The required renovation of Andy Harris

For the four years he has been in office, Andy Harris has generally enjoyed the support of his conservative Eastern Shore constituents. He’s not had a serious primary challenge since he was elected and garnered over 70% of the vote in 2014 against Democrat Bill Tilghman, whose centrist posture was well right of mainstream Democrats but far out of step with the district.

But since that resounding November victory, Andy’s actions in Congress during the lame duck session have earned him further enmity from the strong libertarian wing of the party and alienated conservatives as well.

By inserting a provision into the so-called CRomnibus bill preventing the District of Columbia from enacting its Proposition 71 marijuana legalization, Harris again became the target of District residents and leaders who demanded a tourism boycott of Andy’s Eastern Shore district earlier this summer. Accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pharma followed, but Harris defended the role of Congress spelled out in the Constitution [Article 1, Section 8] as overseer of the District’s affairs.

Yet while the libertarians of the Shore make up a small slice of the constituency – a Libertarian candidate ran in the First District for three successive elections from 2008-12, but never received even 5% of the vote – the conservatives are upset about Andy’s vote in favor of CRomnibus. That segment of the electorate is Andy’s bread and butter.

In the TEA Party community, there are whispers about who could challenge Andy from the right, as several feel he is on the same glide path that Wayne Gilchrest took during his long Congressional career. His 2008 primary defeat (by Harris) came after a bitter campaign where Andy stuck the “liberal” tag successfully on the longtime pol as well as fellow Maryland Senate opponent E. J. Pipkin.

Ironically, a politician long allied with Pipkin could be a prospect to make that challenge. Michael Smigiel, a delegate who was defeated in the 2014 District 36 GOP primary, is popular among the TEA Party community for his strong Second Amendment stance. But it would be difficult for anyone to raise the money Andy has at his disposal and Harris has bolstered his profile among local elected officials and the state Republican party by being generous with his campaign funds through A Great Maryland PAC.

It’s also worth mentioning for context that CRomnibus is probably roughly the same deal which would have been made if the budget were completed in regular order, given the partisan divide between the House and Senate.

Instead, while most functions of the government will continue through next September, the Department of Homeland Security budget has a February expiration date. This sets up a showdown between Congress and Barack Obama regarding the latter’s executive actions to give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; however, some hardliners already feel the damage is done.

In response to a lengthy Facebook post by Harris explaining his CRomnibus stance, though, local activists summed up the frustration TEA party activists felt, noting:

  • “(Harris) does a nice job of listing those riders and amendments that might seem to gain the approbation of the conservative and Republican audiences, while omitting anything that might serve as a balance – what effectively was the PRICE paid for what was had, the PRICE of ‘compromise.’”
  • “It is rather sad that Andy thinks that he can list a few paltry gains and that will make us overlook the whole thousand page monstrosity. The obvious question is that if he got in a few tidbits that he wanted, then who else got in their tidbits and what are those?  I would imagine that they will far outweigh any small gains that he is bragging about.”

These activists agree one way Harris could help to restore his image would be to take the lead in the conservative grassroots push to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Bear in mind that this could come at some cost as Andy serves on the Appropriations Committee and a Boehner victory over any challenger for whom Andy shows support could bring repercussions such as the stripping of his position there, but on balance I believe a potential sacrifice such as that is worth the opportunity to have a stronger conservative leader as Speaker. It’s a sentiment shared by commentators at American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, and RedState.

On November 4, people hungry for real change went to the polls to reject the Democratic Senate and place Republicans firmly in control of Congress. The events leading to the CRonmibus, though, shook the confidence that Washington would depart from its business-as-usual benefits to the ruling class by allowing the outgoing defeated members one last hurrah. While all of this blame cannot be laid at the feet of John Boehner, there is a mood in this country that a strong counterbalance is needed to the increasing use of Executive Branch power by Barack Obama, particularly on immigration and Obamacare. The fear of many conservatives, particularly those in the First District, is that John Boehner doesn’t have the spine to rein in the executive.

Just like in 2008, when Andy Harris first ran for Congress, the potential is there in 2016 for state elected officials to “run from cover” as their Delegate or Senate seats aren’t on the ballot. During the similar 2012 election, 7 members of the Maryland General Assembly ran for Congress – one for the Senate and six for various Congressional seats. While none were successful overall, two won their party primary and ran through November.

No member of Congress is universally loved, and being a representative at any level of government means you won’t please everyone. But there’s a growing number who want Andy Harris to be a conservative leader and not just talk a good game.

