African-Americans have to start holding the Democratic Party “accountable for 54 years of inaction” since passage of Civil Rights Act and voting legislation. He calls black voters who regularly vote for Democrats “direct deposit Democrats.” In addition, he says the GOP more closely aligns with his values.

He says, for example, that he’s long been anti-abortion despite working for Planned Parenthood. But he believes abortion is a woman’s decision. “The key is I should not make a decision what a female does with her body,” he says. “That’s up to her and God.”

In 2016 Turner was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. He told one reporter there that, “The Democratic Party left me. I’m not a rubber stamp. … It was moving far left. It took God out of its platform.”

Turner was once quoted as saying that he had begin “to see Republicans take the role of ‘the haves’ and they don’t want ‘the have nots’ to have anything.”

“That statement was made out of my ignorance of what the Republican Party was until I got into the party,” he says. “That’s not the case.”

Matt Comer, who chairs MeckPAC, an LGBTQ political action committee, remembers Turner as a liberal Democrat and a “progressive LGBT leader.”

“It does concern me that we have a member of our community who seems to have had such a drastic shift in political thought, especially as it related to our own community,” he says.

Allison, who considers Turner a friend, says she was surprised by his political conversion.

“But he has the choice to doing what he wants,” she says. “He’s still my friend.”

Turner says he filed for office at the urging of state GOP chair Robin Hayes and state executive director Dallas Woodhouse.

Woodhouse says Turner is an example of the party’s big tent.

“We are always happy to see new Republicans come into the fold,” he says. “We always want people to come our way.”

This article was originally published by The Charlotte Observer.

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