Last week I sent a questionnaire to all of MDGOP Chair hopefuls; a list that at the time had eight names. Of the five remaining I got direct written responses from three (William Campbell, Mike Esteve, and Sam Hale) while a fourth (Mary Kane) phoned me. I also have a letter Mrs. Kane sent out to all the candidates so her answers will be a hybrid of that information and what I recall from the phone conversation.
Since I have received no similar information from Alex Mooney he’s not included. (However, he answered a longer and somewhat different set of questions for Ann Miller yesterday, so maybe I took this to press a bit sooner than he would have liked.) Order of presentation is more or less random.
What will you do to encourage new candidates to step forward and avoid putting all our electoral eggs in one basket as the party seemed to during the last decade?
William Campbell (WC): I will use the Central Committees, Clubs, and activists to encourage highly qualified individuals to become Republican candidates for elected office. Many interested individuals have a misconception that we have lots of potential candidates waiting to run for office. In addition, many potential candidates are frustrated by the lack of information to help them become candidates. We should run training courses on critical skills that successful candidates need to master. My one day candidate training course was inadequate, and far too late to be helpful. At a minimum we should teach the regulations covering ethics (how to file a personal financial disclosure statement), election laws and filing requirements (including a using the financial reporting software), and basic campaign operations.
We should also make a commitment to our successful nominees running in the General Election that they will receive funding and other meaningful support from the MDGOP. Our current “every candidate for themselves” approach discourages many potential candidates, and frustrates our nominees. They should also know that there will be a level playing field where all candidates are treated equally. In closing, we should not preselect our nominees. Each nominee should compete to win their nomination.
Mike Esteve (ME): My philosophy is where you can’t beat them, bleed them. Not putting up a candidate against Doug Gansler has allowed him to continue to build a two-million dollar war chest to use in two years. It is the role of the State Central Committee to ensure that there is as viable as possible of a candidate running for every statewide office. Likewise, it is the role of the County Central Committees to ensure every local Democratic candidate has a Republican challenger. Even just a name on the ballot, where we can’t find a strong Republican, forces the Democratic incumbents to spend money otherwise sent to more vulnerable candidates.
Sam Hale (SH): In a mailer to central committee members, I recently wrote:
“My top priority will be installing a Republican grassroots network across Maryland. As a conservative grassroots activist myself, I believe my biggest contribution to the party will be my ability to involve and relate to the increasing number of conservative grassroots groups in Maryland.”
I plan on installing grassroots networks and empowering central committees to grow the party on the local level. With that in mind, I will encourage those involved to win the registration battle, and elections on the local level first. This will allow us to build the party from the ground up, find viable candidates for every race and avoid placing “all of our eggs in one basket.”
Mary Kane (MK): In her letter, Mary wrote that, “A strong MDGOP means hard work. We must raise money, continue to build a strong grassroots organization, assemble a very strong media response presence throughout the state, and employ these efforts to recruit candidates and increase voter registration. These are basic functions of party building everyone understands and can agree upon.
We will do voter outreach, send new resident mailings, grassroots training, and candidate recruitment to grow our party. And we will work closely with our local committees and elected officials to solidify a strong crop of up and coming leaders.”
Describe your grand plans for fundraising – is it better to look for a few large donors or many smaller ones, and are you already scouting for new sources?
MK: Mary wrote: “We must have a state party that can raise money every week, every month, and every year. We cannot again allow for an MDGOP on the verge of bankruptcy a year and half out from statewide elections. We have donors that will support us. We have to assure them that their investment is an investment in a better future for our small businesses, our economy, our families, and our state.
We can and will have success in our fundraising efforts. Working with the Executive Committee as partners we can put a strong structure in place and develop a long term plan to fill our coffers for 2012, 2014 and beyond. We must actually utilize the talents of our Republican officials and a new Finance team. Our counties and MDGOP will be working together, not undermining and competing for every dollar. Fundraising plans should be coordinated in order to maximize support and to avoid overlap.”
SH: There are close to 1 million registered Republicans in the state of Maryland. In that pool I see 1 million potential donors. The average Marylander spends well over $100 a month on cable, internet and phone. Let’s ask them to spend 1/10 of that on saving their state.
