Blasting what he described as a culture of corruption in the Democratic Party, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said his conscience wouldn't let him continue the association.
Flanked by top leaders at the county's Republican headquarters in Libertyville, Curran at a news conference Monday said he had become "increasingly disenchanted" and decided to switch parties after seeing no hope of change.
"My conscience will not allow me to stand by and be a member of the Democratic party any longer," said Curran, who was elected two years ago. "The suggestion of any other reason (for the switch) would be completely untrue," he added.
Curran's announcement comes less than a week after Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges.
Curran, who has become well known for high-profile actions such as spending a week in jail and attending the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, unleashed a torrent of criticism on state and Chicago machine politics he said have "bred corruption."
"I hoped to fight for change within the Democratic Party. I hoped to bring the Democratic party back to ideals it once stood for," he said.
"But as I stand here today, I do not believe that is a possibility. I certainly do not believe that is a possibility in the state of Illinois and I certainly do not believe there is any hope in the Democratic party in this state or in this county."
The result has been an adverse impact on the state's economic condition and other areas, such as public education and crime, Curran said.
"I'm walking away from that party of corruption," he said.
Running with Democratic backing and resources, Curran unseated veteran Lake County Sheriff Gary Del Re in November 2006.
State Sen. Terry Link, Lake County Democratic Party Chairman since 1992, said Curran "has a problem realizing how he got there."
"To do this, I think, is a show of the individual not party politics. I'm glad the Republicans have him now. That's not the type of person I want."
Link noted Republicans have had their share of problems.
"Now he wants to join the party that has George Ryan, that has (former Green Oaks Mayor) Tom Adams. I could go on and on." Link added that Curran has not shown loyalty to the party.
"I think he's only worried about one person and that's himself."
Link added that Democrats have been making gains every year in Lake County including the election in November of four county board members and a judge.
Curran, a former prosecutor, has maintained a Republican link, having supported former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan in his unsuccessful 2002 race against Rod Blagojevich for governor. Curran also raised eyebrows with his endorsement of Republican incumbent Michael Waller for Lake County state's attorney in the November election.
Curran's announcement was enthusiastically received by Republicans. Waller, Ryan, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam and state Sen.-elect Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington heralded the switch.
"People still want good, honest leaders," Ryan said. "We need leaders that are authentic, not counterfeit like this governor."
However, he acknowledged that "sleaze in this state has been bipartisan."
Curran said he has taken hits for the choice and knows he will create enemies and lose friends. But he denied any other motive in his decision.
"I'm a humble county office holder," he said. "Humility tells me I have no business thinking about statewide office at this point."