To the left, the world is not enough

I’ve probably given as many pixels to failed candidate Rick Weiland as anyone outside his native South Dakota, but it’s because I think he’s very useful as a gauge of reactionary liberalism in a part of the nation which has maintained a streak of populism surprising for such a rural area. While the South has gone almost completely Republican, those in the rural Midwest will occasionally elect Democrats they deem to be centrists or populists on a statewide level. South Dakota has rejected Weiland several times, but it doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying and to me that exhibits precisely how the far left operates and why it’s important to hear about their desires. (He could also use the money since he can’t manage his campaign funds, but I digress.)

So yesterday, in the wake of the debate about CRomnibus, I received a missive called “We can’t breathe!” from which I quote in part:

The revenge of the money changers is in full swing in Congress today.

Let the big banks have their swaps back. Let Las Vegas advertise itself with your tax dollars. Increase by 1000% the amount billionaires can contribute to buy off our political parties.

Men of color are not the only ones they have in a choke-hold – now they’ve got all of us – and it’s way past time to tell them none of us can breathe!

Emboldened by the Obama-haters they just elected, Wall Street is readying the nooses for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. They think they can’t be stopped.

But WE can stop them!

24 states allow initiatives and referendums – 24 states where you can show them exactly what you think of their choke-hold on the rest of us.

So let’s put what they are doing to us on the ballot in those 24 states and find out who is right.

(snip)

Help us close down the debt on my just completed Senate campaign, and fire up our initiative and referendum team. Because we are going to turn our little state into a laboratory for direct democracy.

A laboratory and an export market.

Let’s put Citizens United, Ferguson, and Big Bank plutocracy on trial at the ballot box.

Because when you go down fighting instead of whimpering, a funny thing often happens: people notice, then they think a little, and pretty soon they’re fighting too.

If you have to vote on it you have to think about it.  So let’s put our ideas directly on the ballot and pick a fight. (All emphasis in original.)

This is the mirror-reverse of the strategy Maryland Republicans tried in 2012 to petition already-enacted legislation to referendum, which failed. Looking back, I wonder if the Maryland Republican Party isn’t kicking itself for not placing the “bathroom bill” or 2013 gun bill on the ballot this year – we may have even had a more shocking victory by repealing both laws. (The counter-argument, of course, is the “sleeping dog” school of thought which liked the Democrats’ low turnout – perhaps the inclusion of those ballot measures would have hurt Larry Hogan’s chances by bringing out more liberal Democrats.)

It’s also true that, even in the face of a Republican wave election, four states that had a minimum wage increase on the ballot, including the aforementioned South Dakota, passed these measures while electing Republican Senators – in Alaska and Arkansas the Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate were defeated on that same ballot. (Nebraska was the fourth state.) Again, this shows the streak of populism which occurs in the Midwest.

Obviously Weiland sees a trend, exhibited in his home state, where direct democracy can succeed in accomplishing those things a representative republic would not. As the minimum wage example shows, people can be fooled into voting against their best interests – that’s why we were founded as a Constitutional republic.

Weiland’s mindset is shared by a lot of people, though. Witness the populist appeal to Southern voters espoused by the writer of the linked New Republic piece, Michael A. Cooper, Jr., who pleads with his party:

Speaking as a southerner, we need help, not from the DCCC but from government to deal with issues like homelessness and drug addiction.

These aren’t esoteric concerns Beltway liberals tut-tut about like global warming or political correctness, but true pocketbook issues which unfortunately tend to affect the poorest among us. Conservatives would prefer these issues be dealt with on more of a faith-based level through private charity but it can also be addressed by local and state governments. (By the way, thanks to Jackie Wellfonder for bringing the New Republic piece to my attention just in time for me to add it in because it fit the point so well.)

Just as the right has its TEA Party movement which has cooled to the mainstream Republican party – and for good reason – many activists on the left are embracing their new savior as Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose populist screed against Wall Street has won the backing of elements of the Democrat Party who think Barack Obama sold them out and Hillary Clinton is too close to the right wing. They are also fed up with the government, but stare at the problem from the other side of the fence because they want the power of government to regulate corporatism out of existence, or rein it in as fascism dictates.

Meanwhile, while these Warren acolytes whine about what Barack Obama is not providing them, they fail to see that many of their goals are being realized anyway. Truly it’s the Right that’s not being served.

As the new year arrives and Republicans take over Congress (along with the governor’s chair in Annapolis) we will begin to see all the stories and tales of woe unreported on over the last six years. There’s a lot of work to do, and Republican leaders in Congress didn’t get off on the right foot by passing CRomnibus. We must demand, now that we’ve granted them the opportunity to complete the FY2016 budget in regular order as they’ve wished to do for several years, that our priorities be the ones funded and the mistakes of the last six years deleted.

