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Roads lead Hardwick from GOP to Democratic Caucus

By Scott Leffler

"I think it's a number of things," Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick said this afternoon of his decision to leave the Republican Caucus in favor of the Democrats. "It's been smoldering for a long time"

But the impetus was roads.

Hardwick said he's been hoping to have more money allocated to improving roads in Erie County and thought a budget proposal to do that was worth switching sides for -- at least for that one vote. But the reaction from his fellow Republicans pushed him further towards the Democrats.

"I was accused of consorting with the devil" for talking with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz -- a Democrat, Hardwick said. "I just want a place to caucus where I don't have to have permission to speak to people in the other party ... and where compromise does not equal a sell-out."

Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy used those exact words: "sold out."

Hardwick said he had called Langworthy ahead of his planned announcement that he'd caucus with the Democrats because he didn't want Langworthy to be blindsided by the news. In turn, Langworthy let the cat out of the bag with the above tweet.

 "I should have realized that would happen," Hardwick said. "I don't hold that against Nick."

People talk about it being tribal. ... it is. It's us against them. It's the Sharks and the Jets." -- Kevin Hardwick, Erie County Legislator

Hardwick, an associate professor of political science at Canisius College and part-time WBEN talk-show host, said the political animus in the current political climate "starts at the national level and the whole political culture of our nation has been transformed. People talk about it being tribal. ... it is. It's us against them. It's the Sharks and the Jets."

And while that national political climate has made him think about renouncing his political affiliation, he had planned to "ride out this Trump thing" and rebuild the GOP afterwards. But then came the Erie County budget.

"And it just got out of hand with this latest budget thing," he said. "They (his GOP colleagues) didn't want to compromise"

While Hardwick hasn't switched affiliations yet, he said it's likely. "If I were a betting man, I would bet that it would happen in the future," he said. 

Hardwick was a Democrat once previously in his life: 40 years ago. When he originally registered to vote in 1975, he said, he chose the Democratic side. Three years later a conservative college professor made him change to the GOP, where he has been a member for the last 40 years. 

Now as a Democrat in waiting, Hardwick has to consider his political future. "I make this move, I gotta worry about my political survival now," he said. 

The Democrats didn't offer him anything to flip sides, he said. "I actually went to them. The only thing I asked them is 'how do you think I'd do in a Democratic primary?' I was assured by most people that I'd do okay."

And his position at the conservative-leaning WBEN? On hiatus for now. 

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