Last week, in another story sort of buried in the runup to the Tawes event, the fine folks at Change Maryland hit the 50,000 “like” mark on Facebook. (Today it appears they have surpassed 51,000.) It bears recalling that in the spring of 2012 they were just at 12,000 – although I noted at the time their cake was much more optimistic. Perhaps by the spring convention of 2014 that extra zero will come in handy.
It seems the rule of thumb is that their membership grew in year two at a rate twice as fast as it did in Change Maryland’s first year – if this continues they would be in the 115,000 range by this time next year. But is that too optimistic of a goal?
The bread and butter of Change Maryland has been its strident opposition of Martin O’Malley’s numerous tax hikes and pointing out his incompetence at job creation, especially when compared to peer states. But having covered many of those revenue enhancements now – and knowing 2014 is an election year for his anointed successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown – the process of raising taxes may come to a halt. Bear in mind as well that most of O’Malley’s increases are now occurring automatically like clockwork; for example, the sales tax charged on gasoline increases in July during both 2014 and 2015.
A second item affecting Hogan’s organization is a change in personnel. Jim Pettit, who worked with Change Maryland during its run to 50,000, recently joined the campaign of gubernatorial candidate David Craig. Perhaps this is a good time for a transition, knowing that much of the issue advocacy occurs during and immediately after the General Assembly session, but I don’t discount the experience Pettit brought to the table. He’s been replaced by Matt Proud, who has plenty of political experience for a youngster and may bring some youthful enthusiasm to the effort, but will still need a little time to transition into the task.
But what does having 50,000 Facebook followers really mean? Change Maryland explains:
(Change Maryland) has built a dominating presence on social media with more people engaged online than the Maryland Democratic Party, the Maryland Republican Party and all of the potential statewide candidates of either party, added together. Change Maryland’s Facebook page has a total weekly reach of over 341,153 people. No other citizen group in the state has ever accomplished what Change Maryland has, in just over two years.
So they are influencing over 300,000 people of all political stripes with a fiscally conservative message. But will founder Larry Hogan upset the apple cart by making his own bid for Governor? Hogan was coy at Tawes, being quoted in an AP story as noting:
I just think it’s very, very early to be here in the hot, dog days of July the year before the election to be out campaigning. At some point, we might have to take a serious look at it. I don’t think we would do that for quite some time, though.
The way I interpret that is the question of whether Michael Steele jumps into the race later on. None of the others on the GOP side could reasonably be interpreted as Bob Ehrlich loyalists in the way Hogan or Steele would be.
In some respects Hogan is faced with a similar question Newt Gingrich faced in 2008: fresh off the formation of American Solutions, Newt had to decide whether to jump into the presidential race or continue to grow his group. He eventually decided to take a pass on the 2008 race, choosing to maintain his American Solutions leadership role. Conversely, once Newt decided to enter the 2012 presidential race his group withered on the vine.
If Change Maryland becomes interpreted as a campaign entity for Larry Hogan’s gubernatorial bid, its influence would wane. But if Hogan becomes a kingmaker of sorts, using his organization to promote candidates with a fiscally responsible track record in the same manner Sarah Palin lends her hand to certain conservative hopefuls on a national scale (such as Dan Bongino) he could retain his following and influence the 2014 election up and down the line.
There’s no question Maryland needs a change from the liberal philosophy dragging the state down, and Hogan’s group is succeeding in getting out the message. The next step is motivating these disciples to action, and we won’t know the success of that mission until November of 2014.