Perhaps we can also do our part in using the referendum system in advancing conservative causes as well. Two can play that game, and it’s just as important to motivate our voters as it is for the other side to buy theirs.

The spread of success

A few days ago I, along with other Central Committee members and “interested parties,” received a memo from the Congressional campaign of Andy Harris. While the information I received probably isn’t public knowledge in its format, it is possible to find all of the facts provided through diligent searching and I believe revealing a little bit of it will help me to make a larger point.

In this memo, Harris outlines the “work (the campaign) did this cycle for candidates in Maryland and around the nation.” Just before the election we found out about A Great Maryland PAC and some of the assistance it gave in promoting candidates or pointing out flaws in the record of incumbent Democrats, but Harris did more – a lot more. As the memo explains:

On the Eastern Shore, maximum contributions through the Andy Harris campaign and Chesapeake PAC were made to delegate candidates Carl Anderton and Kevin Hornberger, both of whom defeated long-time Democrat stalwarts. Carl defeated 28 year incumbent Norm Conway, who also is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a Wicomico County based district. Kevin defeated 16 year incumbent David Rudolph, who is the Vice Chair of the Economic Matters Committee, in a Cecil County district. Every seat on the Shore other than the democratically drawn majority-minority district is now held by Republicans. The lone Democrat State Senator on the Shore, Jim Mathias, regrettably, barely held on to his seat despite investments of time and financial resources in the race. All three delegate seats in his State Senate district went Republican, but Mathias held on by the skin of his teeth.

Another big highlight on the Shore was the defeat of Democrat Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt by Republican Bob Culver. Congressman Harris donated significantly to Bob’s campaign, and Culver was able to pull it out. In addition to these Democrat-held seats, four candidates running in open seats and supported by Harris were able to put their races away with ease. Mary Beth Carozza (Worcester) won 74% in her single member district. Chris Adams (Wicomico) and Johnny Mautz (Talbot) each doubled the amount of votes received by their Democratic challengers. Jay Jacobs (Kent), Steve Arentz (Queen Anne’s) and Jeff Ghrist (Caroline) all ran strong victorious delegate campaigns. With the election of Jeff Ghrist, Caroline County has for the first time in decades a resident delegate.

Every Republican Delegate or Senate candidate who represents a part of the First District received some level of financial support from Congressman Harris.

A good illustration of the impact outside help can make is found with Anderton’s race. Throughout the campaign. incumbent Norm Conway’s bankroll fluctuated in a range of $75,000 to $100,000 on hand. With most candidates, it’s difficult to overcome that much of a financial disadvantage; indeed, it turned out Carl was outspent in the race by more than 4 to 1. While Anderton put in a tremendous amount of sweat equity, having the money to wage a little bit of a media campaign and not completely cede the airwaves made a big difference.

But another local race illustrates the problem a statewide minority party has. That “skin of the teeth” victory by Jim Mathias also was won at great cost – like Anderton, Republican challenger Mike McDermott was outspent by better than 4 to 1. For Mathias, though, the victory was won on the airwaves as he spent $268,850 over the last month at a company called Screen Strategies, which is a really big gun in that it’s worked for several statewide Democratic campaigns and leftist interest groups, including anti-traditional marriage and pro-abortion entities. On just that firm alone, Mathias spent 2.3 times what Mike McDermott spent on his entire campaign. And since it’s a more far-flung Senate district – as opposed to the relatively compact confines of House District 38B in the immediate Salisbury metro area – the impact of media is much greater because no candidate can be everywhere in three counties every day.

What the Maryland Republican Party needs is more people to pull in money like Harris does and spread it around. While Democrats have a registration majority of roughly 2 to 1 over Republicans and 56% of the overall electorate, they hold a margin larger than their proportion in the Maryland Senate and prior to this year’s election did the same in the House – and that’s not to mention their 9 to 1 advantage in Maryland’s Congressional delegation. When Jim Mathias and Norm Conway needed financial help, their party and interests were able to provide it. Unfortunately, it’s only because of Andy Harris that the First District is the one portion of the state where the GOP can counter this – the rest of the state exists more or less on its own. The loss of Dan Bongino in the Sixth Congressional District was troubling because that end of the state could have received the same assistance down the road.

One big, big problem with the Republican Party in Maryland is that they can’t fill out their ballot throughout the state, and even in certain county races. While Republicans have outdone their registration disadvantage in Wicomico County for the past several years, we still could not find candidates willing to go after two open seats, one for Delegate and one for County Council, in majority-minority districts. Granted, one only became open when the current Delegate withdrew at the last possible minute AFTER the filing deadline, but the GOP still could add a name to the ballot for a few days afterward. We tried, but no one would make that commitment. Now that people are becoming aware they could get at least a little financial help, though, that problem could be solved in 2018.

