I’m sure that Audrey Scott and the Maryland GOP had an inkling of what to expect tonight because she was just here Saturday night for our Lincoln Day Dinner. Indeed, we had a pretty full house for tonight’s event.
As host, Wicomico County GOP chair John Bartkovich made it plain that “if you have been a Republican this is your year to run.” In fact, the setup of the town hall meeting encouraged candidates to come up and briefly say their piece – a number of them did.
But first we heard from state party Chair Audrey Scott, who commented that the GOP was “being ignored” on the local and state levels. There needed to be a better check and balance but Republicans had “no seat at the table.” All citizens benefit when there is the check and balance of a good two-party system, she continued.
After successes in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, we had an opportunity in Maryland – the “Massachusetts Miracle” of Scott Brown could be a “Maryland Miracle” too. Yet one of the biggest challenges was fundraising.
Scott also commented that a year ago being state chairman “wasn’t on my radar screen” but she stepped up and began quickly “dialing for dollars” to make up the huge deficit left by her predecessors. The money was necessary because “our message has to get out there.” It’s a message that addresses the high taxes, deficit spending, and rampant unemployment currently featured by the present administration in Annapolis and Washington.
At this point we heard from a number of candidates for posts in Annapolis, most noteworthy among them District 38 Senate candidate Michael James and District 38B Delegate hopeful Mike McDermott.
James pointed out that he learned from some of the mistakes he made in running for Delegate in 2006. As he “replays the election” in his head, he’s learned to ask for help for this round. But he also noted that several of the current local issues were ones he brought up then – helping the poultry industry and toughening child predator laws were on his radar screen back then, proof that he was a “proactive rather than reactive” candidate.
McDermott used a recent example of talking to a reporter from the Salisbury University student newspaper as an opportunity to expound upon his platform planks of property rights and liberty. He also recounted how he increased services yet lowered taxes as mayor of Pocomoke City by bringing in industry. “Jobs are what Maryland needs,” stated Mike, and spending habits “need to change.”
Local candidates like County Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich also spoke.
She mentioned the fact that under her leadership County Council is more informed and the public better kept abreast of developments – for example, most of the content of the briefing books used by County Council for each meeting are now online. “I don’t like secrets,” said Gail. Big upcoming issues are getting an elected school board, redistricting, and the county’s comprehensive plan.
Between speakers, Audrey kept the conversation going based on topics candidates brought up. For example, after Gail brought up redistricting, Scott agreed it’s our state’s “number one issue” because that is controlled by the governor. Later on, when other citizens addressed a number of issues, Audrey opined on several of them. One passage I found interesting was her statement that, “‘Atlas Shrugged’ is happening in America.” (I happen to agree.) She also mentioned that “I fear for the future of my country and my state,” which would probably place her in agreement with most of the TEA Party participants in the room.
One of the more prominent TEA Party participants was among about a half dozen citizens who spoke.
While the format made the public comment time somewhat limited, a number of hot-button issues came up. Most of them had to do with trust. For example, Julie was among several audience members who wanted more outreach from the GOP to the TEA Party leadership (a point I have echoed as well.) John Palmer of the local advocacy group VOICE wanted answers from Bob Ehrlich on a number of measures he enacted during his term.
Others had more national concerns. Joe Ollinger said simply that, “Michael Steele cannot be the face of the GOP” given recent party scandals. Another complained about the RNC meeting in Hawaii, but Audrey replied that the meeting had been arranged well in advance at the request of Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle. Scott also noted that “the RNC is listening like they never have before.”
She concluded by telling those assembled that our “first issue is unity” and we need to follow the Reagan 80-20 rule (agreeing with 80% of a candidate’s stances is fine.) We also need to explain the impact of current policies and not be shy about discussing politics.
Overall, the discussions didn’t come to a halt after the 90-minute session was complete as many participants discussed what was said amongst themselves. Some of the candidates continued to press the flesh as well.
Personally I think the concerned public is still a bit skeptical that the GOP has truly changed, but the problem is that as we work to gain trust the other side is working to destroy those things which made our country great. A step to regain trust is one thing but while we fiddle Rome is burning.
By the way, I wonder if we had a spy in our midst. I saw this bumper sticker on the car across from me in the parking lot:
Actually, it probably belongs to one of the workers who were fixing up the HVAC or plumbing system while we were in the building. They weren’t disruptive, but the contrast of an Obama sticker in the midst of a sea of GOP cars was jarring.