In the department of “okay, so…”

The other day I mentioned that I was so far out of the political loop that I didn’t even know who was running for state party chair – in elections past my e-mail box would be chock full of appeals from candidates, but not this time. So it took me to see something on Red Maryland to know who was in the running for the various positions. (I notice none of the RM brain trust is running to have their doors blown off once again, but I digress.)

At this point it looks like only two incumbents are running. We knew Chair Diana Waterman was not interested in another term, but it appears 1st Vice-Chair Mary Burke-Russell won’t be back, either, nor will 3rd Vice-Chair Eugene Craig III or Secretary John Wafer. (No more vanilla wafers when he’s running for something. Pity.) The only one assured of returning is Treasurer Chris Rosenthal, who’s been at it for at least a decade. (Maybe no one else wants the job.) Larry Helminiak is up once again for Second Vice-Chair, but this time he has opposition: Lee Havis (who ran the Cruz campaign in Maryland but became a strong Trump backer; he also heads the Maryland Grassroots Republicans group) and Tim Kingston, who I believe chairs the Queen Anne’s County party.

On the other hand, there are two other walkovers besides Rosenthal’s: Mark Uncapher is the lone candidate for Secretary and Michael Higgs is all by himself for First Vice-Chair.

This leaves two contested races: Maria Pycha vs. Shannon Wright for Third Vice-Chair and a four-way contest for Chair I’ll get to momentarily. Pycha is probably best known recently for managing Dan Bongino’s unsuccessful run for Congress, while Wright had a similar lack of success running for president of Baltimore City Council.

As has often been the case, the biggest race is for the Chair, and it has generally gone more than one ballot. But something tells me Dirk Haire is going to win on the first try, despite having three opponents. William Newton has been a political fighter in a thankless area, but that serves to his disadvantage because he won’t have a support base. Meanwhile, no one has ever heard of Sajid Tarar and Red Maryland already dug dirt up on him.

The race, then, basically comes down to two-time former Comptroller candidate William Campbell (who also unsuccessfully ran for Chair in 2010) and Haire. But if you recall my post about slates in the last convention I attended, you may recall they were a hit:

Having done this before and not been on any sort of slate, my advice to those of you wishing to try in 2020 is to get on one. Unless you have stratospheric name recognition in the party, it’s highly doubtful you’ll advance to the national convention based on past results. It’s a sad state of affairs that this process generally benefits the “establishment” but it is what it is, and the best way to combat it seems to be putting together a slate. Remember, the bottom half of this field was littered with non-slate hopefuls, distasteful as that may seem.

Insofar as I know, there is only one slate and that is the Conservative Club slate that found success in the spring. Haire is on that slate along with Higgs, Kingston, Pycha, Uncapher, and Rosenthal. It will be tough to defeat this sort of saturation bombing (although it can be done) but I think what actually hurts Campbell is the split vote among those who may not prefer Haire because he is a party insider (he has served as General Counsel to the MDGOP.)

Obviously I have no say in the matter, and what will drive the MDGOP through 2018 is the popularity of Governor Hogan to a point where it almost matters not who is Chair. Just smile and look pretty. But I think at this stage of knowing the players a little bit as I do my ballot would go Campbell, withhold, Helminiak (in the sense of leaning that way, with reservations), Pycha, Uncapher, Rosenthal.

But there was a reason why this is in the department of “okay, so…” – this and $5 might get you something at Starbucks. Hope you all have fun at the convention; luckily I have far better plans for the weekend.

Same boss – but a couple new underlings

As many who read this space might be aware I took a pass on this year’s quadrennial Maryland GOP organizing convention, so I have Jackie Wellfonder to thank for this picture of our returning Chair.

It’s suitable for framing and sending to Mike Miller. Two years ahead of schedule, bro.

So while there weren’t as many on the ballot as there were for the very contentious 2010 organizing convention, this year still featured some interesting races with the results being perhaps slightly unexpected. But they could be considered a blow to the libertarian wing of the Maryland Republican Party, as the two candidates most directly tied to their effort both lost – Joe Fleckenstein falling far short against incumbent Secretary John Wafer and incumbent 1st Vice-Chair Collins Bailey losing decisively to Mary Burke-Russell by a weighted 298-249 vote, according to observer Dave Wissing. Bailey was the only incumbent to run and lose, while Burke-Russell wins a position she unsuccessfully sought last year in the wake of Diana Waterman’s ascension to Chair.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Vice-Chair race turned out as I expected, with Larry Helminiak easily winning another term over Greg Holmes.