Though they have an uphill battle at best, those sacrificial lambs serve a noble purpose by making the Democrats spend money on their campaigns, money that they can’t send off to a vulnerable fellow candidate someplace else in the state – as many “safe” Democrats did to help Mathias. With few exceptions, Democrats found people willing to carry their banner in Republican-held areas so we had to pay some attention to them.

And there’s always the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle because once in awhile miracles happen – everyone and their brother thought District 38B was gerrymandered into a safe seat for Norm Conway, but the voters proved otherwise.

Those District 38B voters were better informed because they have a Congressman who’s willing to not just vote conservatively in Congress, but help in building a viable conservative movement in Maryland. In the meantime, state Republicans could stand some lessons from Carl on how to win an uphill battle.

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.

All quiet on the western front

They say success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. In the case of the Maryland Republican Party, the inverse seems to be true: thanks to the outstanding election results, people seem to be satisfied with the status quo. I may be out of the loop insofar as voting, but I’m still on the list distributed to the state party because I remain an officer on our local central committee.

Just in case the candidates were really checking their e-mail lists and omitting me because I don’t have a vote (although I would probably be first in line for a proxy) I asked a few of my cohorts if they were getting any campaign-related items and aside from knowing Diana Waterman and party treasurer Chris Rosenthal were seeking new terms the answer was no. Considering the state of the race in 2010, it appears the convention will be fairly innocuous compared to organizing conventions in the past; perhaps victory is the balm which heals old wounds. As one of my respondents noted, “Frankly I don’t see anyone having an easy time of defeating (Diana) – unless s/he can sell the Party on the idea that cleaning out the officers is the right thing to do after the most devastating victory in memory.”

So in terms of party unity this may be the best convention since 2002, which is before my time in this state. It doesn’t appear Larry Hogan will want “his” chairman put in place at this point, although in two years it may be a different story.

Perhaps the one interesting point of view to be presented will be the now semi-annual Friday night gathering of the Maryland Liberty Action group, a get-together which will feature some good speakers: Delegate-elect Robin Grammer, Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, and MLA director of operations Christina Trotta (a fan of this site, by the way.) It’s a good representation of the libertarian side of the GOP, and it’s a crowd which tends to skew younger than the average Central Committee member.

With a focus on what we can expect during the upcoming 2015 General Assembly session it will certainly be worth it to stop by if you’re at the convention. They start a little earlier than most of the other hospitality suites (a 6:00 start) so you can check them out before heading over to the other suites sponsored by the various candidates. (Pro tip: as I recall – and unlike a lot of our other venues over the years – Turf Valley had suites in two very separate areas of the complex, so check your local listings.)

Victory has been a rare experience for Maryland Republicans, so if the convention has the same joyous mood as our local election night party, Turf Valley should be rocking on December 5.

The same direction

It’s been a great month for Maryland Republicans, and after a few weeks to finish the counting of both our votes and our blessings on Thanksgiving, the party will meet early next month to elect its new leadership.

Unlike the last few times we have done this (I say “we” because I was a part of the process for eight years) the convention mood should be pretty joyous. Consider the situations where we’ve had this election in recent years I’ve been involved:

  • In 2006 we elected Jim Pelura in the wake of losing the governor’s race and taking a step backward nationally.
  • In 2009 Audrey Scott was picked to finish Pelura’s four-year term at a time when the party was broke, desperate, and suffered from infighting over Jim’s activist role while he was Chair.
  • In 2010 we lost the governor’s race again after a contested primary, missing out on the TEA Party wave which otherwise swept the country with the exception of getting back the First District Congressional seat. Alex Mooney won based on a platform of improving the party’s fiscal situation.
  • In early 2013, Diana Waterman ascended to the position as the previous First Vice-Chair, taking over a party riven by discord between TEA Party conservatives and more moderate members. Mooney’s promise of financial health had not come true, so the party was forced to downsize its headquarters in an effort to maintain solvency.

I did a little reading of my archives over the last few minutes in order to rehash the 2010 race (which was decided a week later than this year’s convention will be) and it’s interesting to note I spent the better part of a month talking about the race and its various players last time. Granted, we were talking about an open seat since Audrey Scott didn’t want another term, but the success of 2014 means a lot of people should be happy with the current leadership.

Moreover, there is a slightly different dynamic at play this time around – by-law changes a few years back mean the recently-concluded term of Mooney/Waterman was the final four-year term for a party Chair. As of this election, the new Chair will be in office for just two years, through the Fall Convention in 2016.

