As I like to do on about a monthly basis, here is another installment of what I call Ten Questions.
Back in December of 2006, Jim Pelura and I came into our positions at the Maryland GOP together – I was sworn in as a Central Committee member and he was elected at that convention as Chair of the Maryland GOP. Admittedly, I voted for his opponent but obviously he didn’t hold that against me when he agreed to do the interview.
monoblogue: Let’s go back to the beginning. The 2006 elections have just concluded and Republicans were shut out in statewide races, including the relatively popular Governor Ehrlich losing a reelection bid. Nationally the GOP faced the prospect of being in the minority for the first time in 12 years. So what motivated you to run for the Chair position you now hold, and how many people thought you were completely crazy?
Pelura: Why did I run?
I had been concerned for some time that the MDGOP was out of touch with the grassroots and the traditional Republican philosophy of small government, low taxes, fiscal responsibility and faith in the individual. I was concerned that the liberal agenda of the Governor and majority of the General Assembly would have no voice of opposition among the Republican rank and file. I was not ready or willing to give up on Maryland that easily.
As for the second part of your question………not as many as one would think, although a friend said that he was going to give me a few sessions with a psychiatrist for Christmas that year!
monoblogue: Oh, there were and still are plenty of voices of opposition to liberal policies here in the Free State. But you found yourself inheriting a Maryland GOP which was in dire financial straits and had to make some unpopular financial decisions. Were you surprised at the extent of the problem when you came onboard? And do you think that the Maryland Republican Party will be able to compete financially in 2010?
Pelura: If you remember, at the December meeting where I was elected, the outgoing Chairman announced that I was being left about $300,000.00. We all knew that fundraising would be difficult due to the recent elections and that money in the bank would be needed to “get over the hump”.
As we soon learned, that $300,000.00 was actually about $20,000.00 and there were about $60,000.00 in bills to be paid. Needless to say, I was surprised.
But, by making significant cuts in expenditures and taking out a line of credit, we survived.
Fundraising is still a concern, however, but there are significant “bright spots”.
The line of credit is nearly paid off, small donations are way up from in the past (in terms of the “health” of the Party, I would rather have 10,000 $1.00 donations than one check for $10,000), and many of the “big” donors are showing interest in giving to the MDGOP once again.
The Maryland Republican Party will be ready for 2010, both financially and in terms of good and credible candidates for elected office.
monoblogue: That brings up another point. I’ve heard a little bit of grousing from those in Andy Harris’s Congressional campaign that the state and national GOP did way too little to help him, either financially or with volunteers. With 2010 being both a statewide campaign and an opportunity to regain the First District seat, how do you expect to prioritize resources and help out as many candidates as possible?
Pelura: The MDGOP is proud of the assistance given to Sen. Harris in his race for Congress. In addition to mailings, we targeted CD-1 for selected press releases, hosted volunteer meetings at the West St. office, lobbied the RNC for money which ultimately provided thousands of dollars for Sen. Harris’ media campaign, as well as using the limited MDGOP staff to help.
As for the other campaigns, we did some mailings and targeted press releases as well as volunteer services.
2010 will be a challenge and the success of fund raising will determine the extent of what the Party will do for the candidates.
It must be remembered that money is not the only way to help a campaign. Organizing volunteers for specific candidates in their district can be very valuable.
One more point……the party will not endorse any candidate pre-primary.
monoblogue: Hopefully the folks in the Free State will have something left to fund an election effort next year! As we all know, we’re getting the new General Assembly session underway and they’re staring down the barrel of a huge budget deficit – even with huge tax increases in 2008. Recently on behalf of the Maryland GOP you formed a Commission for Citizen Tax Relief to promote fiscal conservatism in the budget. Could you explain this effort for my readers and update us on its progress?
Pelura: As the answer to your first part, let me quote from the Maryland GOP’s recent press release on the subject.
The Maryland Republican Party established a Commission for Citizen Tax Relief to investigate Maryland ’s record of over spending by the Democrat controlled leadership in Annapolis . The formation of this Commission is in response to the historic tax increases from the 2007 Special Session, the Democrat policy promoting bloated state budgets and the anticipated $1.9 billion deficit in the upcoming budget year.
For the past two years, the MDGOP has closely documented the Annapolis Democrat’s agenda of burdening Maryland citizens with increased taxes to fund new and expanded government programs. Chairman Pelura stated that “today’s tough times make it imperative for the Maryland Republican Party to hold Governor O’Malley and his supporters in the General Assembly accountable for their chronic over spending.”
The Commission will be directed by Charles Lollar. Lollar hails from Charles County where he is Chairman of the Charles County Republican Central Committee. As a former Marine Corps Officer and local Charles County business leader, Mr. Lollar brings extensive experience in corporate accountability and budgeting.
This Commission is comprised of two dozen Maryland Republicans and citizen activists. As Director, Lollar will lead the Commission towards sensible budget and accountability recommendations that will provide much needed tax relief for Maryland citizens. During his introduction as Director , Mr. Lollar stated to the MDGOP membership at their Annual Fall Meeting, “We need a balanced budget with fair cuts across the board…just as we all are tightening our belts at home, the State should be doing the same.”
