2016 Maryland GOP Spring Convention in pictures and text (part 2)

When I last left you, I was commenting on having to get up at 6:45 for breakfast. Given that this was our election day and the polls were yet to open, this was the scene around the hotel on available spaces.

Aside from the Coke can (which, as an aside, is a drawback to this hotel because Pepsi products are difficult to come by), I often wonder what non-political guests think about all this. I’m sure they are amused.

On the way back to breakfast from putting my stuff in the car (on a glorious morning) I snapped this shot of the convention hall.

One tangible improvement was our county signs, which have finally been upgraded after a decade.

Our breakfast speaker was introduced by the recovering MDGOP Chair Diana Waterman, who was thrilled to report her hair was growing back after the chemo and surgery she has endured for her fight against breast cancer.

She called Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh “a great Republican.” Schuh began his remarks by noting this was the “most unusual election in at least 100 years.”

But Schuh went on to praise Donald Trump for tapping into several “electoral undercurrents,” particularly when he brought up the issues of immigration and national security. Yet while he said the “misgivings were understandable,” Schuh has “come to peace with a Trump candidacy.” Steve then outlined a number of stark differences between Democrats and Republicans: the role of government, immigration, Second Amendment, free speech (where the Left uses “shoutdowns as a weapon of choice”), taxation, private property, and life itself. It was a “belief in limited government and personal responsibility” that set the two major parties apart, Schuh added.

Schuh’s rather brief remarks allowed me to grab a good seat for the convention itself, which featured a number of reports in the morning. I wasn’t satisfied with how most of my photos came out inside the hall, so you will have to read about most of what was said inside without the visual aids.

Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides welcomed us to his city, noting that the Maryland GOP “got involved in my race in a very big way” and allowed him to win by a narrow 59-vote margin. Encouraging us to note on social media that the event was being held in Annapolis, Pantelides also called both County Executive Schuh and Governor Hogan “mentors to me.” His was the one city in Maryland with Republican leadership across the board: mayor, County Executive, and Governor, Mike added. Solid Republican principles and leadership could provide solutions, concluded Pantelides.

This photo of Congressman Andy Harris came out all right, and so did his message. He warned us that the Democrats have “a lot of assets” to throw at Governor Hogan in two years, so we needed to raise millions of dollars to assist him. But there were some advantages we had, too: for example, the sign denoting the reduced toll rates at the Bay Bridge is “like a Republican ad.”

Turning to the national scene, Harris noted we could not have another four years of liberal policy. And even though he endorsed Ben Carson in the GOP race, he came out to say, “I’m a Donald Trump guy 101% now.” He also told us there was no fight between Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, despite what the media would lead you to believe.

We had two legislative reports, one from Delegate Nic Kipke and the other from Senator J.B. Jennings.

Kipke believed that we were “at the precipice of…another surge of Republicans” added to the House ranks. “There are a lot of seats in play for us,” he assessed, particularly when Larry Hogan won in 21 more House districts than the Republican House candidates did. And the Democrats “are losing their minds” about it: Kipke gave the example of the bill allowing felons to vote before completing their sentences. Despite the fact 80% of Marylanders disagreed with this, and many of the General Assembly Democrats agreed with the veto, “the Democrats require compliance,” said Kipke – so the veto was overridden.

There were Republican-backed items we should be proud of, though, said Nic – another budget with no new taxes, the elimination of preschool testing, and the adoption of P-TECH schools, beginning in Baltimore City. Republicans are “leading on issues, big and small, that make sense,” said Kipke. He also awarded their Republican of the Year award to state Executive Director Joe Cluster.

Regarding the felon vote, Jennings later added that it actually failed 28-18 the first time, but was allowed to be reconsidered and passed 29-18.

One thing Senator Jennings stressed was the devious ways Democrats tried to flout the rules; in one example they tried to put one Senator on two committees, which is a no-no. They also worked hard to fix bad bills to make them more palatable.

But the problem Senate Republicans have is that “we are short five votes.” Getting to 19 votes would allow Republicans to sustain filibusters and kill the worst legislation. And there may be a lot of it next year: Jennings remarked that year 3 of an administration is where major pieces of legislation come out.

In between the legislative reports, MDGOP Chair Diana Waterman gave her report. She opened by welcoming new members but also remembering members who had recently passed, including my late cohort Blan Harcum who passed away earlier this year. She also announced the traditional June Red, White, and Blue Dinner would be pushed back to a date in early September because of the convention.

Diana also had a comment about the so-called “Republican war on women” when she asked “where is the ‘war on women’ when the Republicans have two (federal candidates) running and the Democrats have none?”

Waterman also gave the newly created Chairman’s Elephant Award to Dwight Patel, but the key remark to me was an offhand one where Diana referred to chairing “my last convention” in November. If so, Diana would conclude a remarkable four-year run where she took over a party in crisis and guided it to electoral success.

We then heard from our National Committeewoman and National Committeeman, respectively Nicolee Ambrose and Louis Pope.

Much of what they said was a rehash of what they told the Executive Committee on Friday night, although this time Nicolee came equipped with a slideshow. Here are the party’s goals for the new Precinct Captain recruitment program.

She also had a lot of these handy flyers to distribute.

I’m only giving you the top five – for the rest, come see us when we are out and about in the community.