This gives the party an opportunity to split the four-year cycle into two logical halves. The first half should be devoted to something which was done fairly well in this cycle with a few exceptions – candidate recruitment and growing the party. Once we see the 2016 results and know the health of the national party, we can go to more of a re-elect Hogan mode with fundraising being the main idea. Personally, I think Diana deserves the opportunity to lead over the next two years, while the Hogan administration can have its selection for years 3 and 4. The 2018 election will be important to our side as the winner controls redistricting, so egregious gerrymanders such as the Third and Sixth Congressional Districts can be addressed once the 2020 census is complete.

Unless I hold a proxy for the convention I won’t have a direct say in the matter but I think the Maryland GOP would be well-served to avoid a divisive fight in this convention and work toward making inroads into more Democratic-controlled areas by identifying and recruiting good candidates, volunteers, and financial supporters for the 2018 cycle. I see no need to make a change if Diana Waterman wants the job for another two years.

Update: Going by her reply to my Facebook post promoting this piece, she’s in.

Tales of an election

So now that you know where I was on Election Night (thanks to Muir Boda) let me shine some light on our party. I’m the guy in the McDermott shirt; hopefully it wasn’t a jinx.

Unlike a lot of elections past, I did not work a poll. My outside job had tasks which a) had to be covered Tuesday and b) were up in Dover. I didn’t even get home until almost 8:00; fortunately knowing this a couple weeks in advance I could hold my nose and vote early.

Since I wanted a table to write notes on I sat next to Dr. Rene Desmarais, who has admirably remained in the fray despite his primary election loss. I hope the Hogan administration can use his health care expertise. He’s the guy at the laptop in the checkered shirt.

Taking my seat for a few minutes was Mike McDermott, who was anxiously looking at results and drawing attention.

Mike didn’t stay all that long. I figure he went home to see his supporters and share the bad news with them, since it was obvious from the get-go he wasn’t doing all that well. It turned out that Wicomico was the only one of the three counties Mike won, and it’s a margin which is pending absentees. The difference between Michael James in 2010 and Mike in 2014 seems to be that McDermott did poorly in Somerset County, which James carried but Mike lost by almost 700 votes.

Obviously there were a lot of people who craved information. Bob Culver (center, in white) and Joe Holloway (right) were awaiting results.

As it turned out, Culver erased a slight early voting disadvantage to rout incumbent County Executive Rick Pollitt by almost 3,000 votes, with just under 56% all told. Holloway had much less to worry about as his Democratic opponent withdrew after the primary and was not replaced by the local party.

The two pictured there were the conservative backbone of the local County Council, and hopefully two newcomers are going to maintain the proper direction.

Larry Dodd (in the arm sling) and Marc Kilmer are two of the three “new” Republican members of County Council, although Dodd represented District 5 for 4 years before Joe Holloway defeated him in the 2006 primary. Similarly, John Cannon left County Council after one term in 2010 to run unsuccessfully for a seat in the House of Delegates before winning again last night. Thus, Marc Kilmer is one of just two “new” County Council members; the other being lone Democrat Ernest Davis, who was unopposed for the District 1 seat.

As it turned out, County Council maintained its 6-1 Republican edge. But there are definite things to look out for, as two of those Republicans openly backed Rick Pollitt for County Executive.

I don’t think Matt Holloway or John Hall will be opposed to the elected school board Republicans in Wicomico County have sought for years, only to be thwarted by Rick Pollitt and (especially) Norm Conway. Both those obstacles are no more; to his credit Jim Mathias has been supportive of the idea in the past and a Senate bill for the elected school board passed there in 2011. (Conway sponsored a House bill that passed in 2011, but did not in 2012 – nor did a Senate bill that year. No action was taken in 2013 or 2014.)

But Pollitt was quick to point out in debates and forums that four of the six Republicans voted for his latest budget. Two of them, Gail Bartkovich and Stevie Prettyman, did not seek another term, but Matt Holloway and John Hall were the other two. Beginning with the FY2016 budget, it may be a battle to get four votes on County Council if Matt Holloway and Hall maintain their big-spending ways.

I would also love to see the county’s speed cameras become a thing of the past, as Culver was the lone voice of reason to vote against their adoption. It’s called excising that line item from the budget.

The party itself was relatively well-attended, although I’m certain some candidates had their own gatherings. At its peak there were probably 50-60 people in the house.

But while the news was good on the county front, there’s no doubt the star of the show was one Carl Anderton, Jr.

At 9:45 Bunky Luffman, Anderton’s campaign manager, sidled up to me and predicted, “I think we’ve got it.” He explained a particular precinct where they were hoping to get 30% of the vote came in down by just 89 votes.