One of my opponents recently said average people do not donate because they hope to gain something from the contribution; they donate because they believe in a cause. He was exactly correct, but the MDGOP is not currently a cause a traditional Republican can “believe in.” Once we restore principal and values to our message, we will restore our competitive advantage as a fundraiser.
I do not believe, however, that big donors and a large pool are mutually exclusive. The Obama campaign recently showed it is possible to be very successful on both levels. Once we restore contrast to our message, principal to our party and clear goals for success, the MDGOP will be something we can sell to every potential donor.
WC: There are two facets to MDGOP fund raising that need to be addressed; raising funds for general operations, and for election support.
The funding for MDGOP operations is relatively modest. Our annual budget is only about $500,000. The Chair is expected to raise approximately $125,000 from donors. This is a modest amount and with our existing donor list should be achievable. I would like to keep our existing pool of donors engaged, and reach out to many small donors. This increases our overall funding, and increases the commitment and influence of the wider Republican community. We are not currently set up to be effective in increasing grassroots support of MDGOP. We would have to greatly improve our information technology suite, and increase our use of social media. I am committed to making these improvements.
The funding requirements for election support are more difficult to address at the moment. First, what is the MDGOP going to do to support our candidates and win elections, and how much will that cost? In the 2010 election cycle, it appeared that the party was competing with the candidates for scarce campaign dollars. Many of the candidates, including myself, were frustrated over the lack of financial support from the MDGOP. I would like to develop both a 2012 and 2014 campaign budget quickly, and then commit to placing all funds collected over those budget levels into a candidate fund that will be disbursed directly to our nominees for the General election.
ME: Fundraising is, by far, the most important role of the State Party Chairman. There are three main points on fundraising:
1. Over the last year, the State Party has rightly expanded and shallowed their donor base. In other words, rather than being dependant on fifty donors for ten-thousand dollar donations, we’re moving in the direction of receiving fifty dollar donations from ten-thousand donors. This creates a much more stable and reliable donor base and that is precisely the direction in which I want to take our State Party – more in the direction of grassroots fundraising.
2. It is not unhistorical that the State Party appoints fundraising directors to reach out to a broader donor base. I have spoken with numerous such potential fundraising directors since my announcement, and it is clear that we have the opportunity to tap into previously uninterested donor sources given our traditional flagship candidate is no longer in the limelight. Potential supporters, particularly wealthier gun owners, who stand to lose many of their rights under another four years of the O’Malley regime, and worse yet, under an additional eight years of an O’Malley successor, are far more willing to support the Party knowing what they stand to preserve. This is the type of outreach we must conduct.
3. For every successful business, institution, and campaign in the world, there are numerous failed ones. Just in the realm of politics, candidates run and parties form with little chance of success, yet manage to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. When it comes to major donors, individuals don’t contribute their money strictly on the mathematical basis of seeing a return in dividends, but because they believe in the cause. What I offer that no other candidate offers is a fundamental change in belief that this State Party can be successful and can close the chapter of the last ten years. We can rebuild and reform to be more competitive in this state, and stand on the values of our Party. What I offer is faith in the organization and a clear vision forward – that’s what donors want when considering contributing to the cause: vision, direction, and faith.
Our current chair is known for saying, “it’s party over everything.” Is it? Or do principles truly matter to you?
ME: We have the potential to get conservatives elected in most Maryland counties. The key is to campaign on issues that matter to local constituencies and be mindful of the political makeup of every demographic. Stand on your principles, but market what sells to the electorate.
MK: Mary did not address this directly but wrote: “we will develop the statewide campaign to demonstrate the synergy of the core principles and values of the Republican Party with all Marylanders.”
SH: This type of statement brings up the question: What is the purpose of a political party? Is it solely to win elections for its namesake, or to move the country/state in a positive direction?
I recently wrote in a blog for marylandpatriots.org:
“I believe the purpose of a political party should not be solely to win elections, but rather to move the country in a positive direction. Therefore, if the GOP witnesses the social/political tide moving to the left, its objective should be to “turn the tide” rather than “go with the flow.” In “going with the flow” the GOP will not only lose its identity; but ultimately become obsolete, as the electorate’s mindset shifts further left.”