Louis reiterated that this year’s convention “will be about unity,” for it’s the RNC’s “#1 job” to elect the President. And while Pope believed the GOP has “an amazing array of tools to make sure we win this year” and has “tremendously expanded minority outreach” over the last four years, it all comes down to our candidate. Pope conceded that “Trump changes our plans quite a bit,” and added it may “take a little bit of sculpting of (Trump’s) policies” to have effective minority outreach. But Louis also contended the “Trump effect (on downticket races) is not going to materialize.”

Pope’s remarks concluded the morning session. I went out to eat my lunch (with Andy Harris, no less) and saw this nice display from someone who would like to join him on Congress.

I was less interested in this swag, although I could have picked up a Cruz hat, too.

I also spied the potential National Committeeman making last-minute preparations.

One other task I had to perform was voting for Delegate and Alternate Delegate. Because I refused to add to the Trump slate I only voted for four winners, including the guy voting immediately after me.

At these conventions it seems like Don Murphy is my shadow. But he and Gloria should enjoy Cleveland, since they were two of my four that won.

The system was neat and easy – we knew the winners five minutes after we voted, as I will explain shortly.

Up first was the National Committeewoman election. Since that was a walkover for Nicolee Ambrose, I can simply comment that she had one of youngest members of the General Assembly, Delegate Robin Grammer (a member of the “Dundalk Revolution”) nominate her and Senator Steve Waugh second her. Both were results of the hard work Nicolee has done to elect more Republicans as both flipped Democratic districts. And I really liked Waugh’s line about how Republicans “focus on putting air conditioning in the classrooms and not transgenders in the bathrooms.”

We then had the National Committeeman election. Because the nominating and seconding speeches came in alphabetical order of the candidates, Bossie’s went first. Nominating Bossie was the highest elected federal official in the state, Andy Harris, who said David represented “a new way of thinking” that we need.

But the jaws hit the floor for the seconding speech, as Joe Steffen notes on his site in more depth. None other than Nicolee Ambrose delivered the dagger to her associate’s heart. “This is serious, serious business,” said Nicolee, and “we need a fighter.”

Despite that blow, Pope could counter with some firepower of his own. Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford nominated Pope, recalling how he had worked with Louis for years in the Howard County party and that he’s been fighting for the GOP. His seconding speech, delivered by Martha Schaerr of Montgomery County, added that Pope was “a tireless, trustworthy leader.”

The focus shifted back to Bossie for his remarks, and he closed the sale by saying “I believe I can bring a lot…to the Maryland Republicans.” It was “critical to have new blood in leadership,” David went on, and while he promised to raise Maryland’s profile, he also said “we must not cede ground to liberal Democrats, anytime.”

Pope could only appeal to the masses with his experience and passion, countering, “I’ve spent a lifetime working for the Republican Party…I stand on my record of accomplishment.”

But Pope’s defense was to no avail. It was clear when the first four jurisdictions to report (Allegany, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore City and County) picked Bossie by a combined 56-8 margin that the rout was on. In terms of our voting system the count was 365-188, but in actual bodies it was 182 to 91 – a perfect 2-to-1 margin. Pope only carried eight counties (Caroline, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Howard, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, and Talbot) and in four of the eight it was a 5-4 verdict. Only Garrett (6-0), Caroline (7-2), and St. Mary’s (7-2) were big wins for Pope. (Wicomico County was 7-2 for Bossie.)

This was an emotional moment as the baton was figuratively passed, but we still had work to do.

There was a resolution that would allow the Bylaws Committee to perform what I would call a curative function, making minor changes to the bylaws in places where references were incorrect, misspellings, and so forth. They would report and we would review changes at the Fall Convention. That passed by a voice vote with one objection.

The first Bylaw amendment was an effort to both restore voting rights to the various ancillary organizations (Maryland Federation of Republican Women, College Republicans, Young Republicans, etc.) and set standards for their inclusion. But after some discussion and debate, it failed by a 188-361 vote (105-167 in terms of voters,) falling far short of the 2/3 majority needed.

The second one was less controversial, although there was enough of an objection to a lengthy lame duck period for party officers to transition after our organizing conventions (such as will occur this fall) that the date of takeover was amended back to January 3 rather than based on the day after the Governor or President of the United States is inaugurated. As amended it passed 438-99, although the amendment barely passed 283-258. (It was behind until Montgomery County sealed the deal.)

All this concluded just in time for the Delegate and Alternate Delegate results to be revealed.

As I said above, I only ended up voting for four winners: the two Murphys, Christina Trotta, and Alirio Martinez, Jr.

We then got to hear from our candidate for U.S. Senate, Delegate Kathy Szeliga.

Kathy thanked us for her support, then added that Bossie and Ambrose are “going to do a great job for us.” She also added that the fourteen U.S. Senate candidates are “unified and together.”

And while she gave something of a standard stump speech recalling her middle-class background, she noted that the business they created was “struggling like many small businesses in the country.” Repeating her message that Washington is broken, she chastised the Democrats for electing their “golden boy” Chris Van Hollen, pointing out that since he’s been in office the national debt has tripled and calling Van Hollen an “attack dog” for Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and Harry Reid.

“Together we can change Washington,” the candidate, who Nic Kipke had earlier called “relentless,” concluded.

Our final task was to select electors, which necessitated us gathering in groups by Congressional district. Our district has the largest number of Central Committee members so we all crammed into one corner of the hall to hear several nominations. For the second time in a row, I nominated the First District winner: Diana Waterman, who prevailed over five others. The others will be Tony Campbell, Jane Roger, Faith Loudon, Cathryn Grasso, Dick Jurgena, Loretta Shields, and Alan McMahon.