Anderton’s win, though, was just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of Titanic Democrats went down last night (with lifetime monoblogue Accountability Project scores shown):

  • After six terms, longtime Blue Dog Democrat Delegate Kevin Kelly in District 1B (mAP = 40) lost to Jason Buckel.
  • Delegate John Donoghue (mAP = 9), also a 24-year veteran, was ousted in District 2B by Brett Wilson.
  • In District 6, 9-year incumbent Delegate John Olszewski, Jr. (mAP = 16) lost his bid for the Senate seat held for 48 years by Norman Stone, Jr. (mAP = 28). Three-term Delegate Michael Weir, Jr. (mAP = 28) was also knocked off.
  • Longtime District 29 Senator (and onetime Congressman) Roy Dyson (mAP = 26) lost his bid for a sixth term to Steve Waugh. In that same district, 15-year veteran John Bohanon (mAP = 6) trails Deb Rey by 115 votes with absentees to count.
  • District 34′s Senate seat stayed in GOP hands as Bob Cassilly defeated Delegate Mary-Dulany James (mAP =14), who leaves after 16 years.
  • In District 35A, 20-year incumbent David Rudolph (mAP = 17) lost to Kevin Hornberger.
  • And we know about 28-year incumbent and committee Chair Norm Conway (mAP = 6) who lost to Anderton.

Most of the damage, though, came from the ranks of “moderate” Democrats. According to the monoblogue Accountability Project, these were the top 10 Democrats and here’s how they did.

  1. Delegate John Wood, Jr. – retired, endorsed Larry Hogan.
  2. Delegate Kevin Kelly – lost re-election.
  3. Delegate Joseph “Sonny” Minnick – retired.
  4. Senator Norman Stone – retired.
  5. Delegate Michael Weir, Jr. – lost re-election.
  6. Senator James DeGrange – won with 59% of vote.
  7. Senator Jim Mathias – won with 52% of vote.
  8. Senator Roy Dyson – lost re-election.
  9. Senator John Astle – won with 51% of the vote.
  10. Senator James Brochin – won with 52% of the vote.

Six out of the 10 won’t be back and only one of the remaining four won convincingly. Not knowing how most of those who defeated these incumbents will vote, the chances are the divide between the two parties will become more pronounced. Only a couple hardline Democrats (those 10 or less on the mAP) were losers last night, while McDermott was the only Republican to lose in the general election. In the respect that Democrats managed to get rid of two perpetual thorns in their side through redistricting (Mike McDermott and Don Dwyer) it was a success, but the GOP still picked up more seats than they did before the new districts were drawn in 2010.

So the stage is set for what should be a very intriguing (and hopefully, prosperous for this county and state) four-year term.

Finally, I want to go through a little of my thinking on these races. I was perhaps less optimistic than most about the outcomes because I figured Democratic turnout would be about where it was four years ago. But as it happens, turnout is going to be about 46%, which is a significant decline from the 54% posted in 2010. If the Democratic turnout followed that pattern it was about 10% less than I figured it would be, and those that were passionate enough to show up may likely have cast a number of votes for the GOP.

Simply put, the Democratic base didn’t show up. Whether it was disillusionment with the candidates or just a general apathy, it looks like the GOP filled the void, to the benefit of the state.

After it was all over, I spoke a little bit with David Warren, who came down here to run the Eastern Shore Victory Headquarters.

He pointed out two key factors that led to Hogan’s win: money from the RNC and Republican Governor’s Association, and the help – both financially and in volunteers – from the College Republicans, from the national level to all the phone calls made by the local Salisbury University CRs. “Teenagers and college kids get it,” said Warren.

David also praised the work of state party Chair Diana Waterman and Executive Director Joe Cluster, saying “what they did was phenomenal.” Similar praise was heaped by Warren onto Andy Harris, who put a lot of money into these local races and helped level the playing field.

Finally, I have one more statement. Eight years ago, it was said that:

(GOP leaders are) “going to be flying high, but we’re going to get together and we’re going to shoot them down. We’re going to bury them face down in the ground, and it’ll be 10 years before they crawl out again.”

I think we’re two years early, Mike Miller. Suck on that.

Outside the forum

I’ll go a little more in-depth later about the Coastal Association of Realtors/Salisbury Independent candidate forum over the coming days, but there are two key takeaways involving Delegate Norm Conway.

The first is the public apology made by Carl Anderton to Conway regarding the recent release of a flyer depicting Conway in a ski mask. He devoted the main portion of this opening remarks to his mea culpa.

I had a great opening speech prepared – I thought about it all day driving in the rain, but I need to do something, need to correct a wrong and this is how I was raised: to do the right thing and put everything aside for what’s right.

