In a spectacular flameout, the allegations of wrongdoing in the controversy over Cecil County Executive Tari Moore’s sudden affiliation change and subsequent appointment of a candidate not on the list submitted by the county’s Republican Central Committee were dismissed in the county’s Circuit Court via a seven-page decision by visiting Judge Thomas E. Marshall, a retired Harford County Circuit Court judge.
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Also dismissed in the suit due to a lack of standing was a claim that the county’s Tier Map was unlawfully submitted to the state.
The controversy closes another chapter in the ongoing war between supporters and opponents of former State Senator E.J. Pipkin and current Delegate Michael Smigiel. (Opponents have generally had the backing of former State Senator and now-Congressman Andy Harris, who defeated Pipkin as well as former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest in a bitter 2008 GOP Congressional primary.) Those allied with Smigiel control the county’s Republican Central Committee, and it was Chair Chris Zeauskas who filed the complaint. On the other hand, Tari Moore was backed by Harris in her quest to be Cecil County’s first executive.
Just before assuming office as the incoming County Executive last December, Moore suddenly changed her party affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated, making the switch because she wanted to bypass the county’s GOP Central Committee in selecting her successor. By becoming unaffiliated, she retained the right to pick once County Council became deadlocked in a 2-2 tie between Smigiel supporters and Harris allies. Eventually Moore picked Joyce Bowlsbey, a Republican. (The Republicans control all five seats on Cecil County Council, so this was an intraparty fight.) Judge Marshall agreed that, despite the GOP’s backing in the 2012 election, Moore’s status as unaffiliated at the moment of her resignation from County Council complied with the method of selection prescribed in the county’s Charter and eventually followed.
Yet there is one other piece of business on the table, notwithstanding the possibility of an appeal by Zeauskas. At last fall’s state GOP convention, a motion was made to censure Tari Moore for her “corrupt and reprehensible decision“; a motion which had support from some quarters but was tabled via a fairly close vote. Because of the abrupt cutoff of our Spring Convention this year, we did not revisit the Moore controversy but it may return next month at this year’s Fall Convention in Annapolis.
But now that the court case is settled, the question will be whether Moore rejoins the GOP fold. Those calling for her censure had a point in that Republicans backed her election in the primary; had she gone the independent route in 2012 she would have likely lost badly. Yet I’ve been assured by Moore’s backers that the decision to be unaffiliated was just temporary and would be rectified once the court case was settled. Obviously it would be to her benefit in 2016 to run as a Republican, although this episode has probably assured her of a primary opponent. She would have a hard time in a three-way general election race if the county GOP stays loyal to its nominee and the Democrats run someone, too.
So the clock is ticking. If she changes back before the state convention, the question of censure may be moot in a “no harm, no foul” sense. But if not, even the assurances of Andy Harris may not spare her the state party’s wrath.