Not only is party over principle wrong morally, but also a ridiculous strategy for long term victory. If nothing is done about the social/political tide moving left the GOP will cease to exist in the long term. As Republicans, we need to fight for what we know is right and refuse to sell ourselves out in the hopes of stealing one or two elections.
WC: I believe that principles are the bedrock for our party. A party, organization, business, or individual without principles is not serving our citizens well, and would not have my support. I am running because I believe that the appearance of compromised principles is just as damaging as the actual commission of unprincipled acts. Many Maryland Republicans believe that we are compromised at present and need to change course immediately. I have a distinguished record of public service, and I will not compromise my principles for political gain.
Regarding internal party business, we have fought over regional chairs and other small county vs. large county issues for some time now. How will you address these internal disputes?
WC: I am amazed that we continue to waste valuable convention time to debating the voting weights of the jurisdictions. I would establish a working group to present an array of proposals to the various Central Committee members for their consideration and approval. In addition, it seems counter-productive to elect the Chair, Vice Chairs, Treasurer, and Secretary to four year terms. We should make these two year terms so we can evaluate their effectiveness after the 2012 General Election and not have another crisis if we need a leadership change. I am also, concerned about the prerogative we grant to Republican Governors to appoint the Chair. We need to have checks and balances between the party itself, and our elected Republican office holders. Otherwise the MDGOP could become an extension of a future Republican Administration, and do their bidding rather than protect the interest of the party.
MK: Mary wrote: There are also internal issues to be discussed. First, I will advocate that the term of office for the state party chair be reduced from 4 years to 2 years. Second, I will form an Ad Hoc Committee immediately to determine the appropriate permanent voting process for our MDGOP meetings to be presented at the spring convention.
SH: It makes sense that those who represent a larger amount of Republicans should carry a larger weight to their vote. That is the way the Founder’s framed the House of Representatives.
On the other hand, I understand the argument that certain counties that elect zero or few Republicans to office should not drive the ideology for the state party.
I think the long-term solution is to raise awareness among voters as to who they are electing to central committee. Republicans need to realize who is representing them on the party level and the vital role they have on the direction of the party and the state. Sadly, I believe that most Republicans do not know what a central committee is. If this can be solved rank and file Republicans take a role in these elections and elect people who share their values, I feel much of the infighting will dissipate.
ME: Our State Party Constitution is clear that every County Party should have an equal vote in State Party Conventions, yet we suspend the rules every time. This needs to stop. No one county deserves more of a say than another.
How will you deal with the TEA Party influence given its mixed record?
ME: As a co-founder of the Baltimore Tea Party Coalition, I appreciate the energy that the Tea Party has generated. If we as a Party are to succeed, we need to bring together all elements, be them establishment, Tea Party, etc. Only together can we hope to rebuild as an organization.
WC: In running a statewide campaign I met many TEA Party and other Conservative voters. I admire their commitment and passion. They could bring a great deal of energy to the MDGOP, but I do not believe that many of them want to become Republicans. They are fiercely independent and are equally critical of Democrats and Republicans. I would certainly reach out to them whenever possible to find common ground. We have much in common and could work together to elect our candidates.
SH: I don’t think their record in this state is mixed. I believe on the state level their influence was completely disregarded due to the record of our governor candidate and pre-primary shenanigans. In the first district, where the tea party was able to play an active role in providing grassroots for Dr. Harris, he won by 13 points. On the state level where they were either not empowered or not comfortable supporting certain candidates, we lost by about the same margin.
My goal as chairman will be to correct this discrepancy by providing principal to our message and reaching out to the tea party on a state-wide scale. The state party cannot be successful without the enthusiasm and grassroots prowess of the tea party. The MDGOP needs to not only reach out to local leaders and empower them to grow the party, but most importantly gain their trust. They need to know that if they give their time and money, we will support their conservative values. I believe electing a chairman who is one of their own, will send that message.
MK: I don’t recall what Mary said regarding the TEA Party during the phone conversation and she didn’t address this in her letter.