And I want to apologize to you, Mister Conway for a mailer that was sent out, apparently on behalf of me – if that was on behalf of me, I wish it would stop. It was tasteless, shameful, and disgusting and I apologize to you on behalf of whoever sent that.

Anderton went on to say that he had contacted the state Republican party and expressed his disappointment, as he was seeking to run a clean campaign based on the facts and issues.

But just a few hours after the debate, another photo came out.

The car has a House of Delegates plate on it and one can easily read the Conway sticker. Obviously there are a few possible explanations for this, but unless Mrs. Conway was there and needs the designation it’s pretty likely that the car was in a spot most people couldn’t take without a fine. Joe Steffen came to his own conclusion.

Without going too deeply into the content of the forum, though, I wanted to pass along some of my observations.

For one thing, the event lasted 2 1/2 hours and featured a total of 15 candidates – six from District 37, four from District 38, and five in Wicomico County at-large races. Notably missing were the two District 38C candidates (although Judy Davis was in attendance) and the two running for Senate in District 38; on the other hand, both District 38A candidates were there despite the fact their district no longer covers Wicomico County. Regardless, the high number of candidates made for too few questions – I think the event should have played out over two nights as it did in 2010.

Maybe it was just me being tired, but to me I didn’t pick up a great deal of variety among the answers. Even the Democrats pretty much tried to sound conservative, but we know better how they will fare in Annapolis (or in county government.) I’ll still write up a summary on this, but the unusual nature of some of the questions made me scratch my head.

So look for that over the coming days as my plate is filling up. I just wanted to jot down some initial thoughts this morning.

A satisfying Super Saturday

A couple months ago, the Maryland Republican Party designated yesterday as a Super Saturday for Wicomico County, a day where the MDGOP increased its emphasis on door-to-door and other voter contacts for local candidates. As a culmination to the day, the Eastern Shore Victory Headquarters was the setting for a fundraiser and appreciation party.

Among the state party luminaries who attended the after-party were state party Chair Diana Waterman and National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose.

Ambrose noted this area was one of a handful the state party was targeting this time around, with well over 1,000 voter contacts made on this day both from headquarters and door-to-door.

Introducing the candidate was the guy who took Anderton’s seat on the Delmar Commission when Anderton became mayor, Bunky Luffman. He told the crowd that Carl “builds consensus” for getting things done and reminded us that Anderton spoke to “chicken tax” sponsor Delegate Shane Robinson, leading to an eventual withdrawal of the House bill. Being Maryland Municipal League head gave Carl a measure of influence.

With that intro, Carl addressed the group.

Among the ideas Anderton spoke about were the prospect of addressing the tax differential, which would require enabling legislation that hasn’t been a priority for the incumbent. Another issue where Norm Conway was “a crutch” to keep it from happening is an elected school board. In short, Conway has “failed us miserably time and time again.”

He also noted Peter Franchot’s case that a large property tax increase will need to be made, blaming the massive debt increase Conway has supported over the years.

While it was his fundraiser, Carl yielded the floor to his special guest, Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio.

Jeannie recalled that the 2010 election saw House Republicans in Maryland gain six seats, or one for each committee. “We were starting to effect change,” she said, particularly on the sub-committees – so the Democrats started doing more work at the committee level where GOP strength was diluted. She added that our side wins the floor debates, but can’t win the votes – so having delegates like Carl would help in that regard.

Jeannie was also a popular photo subject. I got a couple as she posed with Muir Boda in the top photo and the host in the bottom.

Yet the work wasn’t done. Looking at Carl’s Facebook page, he noted that they were still hard at work building signs at 10:30 at night. To beat a well-funded incumbent, the workday is long.

Hearing from a Patriot

We’d built up the event for months, so it was no surprise we filled the room for our first-ever Patriot’s Dinner featuring former Congressman, author, fill-in radio host, and most importantly Lt. Col. Allen West. It was the culmination of an afternoon of events which featured a reception with Republican youths from around the area, VIP events for West’s Guardian Fund and the Maryland Republican Party, and the dinner itself.

West promised to speak for about 25 minutes and answer questions afterward, directing his remarks toward the “criticality” of our situation. He first asked if this was really the home of the brave when we outsource our fight against Islamic terrorists to the Free Syrian Army while decimating our military capability to levels unseen since before World War II. West pointed out that Barack Obama was bombing his seventh country, but chided Congress for its lack of bravery because “no one is asking if we are at war.”

“If someone is dropping a bomb on my head, we are at war,” said West, continuing that Congress was failing its Constitutional obligation to declare war. West was very critical of both Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, calling them “the two biggest violators of the Constitution.”