Once Diana Waterman announced her choices for the at-large electors would be Ellen Sauerbrey and Michael Steele, we could finally adjourn. Next time is slated for Frederick this November – the question is whether it will be a wake, a celebration, or some combination thereof?

2016 Maryland GOP Spring Convention in pictures and text (part 1)

It had been awhile since I had been to the DoubleTree in Annapolis, but seeing the place was like old home day. While the MDGOP often holds its conventions there, it hadn’t hosted one in some time – in fact, Fall 2013 was the last one. But this time instead of the big news being the impending candidacy of Larry Hogan, it was the presumptive nomination of this guy.

(No, not Don Murphy sitting on the bench – I’m referring to the guy who supposedly will make America great again.)

Also different than our last visit was the number of sponsors.

It sure doesn’t hurt to have a governor from your party. But the story of this convention was all the electioneering going on. As I pointed out earlier this week, 98 people were seeking office and some were on this “unity slate.”

The idea was to take some folks from each of the campaigns and send them off to Cleveland to represent us. But after I had the chance to freshen up and get registered, those who represent us in the Maryland Senate made for my first stop of the evening. I could freshen up with some light snacks and an adult beverage.

(Note that Donald Trump is adding to that $2 billion in free media coverage on the adjacent TV. I didn’t say it was flattering.)

Speaking of media coverage, these two erstwhile associates of mine were doing their semi-annual Friday night internet radio show from the convention lobby.

I wasn’t listening so I have no idea who they dragged on as guests, aside from me not being one of them. I was downstairs at the Executive Committee meeting, where I found out the MDGOP had “a great fundraising quarter…our best since 2006,” according to party treasurer Chris Rosenthal.

But Diana Waterman had a message. “We must get behind Mr. Trump,” she said, “Trump is a helluva lot better than Mrs. Clinton.” Yet she also urged us to be respectful to those who can’t support our nominee.

She also pointed out that there’s no Republican “war on women” in Maryland given the fact two of our Congressional nominees are women versus none for the Democrats.

After National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose updated us on some of the upcoming goals and events for the GOP, National Committeeman Louis Pope discussed the national scene, stating regarding this year’s primaries, “the goal was to have as fair of a nominating process as possible.” He added that the debate control “worked very well.”

Pope was looking forward to Cleveland, saying he was “preparing for a unified convention” and predicting Donald Trump “will be a pretty cool nominee.” As he saw it, the convention will be a “four-day infomercial for the Republican Party.”

Yet the Presidential election was to the benefit of local parties as well, added Pope, because they could use the national race as a tool for local fundraising, allowing them to build up their war chests.

We also learned about two proposed bylaw amendments and a resolution, which I will simply foreshadow because they will be covered more in-depth in part 2.

The Executive Committee was done in remarkable time, meaning that shortly after 8 I could go see what was going on. This was my initial stop.

It wasn’t a place I stayed long, for obvious reasons. But it appeared they were having a good time celebrating their presumptive nominee status.

My second stop was nearly as uncomfortable, but I did see Louis Pope there and wished him luck.

If you look closely in front of his sign, you can see Louis behind the other gentleman. He apparently held court in his suite for most of the evening, as I didn’t see him circulating. Nor did I see his opponent David Bossie, who co-sponsored the suite I stopped at later.

First, though, the prize for most appetizing spread went to the host County Executive Steve Schuh.

This doesn’t show the vegetable tray and chicken on the other table. Oftentimes there’s not enough good stuff to eat at these hospitality suites but between the spring rolls at the Maryland Senate pre-party and Schuh’s suite, my appetite was satisfied. I was there quite awhile, eating and talking to Senator Justin Ready.

Next, I went upstairs to the Conservative Club suite. But since I didn’t see Bossie, I didn’t hang out too long there.

As it turned out – at least judging by the times on my photos – the Harris/Szeliga suite was where I stayed the longest. It was a happening place.

It’s where I ran into an old friend of mine, Maria Ialacci of PG County, and my partner in crime Heather Olsen. So I was there awhile, although I retreated to the hall so I could hear and cool off – it was hot in there, and when I say it’s hot it’s downright uncomfortable to most people.

So I got to see the co-star of that show as she happened by.

I still haven’t spoken with Kathy Szeliga, but at least I have seen her so that’s a start.

My penultimate stop was a suite that wasn’t on the “official” list but somewhat underground – both literally and in spirit.

The only one down on the first floor, the combined suite of Don Murphy and John Fiastro was the famous grilled cheese suite, with Fiastro doing most of the flipping.

Let’s see what they can do with this.

I did not take a picture at my last stop, which was definitely a shame because Delegate Tony McConkey and his wife Susan did an after-hours (after 10 p.m.) ice cream suite. (They also had it during our lunch break today, but I didn’t go.) Now I was a little worried since it was situated just 2 doors from my room, but it must have died down by the time I talked to my sweetie and finally went to bed because I pretty much slept like a log. The hard part was getting up at 6:45 to get ready for breakfast, which is where I will pick things up tomorrow in part 2.

Twelve years is enough

It’s not the most glamorous pair of positions, but every four years the Maryland Republican Party elects two of its three representatives to the Republican National Committee. The positions of National Committeeman (NCM) and National Committeewoman (NCW) are the two most powerful in the state when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of national GOP politics.

