WCRC meeting – February 2012

We were supposed to elect officers last night, and we did. In fact, we did all of our usual business last night. But there were some interesting internal developments from last night’s meeting which may affect the club’s direction for some time to come.

Let’s begin with the usual items: we recited the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and heard the minutes and treasurer’s report. All went well, and our speaker – John Hall, the newest County Council member – was well received as he related “my journey on how I got to this point.”

One thing I found interesting was that John was active in his community until the 9-11 tragedy – it “changed my life,” he said, and “I withdrew.” But he was encouraged to apply for the opening created by Bob Caldwell’s passing, and even though he didn’t think he did that well with his interview and wouldn’t be chosen, he found out that day he indeed was selected to succeed Caldwell.

Obviously the first big issue for him out of the chute was Bennett Middle School, and he said the decision to proceed was “a difficult issue.” But he saw it as a way to “invest responsibly” in the future.

Of course, the question is and will remain where the money will come from. John’s philosophy is that we have to be “proactive” and approach the state well in advance with a vision of what we will need. To that end, we also need to train tomorrow’s leaders.

His presentation was relatively brief, and he opened the floor up for questions from a crowd which was skeptical at best about the BMS project. The first question was on the status of the BMS project.

It’s “being reviewed,” said Hall. Fellow County Council member Bob Culver chimed in by noting the state may fund $4.05 million of the $10 million allocated for next year.

But another asked about the possible impact of teacher pensions being shifted to the county. Certainly Martin O’Malley will impose new taxes, and some of them are an “absolute crime,” John said. But “we can get our share if we present it correctly.” He conceded that “may be a pipe dream,” though. “We fight hard, but we’re not fighting the right way,” Hall assessed.

One of the more skeptical observers believed the Democrats were “leading us by our noses,” especially on the question of an elected school board and for Bennett Middle School – as to the latter, he complained that no price had been sought for refurbishing the building; instead the consensus was we needed a new Taj Mahal.

As for this year, Hall believed that $1.7 million for BMS would come from the county’s general fund while the remainder would be bonded. It was pointed out, though, that over the life of the project we would receive around $28 million from the state; bear in mind though that one local contractor believed the state money costs us an extra $15 million due to prevailing wage laws and other state construction mandates.

The final question regarded how John would approach the 2014 election in a district which will likely resemble the one his predecessor won by two votes. Hall was confident he could work hard enough to be chosen by the voters, noting that one qualification spelled out by the Central Committee was a willingness to work for re-election.

Obviously the composition of the district may change, which is a part of the meeting I will get to soon.

First, though, we received the Central Committee report from Dave Parker. Naturally it centered on our recent Lincoln Day Dinner, where we heard from the “leading candidates” Dan Bongino and Rich Douglas, but he also brought up the upcoming Ocean Pines Senate forum this coming Friday and the elected school board bill hearing on March 15 in Annapolis.

Dave also implored us to let people know about the upcoming gay marriage referendum drive and thanked Annapolis for the “dumb stuff” they were doing – it gives us an opportunity for contrast.

After formalizing some other internal club business, we elected our 2012 officers by acclamation as no floor nominations were made. These will be our 2012 leaders:

  • President: Larry Dodd
  • 1st Vice-President: Marc Kilmer
  • 2nd Vice-President: Donnie Scholl
  • 3rd Vice-President: Deb Okerblom
  • 4th Vice-President: Mark Biehl
  • Treasurer: Tom Hughes
  • Secretary: Michael Swartz

Scholl and Biehl are the two new faces, the rest are holdovers from last year, although Kilmer moved up a notch.

There was a piece of business I brought up about our efforts at community visibility. Last year we broke a long tradition by not having a food booth at the Salisbury Festival, and with other opportunities before us this year I wanted to gauge interest. The current plan is to be represented at the Salisbury Festival and Delmarva Chicken Festival; I couldn’t get them to do Pork in the Park (although it may be too late for that anyway.) Our goal will be to emphasize party change, and certainly by that point we will know who our Senatorial candidate will be in order to promote him along with Andy Harris. (The presidential race may still be up for grabs in late April.)

There was a question about whether we should promote the ballot issues at this booth, with advocates both for and against having their say. At this point, we are still undecided pending whether we can secure the spaces.

Joe Collins made a brief presentation regarding the Redistricting Committee. It’s interesting that, while the County Council is 6-1 Republican, the Redistricting Committee is majority Democrat for two reasons: the two ex officio members of the committee from the executive branch are nominally Democrats, while two of the Republican members of County Council (Matt Holloway and Stevie Prettyman) selected Democrats as their choices.

But Collins announced their first meeting will be tentatively scheduled for March 9, with subsequent meetings being held based on scheduling. He pointed out, in responding to a question I posed, that he didn’t yet have population numbers from the existing districts – so we don’t yet know which have to get larger and which will shrink. But he wanted to put aside his partisan hat and help draw districts which were fair. Interestingly, there is no county charter requirement that we have a majority-minority district, but the courts may dictate we have one if none is provided. Minorities make up a little over a quarter of the county’s population.

Joe also let us know about a bus trip that Americans for Prosperity is sponsoring on March 27th for a anti-Obamacare rally in Washington and wondered aloud if we couldn’t do the same for the elected school board hearing on the 15th.

After Joe finished, and with a little help from a new member, I got the meeting riled up again by beginning to state the case for some bylaw changes and perhaps a more activist philosophy in getting people to the meetings. The new member is a gentleman who has lived in Salisbury for 42 years and had never heard of the Republican Club until one of our Central Committee members invited him. Yes, we post our meetings in the Daily Times and we have some social media presence, but perhaps there’s outreach that is missing.

Personally, I think we also need to broaden the net of speakers, while another person believed there should be more incentives to come to meetings, such as gift cards and the like.

But I know I have readership from around the state and beyond – maybe not necessarily for this article because it’s for more of a local audience, but I know that the majority of readers of this site don’t live in and around Salisbury. So I throw the question to you: what do successful Republican clubs in your area do to draw people and promote interest?

I know I don’t necessarily speak for the club, but I think we should take the local lead in some of these ballot issues. Unlike the Central Committee, a Republican club has the flexibility to do this. And if there’s a group of Republicans who feel differently, they can be free to start their own organization. Several counties have more than one Republican club.

So I don’t know who the March meeting speaker will be, but I do know I’ll be sworn in for another term there. Being sworn at may be an option, too. But if that’s what it takes to draw a crowd, I can handle that (and give some back, too.)

The meeting will be March 26.