West went out to state that in many respects, we we not keeping our Republic, as Benjamin Franklin warned us we had to, but sliding into a monarchy. We need people who would be the “loyal opposition” to tyranny, added the Colonel. Moreover, we’re failing to meet this challenge because we aren’t educating ourselves on how to keep this republic. Even the verbiage has been altered, as West later went on to talk about the co-opting of the word “liberal,” noting “true conservatives are classical liberals.”

Turning to the state of the Republican Party, Allen explained that the sole reason for the GOP’s founding wasn’t to abolish slavery but to maintain Thomas Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal.” Unlike the era of its founding and its shackles of physical bondage, the black population today was under the “shackles of economic hardship,” a condition West termed was “even worse than physical bondage.” The letters G, O, and P should stand for growth, opportunity, and promise, said West. “We believe in equality of opportunity.”

West also had harsh words for the welfare state. There should be a safety net, he opined, but that safety net “is meant to bounce you back up.” Instead it’s become a hammock, and like all hammocks over time it begins to rot and eventually will collapse under the weight.

Allen also made the case that the promise of America was to keep us safe. He decried the “cowards” who preach political correctness, maintaining the argument that “political correctness will only get you killed.”

Finally, West challenged the group. “I’m pointing a finger into your chest,” he said. “Stop being worried about them calling you names.” He challenged us to engage 5 of our more liberal friends and set a goal of changing the minds of three. Noting Barack Obama has only a 40 percent approval rating, he called those 40 percent the “stuck on stupid folks,” lastly repeating Franklin’s assertion that “you have a republic, if you can keep it.”

After the standing ovation, West took questions. Naturally the first one asked if he would consider being Vice-President, to which West replied “if God determines I will be in that position.”

On a question relating to our military, West repeated his point that we are in “one of the weakest states we have seen,” adding that, “the world is Machiavellian.” West compared the release of Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl – “in the socialist mind, Bowe Bergdahl is a hero” – to the fate of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has languished in a Mexican jail since April for accidentally bringing a gun into the country. West criticized the fact Tahmooressi wasn’t brought up in the June meeting between Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, thundering that he’d demand Tahmooressi, along with his gun and his car, back in the country before Nieto was let in.

The next questioner wondered if it was too late to reverse this tide, with West noting we’re “almost at the tipping point.” Allen added that there’s “no self-esteem (gained) from sitting in the hammock.” Instead, we needed leaders to emerge like Dan Bongino, who West’s Guardian Fund is supporting because Bongino “has a lot of fight in him.”

Two questions about the state of our monetary system followed, dealing with the prospective collapse of the dollar and its effect on gold and silver. West pointed out that, in his belief, “we do not have a free-market economy,” feeling instead that “the bubble is coming” because of a circular exchange of money primed by the continual printing of dollars. He felt there was a strong possibility that if a Republican in elected in 2016, the Federal Reserve will suddenly end this practice just to do damage to the economy under a Republican president. West also opined we may have to return to the gold standard.

When asked about the lack of bold leadership, Allen made it simple: “Start electing them.” Pointing to the candidates at the head table, he added, “start building your farm team.” We need to communicate our ideas with the American people, West added, noting that the other side “plays chess while we play checkers.” Referring to the campaign placed against him in his 2012 Congressional re-election bid – a race made difficult because Florida Republicans redistricted him to a new district – West also believed that “if I’m their number one target, I feel good about it.”

The piece of advice he would give about minority outreach? “Talk to them about who they really are,” said Allen, who also challenged their mindset about rights, asking if not God, who do your inalienable rights come from? It led into the final question about education, where West made the case that “the most important elected position is school board” and couldn’t believe ours was appointed. West also believed the time had come to establish more of our own universities, using Hillsdale College and Liberty University as examples to follow.

As part of the leadup to West’s speech, he was presented with a Benghazi bracelet by Bev Bigler of the Worcester County Republican Central Committee. The poem “The Battling Boys of Benghazi” was also included with the program.

This was part of their effort to keep the Benghazi incident (and subsequent questions about a coverup) fresh in mind.

A number of elected officials and candidates took time out of their busy schedules to attend the proceedings, with some taking advantage of the moment to pose with Lt. Col. West. It was interesting to have a contingent from southern Maryland there, with those clad in red at the table in the preceding picture’s foreground part of the campaign team of District 27 State Senator candidate Jesse Peed. (Peed has the uphill battle of taking on Senate President Mike Miller, a man who desperately needs to be retired.)

So the months of preparation, back-and-forth communication between the several parties involved, and last-minute scrambling to get the details just so made for an entertaining and informative evening. There may be a thing or two for me to add to this post, but I think I can speak for the Central Committee in saying that we enjoyed the living daylights out of it, but are glad it’s over so we can focus on the election.

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