Too often, states have used these positions to reward veteran movers and shakers in the party, and there was a drive four years ago to do just that as former MDGOP Chair Audrey Scott thought she could waltz right into the NCW post to succeed longtime activist (and a former MDGOP Chair herself) Joyce Lyons Terhes – fortunately, there was a good candidate opposing her in Nicolee Ambrose and the resulting breath of fresh air from her election breathed new life into a moribund and stale state party organization.

As it turns out, Ambrose and another party veteran, NCM Louis Pope, tag team in their reports during our semi-annual state conventions. Ambrose tends to talk about voter registration, campaigning, and GOTV efforts on a state and local level while Pope generally looks at the national GOP perspective and their fundraising. Pope has spent three terms in the NCM position, and while I wasn’t here for his initial election he did have opposition for re-election last time around. But the crush of endorsements from other party leaders as well as a somewhat lackluster campaign from his opponent meant Pope was re-elected handily.

I first became suspicious about the prospects of there once again being an opponent for Louis when the letters began arriving a couple months ago. The first one came from Pope, but other party leaders have typed out snail mail and sent it to me beseeching me to stay the course and once again elect Louis Pope as NCM. I didn’t know who the opponent would be, but these forces appeared to be quite worried. (Conversely, aside from Nicolee’s letter to me, I have not seen a single thing pleading for her re-election – so she could well be unopposed, or the state establishment has another candidate in mind.)

So a week or so ago I was checking my junk mail when I saw an e-mail note from the leader of the group whose name liberals spit out as an epithet because of a famous Supreme Court case, Citizens United. In this note from David Bossie I found out he was the NCM opponent in question, and immediately this turned Maryland’s NCM race from a standard-grade party election to something with a more national profile. In the introductory letter, Bossie noted:

The Maryland Republican Party needs new blood. I bring to the table the ability to raise Maryland’s profile by bringing in high-level GOP leaders from across the country to raise money for the Maryland GOP’s efforts. Just in the past year, I secured Donald Trump for the party’s “Red, White, and Blue” dinner, and also helped bring into Maryland Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), as well as former Speaker Newt Gingrich to headline events for Republican candidates and elected officials.

Say what you will about Trump as a presidential candidate, but he provided a profitable RWB Dinner from the accounts I have seen.

Through our experience trying to secure Lt. Col. Allen West to do a dinner and fundraiser here for our local party, we have found out it’s hard work to get the caliber of speaker we feel is worthy of a county of 100,000 residents. Certainly we could get Louis Pope to attend the affair – he’s been to our LDD a few times over twelve years, and in looking at his giving history I believe he has made it at least once to each county’s LDD over his tenure. Attending the county’s dinner is a nice gesture of support.

Moreover, Pope has regularly conducted seminars at our state conventions on fundraising, and has been ready with helpful suggestions on how to write fundraising letters and other tricks of the fundraising trade. He’s also a regular host of party events at his Howard County home.

But in speaking to David this morning with some questions about how the smaller counties such as ours could benefit from his tenure, I brought up the LDD as a fundraising standby most counties employ. It got me to imagine: what sort of attendance could you get for a Lincoln Day Dinner here with a Mike Lee or Tom Cotton? These two men, and many other heroes of the conservative movement, are on Bossie’s Rolodex. As he noted, there’s a big difference between just buying the ticket and helping secure the person drawing the ticket buyers.

More importantly, I think the NCM position needs the same kick in the pants that Ambrose has given on her side of the equation. She’s not been afraid to lead or speak out if circumstances dictate, such as her stance on changing party rules almost immediately after taking office. It’s notable that Pope was on the side of the status quo in that case, and while the NCM and NCW positions have served to become de facto party leadership in the state alongside the Chair position, at their heart they are legislative positions. The NCW and NCM are supposed to do the bidding of Maryland Republicans at the national level just as Andy Harris is supposed to in Congress. Admittedly, I have less information to go on regarding that aspect of the job but my instinct tells me Bossie would be a little bit less “establishment” and a little more “grassroots.” We know where Pope has stood as he’s worked his way up the party hierarchy, maintaining the status quo.

Louis Pope has given us twelve years as National Committeeman, and it’s a tenure he can look back on as a net positive for the Maryland Republican Party. But given the successful change in direction that was made through the election of Nicolee Ambrose as NCW in 2012, I think lightning can strike twice at a point where we will need to focus on the twin tasks of re-electing Larry Hogan and (more importantly) getting more conservatives and Republicans in the Maryland General Assembly. If two people can be the ones to bring these races to the attention of the national party, I believe it will be the two I vote for two weeks hence.

So I’m urging my fellow Central Committee members around the state to re-elect Nicolee Ambrose as our National Committeewoman and, more importantly, bring some new blood to the state leadership by electing David Bossie as National Committeeman. I appreciate Louis Pope and what he’s done for us as a state party, but twelve years is enough.

Some Maryland GOP inside baseball that could lead to an interesting race

April 2, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Some Maryland GOP inside baseball that could lead to an interesting race 

We’re still six weeks away from the Maryland Republican Party Spring Convention, to be held May 14 in Annapolis, and much of the interest in the event will be driven by the selection of eleven at-large Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the national convention in Cleveland. Since Maryland’s primary will be completed, not only will we know which aspirants advanced from each of the state’s eight Congressional districts, but we will also have a clearer picture of whether a first-ballot victory is still mathematically possible for Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. By then, just 375 delegates will remain to be determined (from primaries in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota) with the lion’s share awarded by the June 7 primaries.

