Steve Kozachik

David Sanders/Arizona Daily Star

The Tucson City Council has lost its lone Republican member.

Councilman Steve Kozachik renounced the Republican Party Friday and registered as a Democrat, saying the GOP has "lurched too far to the right" in recent years.

"This party, whether it's on immigration, women's reproductive rights or the whole social panoply of issues ... is just out of touch with this community," said Kozachik, noting he ran as a centrist in 2009 and has tried to maintain that political disposition.

In an open letter to Tucson residents, Kozachik said it has been impossible to ignore that, over the past few years, the local and state GOP leadership has been usurped "by a small, but vocal faction" that has left no place at the table for centrists.

"The Arizona Republican Party is an outlier," Kozachik wrote. "I am not, and I see nothing that indicates that leadership is inclined to move in any direction but further away from what I believe are the values of this community."

At the state GOP level, "They throw out a guy like (Sen.) Steve Pierce and replace him with (Sen.) Andy Biggs up in the state Legislature. They continually try to pass legislation aimed at Tucson and Pima County specifically. It's just one thing after another," Kozachik said.

Pima County Republicans have been incognito when it comes to important issues facing the city, he says.

Instead of being productive and working on meaningful solutions to problems, "What is heard from party leadership is extreme partisan rhetoric that serves no productive role in crafting good public policy on the bread-and-butter issues with which the mayor and council deal," Kozachik wrote.

Pima County GOP Chairwoman Carolyn Cox said she had no comment on Kozachik's switch.

For months, Kozachik's detractors in the GOP have been hammering him as an ersatz Republican.

"After months of posing as an imposter Republican," former state Sen. Frank Antenori said, "he finally found what shred of integrity he had left and came out as a liberal Democrat."

His critics most recently have jumped on Kozachik's attempt to change state gun laws and his organization of a gun buyback earlier this week. Kozachik said while the disputes over firearms may have been a tipping point, no single issue drove his decision.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he was not surprised, given the ample public speculation over a possible switch that has gone on for months.

Rothschild said he doesn't expect the move to alter the City Council dynamic because he expects Kozachik will "still continue with fact-based solutions to issues."

By changing parties, Kozachik hopes to make the council run more smoothly.

"I just think it will make a more productive working relationship on the council. It will eliminate one possible barrier between us," Kozachik said.

"Some of the other council members may feel less constrained by party politics as long as we're on the same label. I don't really care for labels."

Unlike Carol West, the last sitting council member to switch allegiances in 2005, Kozachik opted not to become an independent, saying he's doesn't believe in fence-sitting. West went from Democrat to independent.

"Independents are not a party. They are a group of people who are standing on the sidelines evaluating candidates and making their selections based on a candidates' record," Kozachik said.

"That's totally fair, and they have a right to do that. So if I decide to run again, I'm happy to have Democrats, independents and Republicans judge me on my record, too. But based on policy, not on label."

Councilwoman Regina Romero said she welcomes Kozachik to the party with open arms, even if they haven't seen eye to eye on every issue.

"The Democratic Party has a wide tent. There are many different shades of blue," Romero said. "It has become a much better option for moderate Republicans."

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or