WHEELING - Dolph Santorine - a 2010 Republican candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates - said he has left the GOP and could enter the 2012 delegate race as an Independent.
Santorine's decision to sever ties with the Republican Party came in the aftermath of a recent drunk driving incident involving Delegate Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio - and the Ohio County Republican Party's resulting support of the Democrat.
In 2010, Santorine finished third in a four-candidate race in which two delegates were elected to represent the 3rd District. Delegates Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, and Ferns finished first and second, with Santorine and Democrat Shawn Fluharty taking the third and fourth positions.
Ferns and Fluharty are the Democrats currently slated for this year's general election ballot, and Storch and Larry Tighe are the Republicans.
To run as an Independent, Santorine would need to collect the signatures of 104 registered voters in the 3rd District and submit them to the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office by Aug. 1. The figure represents 1 percent of the total ballots cast for Storch and Ferns in 2010, said Jake Glance, a spokesman for the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office.
Santorine noted that Ferns, following his DUI conviction, initially indicated he would resign as delegate and withdraw from this year's election. He later announced he would instead serve out the remainder of his term and might continue his bid for re-election. Ferns has yet to withdraw from the race.
"In light of what has transpired, we have a situation where we have a delegate that is vacillating," Santorine said. "Indecisiveness is not something we need in the Legislature. I am definitely looking at a run this year as an Independent."
Santorine represents the 1st Senate District as a member of the executive committee for the West Virginia Republican Party, but he added he is in the process of resigning that elected position.
"And I will resign," Santorine said.
He said his most recent issue with the GOP came after Ohio County Republican leaders - among them Ohio County GOP Chairwoman Elgine McArdle - publicly voiced their support for the Democrat Ferns, asking him to continue as a delegate.
"I expect the party to stand up for the best candidates they can, but not necessarily the candidate from the other party," Santorine said. "I have never seen a Democrat come out in support of a Republican, and I wouldn't expect a (GOP) county chair to come out in support of a Democrat. That is egregious."
McArdle said the only negative comments she has received regarding her support of Ferns came from Santorine. She added it is both "commendable and remarkable" when Republicans and Democrats can work together, as Ferns has with Storch during their tenure as freshmen delegates.
"I guess he thinks he can win as an Independent," McArdle said of Santorine. "If he thinks that he can run as an Independent ... it's a free country and he is free to do so. The voters will speak and answer everybody's questions ...
"He is just looking for a peg to hang his hat on to run for the House when he didn't file to do so previously," she added.
Santorine said he has been contacted in recent weeks by "literally hundreds" of residents wanting him to enter the 3rd District race this year "and bring stability to the delegate seat."
"I am amazed and honored that they've asked me," he said. "That's why I'm looking at a run. My personal life is busy right now, and there are many things I'd rather be doing. But there are a number of people calling on me and asking me to do this."
Santorine said while he agrees with the Republican Party on economic matters, he doesn't like the party's stance on religious and personal issues.
"These are complex issues," he said. "I just believe the government has no business in someone's bedroom.
"I have a brand name - 'Dolph.' And you have to be careful what what you associate that brand name," Santorine said. "With what the Republican Party and Dolph stand for, I don't think I want to associate myself with the Republican Party."