Yet those who become Delegate at the state primary will be bound to vote for the statewide winner. Polling has been scarce in Maryland for the GOP, as the last major poll came out a month ago and included Marco Rubio and his 14% of the vote. At that point, Trump led Cruz 34-25, with Kasich at 18. Following the trend, Maryland may be a state where Trump wins with only about 40% of the vote but Cruz picks off a Congressional district or two to gain a few delegates. But The Donald will get the lion’s share as it stands now, meaning some of the alternate delegates could come into play. (If I’m a Cruz backer I’m refusing to vote for Trump.)

So a lot of the interest will come from that demolition derby of a race, which normally draws 20 to 25 names for each. (In 2008, I was one of about 23 who ran and I was second or third from the bottom. Name recognition goes a long, long way in the race.)

But at the Spring Convention we will also be selecting our next National Committeeman and National Committeewoman, who will take office after the November election and help to select the next RNC Chair in January 2017. As a Central Committee member, I have already received a handful of appeals on the races where both incumbents, Louis Pope for the men and Nicolee Ambrose for the women, are running again. Several weeks ago I got the letter from Nicolee that she was running, and I’m unaware of any challengers. Aside from her letter announcing her bid for re-election, my mailboxes have been empty on the race – and that may be a good thing, since Nicolee has been out front with her party-building efforts. Here in Salisbury I’m sure Muir Boda would be in agreement that she deserves support for another term.

On the other hand, today I got my third letter from one of the party’s old guard beseeching me to vote for Louis Pope, who has also sent me a letter asking for support. Apparently he will have an opponent come May 14 so I suspect my mailbox will be full of these appeals from names I know.

Back in 2012 we had that same kind of race for National Committeewoman, with the exception that it was an open seat as incumbent NCW Joyce Terhes decided to retire. The party leadership and “establishment” was backing Audrey Scott, who had ridden in to “rescue” a bankrupt Maryland GOP as Chair in 2009 after former Chair Jim Pelura resigned. Ambrose appealed to a different sector of the party, and the clash between the two came down to a close, emotional vote at the Spring 2012 convention. (Worth noting: Pope was re-elected handily at that same convention over Anne Arundel County Republican Scott Shaffer.) Incumbency seems to have its advantages, but I haven’t received the same outpouring of support from party regulars for Ambrose.

Our representatives on the RNC are just a small part of a 168-member body (three from each state and certain territories) but they also represent us in regional matters as well. Over the last term, Ambrose has taken charge of grassroots organization and GOTV efforts while Pope has portrayed himself as a fundraising expert. Granted, the state GOP (which includes Chair Diana Waterman) has been successful insofar as electing Governor Hogan and increasing the number of Republican elected officials, but perhaps not so much on moving the needle on key issues. (Just as an aside, Waterman’s term will come to an end this fall, meaning we will have a Chair election then. A few years ago we adopted two-year terms for the Chair to match the national Republican Party.) With the national mood registering against establishment candidates of all parties, one has to ask how far the “throw the bums out” mentality will go when it comes to state party affairs.

It should be a fun convention; that is, if fun is defined by being on pins and needles the whole time like I was four years ago when I strongly backed Ambrose. We’ll see what the next few weeks brings.

2015 Maryland GOP Fall Convention in pictures and text (part 2)

A new day dawned yesterday after a night of partying I described in part 1. Too bad it was about the last time we got to see the sun.

Instead, I went down to grab breakfast and remarks fron three U.S. Senate candidates. It should be noted that a fourth, Anthony Seda, “has never reached out” to the MDGOP, according to Diana Waterman.

After an opening prayer where Delegate Deb Rey prayed that we “cruise to victory,” we did the speeches in alphabetical order. This meant Richard Douglas spoke first.

Richard noted the news was still filled with images from Paris, Belgium, and Mali, saying it underscores that “terrorism…remains a concern.” He added that the authorization to use military force passed after 9/11 remains in effect today.

He added that growing up abroad made incidents like the building of the Berlin Wall and Cuban missile crisis “indelibly etched in my mind.” But he assured us we are stronger than Russia – we just have a leadership problem. No one is pushing back on Russia, China, or Iran, he continued.

Douglas pivoted to domestic issues with a mention of the Bladensburg Cross, a court case he’s assisting on and one for which he predicted “we’ll take the wood to the humanists.” It led into his thought that the job of a Senator was not to pontificate, but to act. In Maryland, it meant not just doing what he could at the federal level to eliminate the rain tax and entice industry. One example of the latter was the Howard Street Tunnel, which is too shallow to accommodate double-decker rail cars. It’s a problem the current Senator has had 30 years to address.

“People who have three squares a day…don’t riot,” Douglas noted. With foreign policy experience and what could be described as a populist agenda, Douglas vowed “I intend to go to the Senate to make that place better.”

The son of Greek immigrants, Chrys Kefalas opened by saying, “I’m a story that’s brought to you courtesy of the American Dream.” He then detailed a life of precocious entrepreneurship as a teenage business owner who parlayed that success into law school and eventually jobs with Bob Ehrlich, both as Congressman and as governor. One of his accomplishments with the Ehrlich administration was pioneering criminal justice reform.

After a stint at the Eric Holder Justice Department working on a “smart on crime” initiative, Kefalas is now a vice-president at the National Association of Manufacturers. “Manufacturing is coming back,” said Chrys. America has the advantages of innovative and productive workers as well as affordable energy. Taxes and regulations were holding us back, he explained.