Perhaps the most interesting dynamic was the 3rd Vice-Chair race, which went to a second ballot when none of the three contenders could garner a majority. On the opening ballot Rob Willoughby held on to a narrow lead over Eugene Craig III with Tommy Rodriguez bringing up the rear. Before the second round Rodriguez dropped out and endorsed Craig, enabling him to come from behind.

Since it may have been that endorsement that made the difference, I asked Tommy Rodriguez why he backed Eugene Craig:

I had great respect for Eugene coming into this race, and I am personally familiar with his charisma and willingness to help our party grow. His Young Guns initiative is exactly the kind of innovative thinking that will help grow the Republican bench and make our party more appealing to young voters.

It was a good enough reason to propel Craig to the victory.

As the party hierarchy preached unity to the convention, though, there was one element which couldn’t resist its sack dance:

Stay classy, guys. I don’t think Collins Bailey will be going away anytime soon, and the libertarian wing of the party may be more feisty than ever during the General Assembly session.

Now that we’ve made it through the convention in a more or less united fashion, the party can begin planning strategy for the aforementioned session. But perhaps the best news of all that came out of the convention was that the party can apparently finally retire its long-term debt. It was something which always concerned me during my tenure on the Central Committee and now that we’ve finally broken into the black we can more easily continue painting Maryland red in 2016 and 2018.

So, to borrow a term from my incoming Delegate, let’s get back to work!

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Tomorrow, unless some last-second nomination is made from the floor and somehow gathers enough support to prevail, Diana Waterman will be elected to a full two-year term as Maryland Republican Party Chair. It would be the first re-election of a Chair in my eight years of involvement, and proves that hard work and success is its own reward. Her tenure has been successful enough to scare off any opposition, so she joins party Treasurer Chris Rosenthal as Executive Board members who presumably have an unopposed re-election.

It’s worth noting that Third Vice-Chair Eric Grannon is the only incumbent taking a pass on another term, and his seat has the most competition with three contenders: Eugene Craig III, Tommy Rodriguez, and Rob Willoughby are all trying for that position.

Each of the three comes at the position with different perspectives. Craig and Rodriguez were most active in the 2014 campaign, as Craig ran for Baltimore County Clerk of the Court and Rodriguez was the campaign manager for the Ron George for Governor bid. Willoughby, on the other hand, comes from a more traditional route as he is the Chair of the Caroline County Republican Central Committee and as such has the longest list of endorsements.

All three are active in social media, with Rodriguez stating his priorities as:

We have an unprecedented opportunity as Maryland Republicans to restore prosperity, accountability and personal liberty to the Free State. As your Vice Chair, I will commit my time and talent towards recruiting the next generation of conservative leaders and building a statewide network of donors and grassroots volunteers who will help them towards victory. Together, we can build a Republican Party committed to growing the middle class, reining in big government and providing the best array of education opportunities in the nation.

Craig has the biggest endorsement in Dan Bongino, a blog post by Jason Boisvert explaining Eugene’s thoughts on priorities, and may have the largest brush with fame of the three candidates. Craig was the first one in the race but both he and Rodriguez may have a difficult time against Willoughby as he is familiar to many more potential voters.

Another intriguing race is the one for Secretary, where incumbent John Wafer has a challenge from Joe Fleckenstein.

While it’s not quite as simple as a description as I’ll give it, basically the job of a secretary is to take notes. (It’s why I do a similar function in two organizations because I also have that mindset as an outgrowth of this gig.) But it also has a vote on the Executive Committee because we changed the bylaws in 2013 to allow this. (I recall it was my former Chair Dave Parker who introduced this as an amendment to a bylaws proposal to also grant the YRs and College Republicans an Executive Committee vote.) Fleckenstein is a steering committee member in the Harford County Campaign for Liberty, reflecting a push by the pro-liberty forces in Maryland to have more of a say in the state party.