Members of the Commission will be visiting each county in Maryland to engage citizen participation. These town hall meetings will begin in late January and will give Marylanders the opportunity to review the Commission’s initial budget analysis and to provide input.
A perfect example of the deceptive rhetoric from Governor O’Malley are the statements about layoffs, etc. It is typical fear-mongering from the left.
In reality, the commission has identified millions of dollars of frivolous and duplicative spending that, if eliminated, could easily save those jobs.
The Commission is formed and has been looking at the current budget and will review the new budget when it is introduced. Mr. Lollar will be going throughout the state, first to the Republican Central Committees, then to clubs, etc. outlining our findings.
monoblogue: Besides the 800-pound gorilla of the budget, what other issues do you see taking up the bulk of the time of this spring’s General Assembly session?
Pelura: I may be wrong, however, I don’t expect a serious attempt at raising taxes. I suspect that there will be attempts to increase regulations and fees. Social issues (death penalty, gay marriage, etc.) will be prominent as well.
monoblogue: I think you’re right, and it seems to me Governor Ehrlich was chastised for balancing the deficit he inherited from Parris Glendening in that same way – I’ll bet O’Malley gets a pass from the media stalwarts (the Sun, WaPo, etc.) if he uses that method.
So let’s talk about Governor Ehrlich for a moment. Obviously he’s the one many Republicans look to as the best hope for regaining the Governor’s seat in 2010. Since you’re a little more on the inside than the rest of us, do you have an sort of insight on his decision? Also, how is the recruiting for downticket positions going?
Pelura: As for Governor Ehrlich, I really don’t know his plans for the future. Considering the fact that he is still raising money for “Ehrlich for Maryland”, it appears that he indeed has some plan for future involvement in Maryland politics. I will say this however, it is my opinion that, if he intends to run for governor, he must announce soon so as to give other candidates the time to start campaigning if he decides NOT to run.
As for down ticket candidates…….things are going very well. There is an enthusiasm among the electorate against the actions of the General Assembly that I have not seen in a long time. I know that there will be vigorous Republican primaries and every Democrat will be challenged for 2010.
Also, there are over 60 municipal races this year alone. The MDGOP takes these races very seriously and do all we can to help the Republicans in these races. This is our “farm team” and we must do all we can to help.
monoblogue: It’s good to have the “farm team” aspect in mind; certainly the Democrats have a natural progression going within their party. Let me ask another question about 2010 here. While I’m certain whoever represents the top of the GOP ticket will have his or her own agenda and vision for the state, do you see that election as a referendum on Martin O’Malley’s term in office, and might Barack Obama’s performance in the White House have an effect?
Pelura: 2010 will be all about Martin O’Malley and his supporters in the General Assembly. Obama is another issue. I suspect that President Obama will have more problems with the Democrats in Congress than he realizes. In any event, with O’Malley and Obama being of the same party, one will no doubt affect the other.
monoblogue: Obviously with the budget shortfall and social issues you bring up, the Maryland GOP is working a path which advocates a more conservative approach to state governance. But the election results and voter registration numbers suggest that the state is fairly liberal. Does the conservative movement need to be rebranded in Maryland or is it just a case of candidates and the party doing a better job of getting the message out?
Pelura: It is my opinion that, despite voter registration numbers, the citizens of Maryland can and will elect a conservative candidate. One just needs to look at the election of 2002. Bob Ehrlich ran on a pretty conservative message and won! We must remember that many of the registered Democrats in Maryland are not philosophical Democrats. They vote the candidate.
There can be a resurgence of the Republican brand in Maryland if there is a clear and distinctive difference between the Republicans in the General Assembly and the Democrats. Not only must we exhibit a clear difference in our voting habits, we must also strive to control the agenda by introducing legislation based on traditional Republican principles.
monoblogue: It goes without saying that you’re supporting the “favorite son” candidate for RNC Chair, Michael Steele. If he doesn’t win, though, which of the other candidates do you think would have the best chance at turning the GOP’s national fortunes around, and why?
Pelura: To be honest, at this time I am extremely conflicted about my #2 choice.
monoblogue: Personally I think that if Ken Blackwell doesn’t win the position on the first ballot, it’s Steele’s to lose.
Final question. What would you consider as a successful outcome for your term as Chair, and are you thinking about running for a second term?
Pelura: My desire from the beginning was, and still is, twofold; 1) to energize and empower the local political entities (County Central Committees), and 2) to have the Maryland Republican Party defined by a philosophy and not a candidate. It appears that we are headed in that direction, and I am very pleased.
As for the second part of your question, I have been too busy with my veterinary practice and the Party business at hand to seriously think about a second term. I will say, however, I am a firm believer in term limits.
All emphasis is in the original responses from Dr. Pelura. Once again, my thanks to Jim for agreeing to be the subject of this month’s installment. Since he’s just over halfway through his term, it remains to be seen how the Maryland GOP under his leadership will fare in the upcoming election cycle. But certainly I think his emphasis on the grassroots may yet bear fruit.