Yet he was quick to recognize “you are the ones who are going to make the party strong…the campaign is about you.”

Kefalas added that the task of the nominee is to win, and he would do so with his positive vision. In this “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to win the seat, Kefalas believed “I can get more Democratic crossover support than anyone else in the primary.”

“We need to expand the map in Maryland,” he continued. Through him “we have a path to victory.”

Kefalas concluded by noting his recent engagement, stating “I am a gay Republican.” But “we move our country in a better direction when we are together.”

Kathy Szeliga emphasized her working-class background and that she and her husband Mark “believed in the American Dream.” For most of her life she’d played the various roles working moms did.

But Kathy stressed her more recent past, talking about how she and fellow Delegate Nic Kipke “brought some new ideas to Annapolis.” She also learned how to work across the aisle there.

With a new governor, Szeliga added, things were moving in the right direction – for example, we “repealed that darn rain tax.” (Actually, we only eliminated the ‘shall’ but kept the onus on counties to pay for the improvements.)

As for her Senate run, Kathy believed “there was a time that Congress worked,” but now government is too big, too gridlocked, and too distant. Indeed, “now is the time to turn Washington around…the American Dream is fading.”

Her pet issues if elected would be quality of life, security, and schools. Most of her remaining time was spent discussing the security aspect, noting that “terrorism is real…we must remain vigilant.” She vowed to support law enforcement as well.

Addressing her prospective opponents Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, Szeliga opined they don’t understand the dangers we face from “radical Islam terrorists.”

In closing, Kathy pointed out her initial run of 61 endorsements and stated, “together we’re gonna get this done in 2016.”

So after Diana Waterman thanked her “three amazing candidates,” I had some time to spend in the exhibit hall before the morning session.

There I ran into Tanya Tiffany from MDCAN.

It’s a good moment to remind readers about the upcoming Turning the Tides Conference coming up January 8-9, 2016. I asked her if they would have a Blogger’s Row as in past editions and she said they were looking for a sponsor. They’re also changing the format a little bit to be more like previous editions, so it should be informative and more like “Maryland’s version of CPAC.”

With the convention opening, we were welcomed by Senator Steve Waugh.

In his remarks, Waugh focused on the fact this part of Maryland “gave freedom of religion to the world” with the passage of the Tolerance Act in 1649. In the here and now, Waugh believed Governor Hogan “made the perfect call” regarding Syrian refugees, noting “you must ensure our safety.”

In another bit of history, Waugh pointed out that 15 years ago Calvert and St. Mary’s counties were about 2-1 Democrat but now both have a GOP majority.

Since Larry Hogan was at the RGA meeting and Boyd Rutherford had a previous personal engagement, it fell to Secretaty of Human Resources Sam Malhotra to extend the governor’s greetings. He went through a laundry list of accomplishments by the administration over its first year, but concluded with the remark “I can’t wait for the next seven years.” He believed we were in the process of changing Maryland from deep blue to “baby blue” to purple to red.

Congressman Andy Harris supplemented Malhotra’s remarks by saying he’d work hard to get five more Senators in Larry’s second term. “What a difference a year makes,” he added, also maintaining “this is not a deep blue state.”

As far as Congressional leadership, Harris believed it was the right time to change leadership. Paul Ryan can deliver our message, as opposed to John Boehner. “I don’t believe he communicated well,” said Harris. Andy also believed Speaker Ryan had his priorities in order, putting family first. “It doesn’t take a village, it takes a family,” said Harris.

Turning to the economy, the Congressman was waiting for the “last shoe to drop,” meaning an inevitable interest rate hike. If rates rise to their historical rate of 2 1/2% it would mean $500 billion a year in interest payments alone – more than we spend on defense. “The economy is not going to get better” under Barack Obama, he added.

Obama’s administration is also promoting the message that law enforcement “is our enemy.” Yet this is a time where we had a real enemy. “What Paris showed us is that 9/11 is not over,” said Andy. Add in the Russian airliner and the Mali attack, and it was no wonder France took action. Hollande “figured it out” that Obama wouldn’t take charge. “This is a setback to him,” explained Harris.

The narrative that ISIS is contained falls flat to Harris as well. “ISIS is here in the United States,” said Harris. “We have to declare war on ISIS.” Moreover, “we have to fight the war on ISIS as a war to win.”

Looking back to the state party, Harris believed we were on a roll and the Democrats were worried. Now we have to recognize the importance of local elections and raise money for the local Central Committees. “Only 350 days until Election Day,” Harris concluded.

We then heard from Steve Waugh again, who gave the Senate portion of the legislative update. “The magic number today is 19,” he said, referring to the number of Senators required to sustain a veto.

He predicted the next session “will be all about Baltimore,” adding that the budget will also come through the Senate this year. Other items to watch out for: paid sick leave, body cameras for police, K-12 education funding, a bottle tax, and “death with dignity.” We also have to figure out how to come up with over $1 billion to service O’Malley’s debt, Waugh added.

While the Democrats would try to sandbag Governor Hogan by laying traps for him to spring in 2018, Waugh advised us to “stay focused on the message.”

Wearing her Delegate hat, Kathy Szeliga urged us to join the Governor’s press list so we could spread the word about his successes. She harped on the $17,000 per pupil Baltimore City Schools spends, saying we were committed to education but also to accountability. How much is enough?, asked Szeliga.