In the race for Second Vice-Chair, incumbent Larry Helminiak faces a challenge from Greg Holmes, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress from the Fourth Congressional District this year, losing in the primary. Of the three Vice-Chair races this seems to the the most low-key one.

On the other hand, I am being bombarded by e-mails in support of re-electing Collins Bailey to the First Vice-Chair position, So far here is a list of e-mailers from whom I’ve received Bailey endorsements:

  • Christina Trotta, Harford County (and a Campaign for Liberty member)
  • Larry Helminiak (current Second Vice-Chair)
  • Gordon Bull, Baltimore County (ran for Delegate in District 12)
  • Tyler Harwood, Wicomico County (a Republican activist)
  • Mark Crawford, Charles County
  • Grant Helvey, Worcester County Chair
  • Gary Clark, Howard County
  • Carol Frazier, Worcester County Vice-Chair
  • Richard Rothschild, Carroll County Commissioner
  • Kellee Kennett, Worcester County Tea Party
  • Republican Liberty Caucus of Maryland

The list of endorsements for Mary Burke-Russell isn’t as long, but it does include former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar. She also has the backhanded support of Red Maryland‘s Brian Griffiths, who wrote a scathing piece on Collins Bailey yesterday. Griffiths’ piece comes off as remaining sour grapes from the ill-fated Chair campaign of Greg Kline, but Burke-Russell already appears to be one of the “establishment” choices against the pro-liberty insurgency which you can put Bailey, Fleckenstein, and arguably Eugene Craig into. If all three win the MDGOP may be a more activist vehicle during the General Assembly sessions – perhaps they should be.

Without speaking to any of the candidates personally – and not having a vote in the matter since I chose not to take a proxy offered to me – I’m not going to make any official endorsements in the race. I’m on record as supporting Diana now although at the time I preferred Collins Bailey be the Chair. Larry Helminiak has also done a fine job.

I will say, though, that I believe those who have been in office by and large deserve re-election but the voters would still be served well by the challengers. And given certain winners the Maryland GOP would be far more diverse in all respects than its Democratic counterpart, which seems to try and balance based on external characteristics and not diversity of thought.

Movement down-ticket

On Sunday I marveled at how calm the race for Maryland GOP Chair was, but there is some movement in the races below the one which, to my knowledge, has heretofore left Diana Waterman unopposed for another term.

An interesting race is developing for First Vice-Chair, one which pits incumbent Collins Bailey, a favorite of the pro-liberty crowd, against Mary Burke-Russell, who until recently headed a very successful St. Mary’s County Republican Party. You may recall Bailey was a last-minute nominee for the job in the spring of 2013 after he lost a tight battle with Waterman for party Chair, and Burke-Russell was one of those he defeated for the job in a five-way race.

Besides the pro-liberty endorsements, though, Bailey has the backing of current Second Vice-Chair Larry Helminiak, who noted that:

Though I often have the exact opposite point of view as Mr. Bailey, I have learned that the final decisions arrived at by a board of directors is more acceptable to the membership after both sides of an issue are presented and discussed.

If re-elected to the position of 2nd Vice Chair, I would look forward to spending the next couple of years having open discussions with Collins Bailey.

At this point, no one has stepped forth to challenge Helminiak for his position but that’s likely to change.

Meanwhile, the Third Vice-Chair position has one announced candidate in Eugene Craig III, who last ran for Clerk of the Court in Baltimore County this year. I’m not aware if incumbent Eric Grannon is running for re-election, with the same being true for Secretary John Wafer. However, Treasurer Chris Rosenthal is seeking another term.

If the two who haven’t made their plans known decide to stay on, it would create a powerful argument to maintain the status quo which led the party to some unprecedented successes in 2014. It’s likely more challengers will surface in coming days – I’ll have a better idea when our Central Committee meets Monday night – but as it stands right now the acrimony which has rended the party after previous conventions may not surface. The pro-liberty wing will have representation in Bailey while the so-called “establishment” can point to Waterman as their choice.

It was a formula which held the party together for the 2014 campaign, and it can serve to grow the party over the next two years.

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