In what rank order would you put the concepts of candidate recruitment, fundraising, fealty to party principles, addressing the needs of smaller counties, and dealing with the TEA Party?
MK: The part of our discussion I recall best is our discussion of this point. We agreed that perhaps a better analogy than the one I presented would be as in a wheel, where fundraising is the hub and six spokes extend out to the other facets, which form a circle.
SH: This is a difficult question as I feel the areas are intertwined. I feel someone who shares traditional party principles will be able to relate to, and inspire, the tea party. And a principled candidate should have the common sense approach to weigh the needs of individual counties. . A candidate who cannot inspire grassroots support will not be an effective fundraiser.
ME: The most important job of the State Party Chairman is to fundraise. I don’t see why any of these other elements would have to be separated, or contradictory from that. We fundraise when we stand on our principles. We fundraise when we tap into grassroots Tea Party energy. We fundraise when we represent the needs of all counties. Frankly, we have bigger problems than the feelings of individual Central Committees. We are facing redistricting, which could cost us the first and sixth congressional districts, and trim are already dwindling minorities in the State Senate and House into oblivion. We are facing the crisis of a 35 billion dollar pension and health plan liability that will force 17 billion dollars of unfunded pensions onto the already burdened counties. We have bigger problems than “party fealty.” We, as Maryland Republicans, offer our state something that few other Republican State Parties can offer: the hope of accountable, transparent government. If we are not marketing a clear vision to this state; if we are not acting as whistleblowers and calling out the corruption of the arrogant House and Senate majorities, and their governor; if we are not taking the issues of this state seriously, and offering the voters of Maryland a genuine and clear alternative, then we are simply wasting our time.
WC: This would not be my choice for a priority list. Mine priorities would be (in order of importance) party unity, financial solvency, candidate recruitment and development, and increasing Republican voter registration and participation in Baltimore City, and Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties. However, to answer your question I would rank you issues in the following order: 1. Principles, 2. Candidate recruitment, 3. Fund raising, Smaller County needs, and 5. dealing with the TEA Party. While some may object to ranking the TEA Party relationship last, the reality is that (unlike the first 4 issues) we do not have complete control over that relationship.
Also, please assess the strengths and weaknesses of your last two predecessors as chair, Audrey Scott and Jim Pelura.
WC: I only got active in MDGOP politics in April of this year. I had not known either Audrey, or Jim before then, and have only spoken to them briefly on a few occasions. They have both been courteous to me and I personally like them. I am unable to judge their strengths and weaknesses, and I don’t believe that the past performance of MDGOP Chairs is relevant to the current election. We need to focus on the future of our party and not re-plow old ground.
ME: I have nothing but sincere respect and admiration for the Chairman. She came into a mess of a Party that was deeply in debt and highly divided. She united the Party, dug us out of debt, established a fulltime fundraising and political staff, raised seven victory centers statewide, and left us in the black when it was all said and done. As far as I’m concerned, she met all of her campaign promises and did a phenomenal job. I did not agree with all of her decisions; I did not support all of her methods. She was the best possible Chair at the right time. Now that chapter has come to a close and the Party has different needs. I believe the Chairman recognizes this, which is why she is not pursuing reelection.
I have no comment on Mr. Pelura.
SH: Scott – I admire Audrey’s strength as a fundraiser, her ability to remain positive and upbeat, and her work-ethic and resolve. But she conveyed a lack of adherence to party principles (and rule 11) which alienated the party’s base. She also was unable to innovate and improve on party strategy which led to a continued decline in statewide elections.
Pelura – Jim is a great man of character who was unable to work with the party apparatus to get things done. Much of things said about him simply are not true. Regardless of personal opinion, his term was not an effective one.
I would like committee members to think of my candidacy as the opportunity to start a new chapter of Republican Politics in Maryland. This November proved that we cannot afford more of the same and drastic change is required. I hope to provide that change if elected.
MK: Mary did not address her predecessors.
After reading these questions and compiling this post, I hope this helps – whether you have a direct stake in the decision as a Central Committee member or just happen to be a rank-and-file Republican or conservative concerned about the state of the party in the Free State.
I look forward to a spirited contest culminating sometime Saturday morning.