She added there were some successes from the House on the Second Amendment as we ended ballistic fingerprinting, made it easier for armored car personnel to get permits, and removed some accessories from the SB281 ban list.

Finally, Kathy urged us to “answer back” to Democratic fundraising.

Shifting gears, we heard from Lucas Boyce of the RNC regarding their new philosophy to “engage, embrace, entrust” and the Republican Leadership Institute. Diana Waterman was working to bring some RLI graduates to work here in Maryland.

Boyce wrapped up the morning session, so we adjourned for two seminars and lunch. The first seminar I went to featured Nicolee Ambrose.

There we discussed two somewhat disparate but vital topics: grassroots organizing and public speaking. On the latter, we did a pair of “American Idol” style auditions where “contestants” were judged and advised on a two-minute speech. It’s really hard to talk for two minutes.

I didn’t take a photo at the second one, but Justin Ready spoke on some of these same topics and more.

Not taking Justin’s photo means I have a cleaner lead into the National Committeewoman’s report Nicolee delivered to start the afternoon.

Nicolee pointed out some of our engagement events featuring Alveda King and J.C. Watts in Baltimore City, adding that getting Republican totals to 25% there makes us a red state. She also announced the winners of our voter registration contest for various-sized counties.

Ambrose was happy about going “2 for 2” with her Super Saturdays, winning with both Michael Esteve in Bowie and Muir Boda right here in Salisbury. “This man was an animal” when it came to door-knocking, said Ambrose of Boda. She also praised Patrick McGrady for winning for mayor in Aberdeen.

A man who hosted a “phenomenal” house party, according to Diana Waterman, Louis Pope gave the National Committeeman’s report.

He focused more on the national scene, saying the RNC was “far more viable” than at any other point in history. And although this success wasn’t being picked up by the mainstream media, the ground game was “going exceedingly well…our turnout machine is working.” Now we had 32 GOP governors, added Pope.

Noting the CNBC debate showed “how unbelievably biased” the media is, Pope opined the primary season would be over by April 30. After that, it was “absolutely essential” that we come together. “Next year’s election will be a battle royal,” said Pope. The RNC has “a very deep playbook” on Hillary, Louis added.

On a local level, Pope urged the Central Committee members to raise money this year for the 2018 elections, since there’s not much competition for funding. This year’s campaign, though, will require “sweat equity,” said Pope.

We heard a quick report from College Republican Chair Christine McElroy, detailing their successes – including the Salisbury University CRs co-sponsoring our Lincoln Day Dinner. But she also revealed the sad fact that 77% of millennials could not identify even one of their home state Senators.

Party Executive Director Joe Cluster went over voter registration, pointing out the five counties (including Wicomico) where the GOP is closest to overtaking Democrats. “The numbers are moving in our direction,” said Cluster. He also touched on goals for precinct captains, opportunities to help Governor Hogan on boards and commissions, and the Baltimore city elections.

In her Chair’s report, Diana Waterman paid tribute to the late Frank McCabe, for whom the party would have a dinner later that evening. But she stressed the need to pass the first bylaws amendment, believing if we fail to adopt this the General Assembly will take the right away. “It is for your protection,” said Diana.

First we had to deal with one resolution in support of a Constitutional amendment to reform redistricting. It passed by a voice vote, with just one or two objections.

In introducing the first bylaw amendment, Mark Edney of Wicomico County stressed that “we have a problem with the process.” The proposal provides a process but is not specific.

While there was spirited debate on both sides, in the end the measure had enough votes to pass. On the weighted voting scale it was 369-170, which exceeded the 2/3 majority required. (In terms of actual people, the vote was 182-85. Only Baltimore City, Frederick, Queen Anne’s, and Washington counties had a majority objecting.) All nine in Wicomico County voted in favor, although I believe we will create our own specific guidelines.

On the “loser pays” amendment, an attempt to change it to cover both sides was proposed but was superseded by a motion to table the amendment, which passed with a resounding voice vote.

And then we had bylaw amendment #3. I thought it would pass with little objection, but the fireworks began right away. Most of the argument centered on whether the Black Republican group was established enough – those arguing against the amendment frequently referred to the Young Republicans, which reached a low point in chapters and membership shortly after getting an Executive Committee vote.

At first we voted on a motion to recommit to the Bylaws Committee, which drew the argument that it came from that committee. But Heather Olsen explained that the committee got this at the last minute and only checks for conformance, not on merits. In the end, the motion to recommit failed 217-324, or 114-156 in bodies. Wicomico was split 5-4 against recommitting.

Then we tried to table it, but that motion was rejected by voice vote.

The next move was to amend the bylaw to strip the voting rights from every one of the auxiliary organizations. That started new debarte, including a motion to continue debate that lost soundly in a voice vote.

The final motion to amend passed 359-178, with the amended bylaw change passing 408-83. (Body counts were 178-91 and 206-41.) Only Calvert, St. Mary’s, Wicomico, and Worcester voted against both.

Once that vote was in, the bylaws committee report was done “after 2 hours and 3 minutes.” Before we adjourned, Diana Waterman told us it should never be said we don’t allow enough debate.

But I suspect the debate will go on. I’ll have more thoughts later this week.

Oh, and another thing. We did a straw poll, with Ted Cruz the winner.

  • Ted Cruz – 62 votes (24%)
  • Marco Rubio – 52 (20%)
  • Donald Trump – 49 (19%)
  • Ben Carson – 26 (10%)
  • Carly Fiorina – 18 (7%)
  • Rand Paul – 15 (6%)
  • Chris Christie – 14 (5%)
  • John Kasich – 12 (5%)
  • Jeb Bush – 11 (4%)
  • Mike Huckabee – 2 (1%)
  • Rick Santorum – 2 (1%)

A MDGOP Fall Convention preview

It’s been awhile since I was entitled to go to the state convention, but what a few hundred Wicomico County voters tried to do was undone by a much smaller number last month, so I have returned like the prodigal son.

My first convention back will be in Solomons, which as I recall was the home of my favorite convention, the spring 2012 one where we elected Nicolee Ambrose as National Committeewoman in a contentious vote over Audrey Scott. This one will probably not have the same amount of angst, although we may see issues with the three bylaw amendments on the docket.

The first is a lengthy proposal to create a process for Central Committees to fill legislative vacancies. After the debacles we saw last year as Governor Hogan picked members of the General Assembly to fill out his cabinet and lead departments, it became a priority to come up with a way of doing so lest the General Assembly take our power away (which still could happen.)

In a nutshell, the amendment allows a county to create its own process but leaves as a default the state-prescribed method. In looking it over briefly, the fight may be over the call to submit “name(s)” to the Governor, as some would prefer the Central Committee submit just one name as was custom until the most recent round of appointments.

That controversy led to the second bylaws amendment, which a perverse sort of “loser pays” arrangement for entities taking legal action against the state party, just like Carroll County did last year. I think this one will create the loudest arguments, to be honest.

Third is a proposal to give the Maryland Black Republican Council full voting status on the Executive Committee. If so, they would join the Maryland Federation of Republican Women, the Maryland Federation of Young Republicans, and the Maryland Federation of College Republicans as voting members of that committee. (Conversely, the Teenage Republicans and Heritage Council are non-voting members.) As I recall, we had a lot of rancor about giving the YRs and CRs an Executive Committee vote a couple years ago, in a voice vote that was literally cast as we were being ushered out the door. So we’ll see.

The one resolution that I’m aware of (barring others introduced from the floor for our consideration) deals with the redistricting commission, so that should be no issue. I don’t think there’s 10 percent of the party that likes the way we do it now.

But all work and no play makes Republicans a cranky bunch. Fortunately, unlike the last couple conventions I attended, we will have no shortage of hospitality suites to check out.

A list sent out by the state party shows no less than a dozen different suites. While the host counties of Calvert and St. Mary’s and Montgomery County have their parties, the headlining parties will be competing affairs between supporters of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Not to be left out, all three major U.S. Senate hopefuls – Richard Douglas, Chrys Kefalas, and Kathy Szeliga, who is piggybacking with Congressman Andy Harris – will have suites on separate floors. Add in local Congressional candidate Charles “Sam” Faddis and the aforementioned Black Republican Council, throw in a couple wild card suites, and it should be a fun evening tonight.

Naturally some of the conservative blogosphere will be there, so we’ll see what sort of coverage we can drum up. Whether the era of good feelings brought on by Larry Hogan’s election will subside this time or wait until spring when we elect a new National Committeeman and National Committeewoman along with slates of convention delegates and alternates remains to be seen.

For now I’m just going to enjoy the moment because, I hate to admit, I sort of missed these gatherings during my hiatus. Glad to be back.

A satisfying Super Saturday

October 5, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on 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.

2014 Maryland GOP Spring Convention in pictures and text (part 2)

In case you missed part 1, which dealt with Friday night, you can catch up here.

I was in bed reasonably early for a convention, in part because there weren’t a whole lot of hospitality suites to be found and in part because I wanted to cover breakfast with this immediately recognizable guy.

The former GOP national chair is always a welcome guest at MDGOP proceedings, and as a breakfast speaker he set a good mood for the day by predicting “we’re going to be back in our winning ways this year.”

But his message went back a few years, to when Michael took over the national party, which had become too “comfortable and cozy.” He saw his mission as one “to rebrand a party which had become moribund,” one where the gap between rhetoric and principles had become so large it snapped. “I’m so sick and tired of people blaming our principles for their failure to lead,” said Michael. “What we believe in is time-honored and true.”

Similarly, Steele noted that the state party had gone through its share of “definitional moments” and was ready to do so again. We needed to avoid being a party defined by what we are against and not what we are for, as we’ve “often found ourselves at odds with the very people that we want to represent.” We need to “talk about freedom but connect it to life.”

Taking that to a more local level, he noted that people are expecting leadership from the Central Committee members in the effort to “turn the elephant.”

“We’re not looking back, we’re looking forward,” said Michael. “Revolutionizing the (Maryland Republican) Party is our number one priority.” People are hungry for authenticity, leadership, and vision, he added. He got a token of our appreciation, too.

The wine is a Maryland red wine from Linganore called Black Raven. Diana thought it was a “providence” that she was thinking about how to thank our speakers as she drove by the winery. I had a shot of the bottle but, alas, I was too close and it came out way too bleached out. After breakfast, I had to gather my things and check out as well as make one other stop.

Instead of having a Friday evening suite, Larry chose to host a breakfast suite with Chick-fil-A items. Of course, all I was hungry for was information, so I spoke to Hogan about his experience on the Eastern Shore with our farmers. I found he has a fairly good idea about what they stand to lose should phosphorus regulations go through, so that was a plus. And I added to my weekend collection, a shot which included Larry’s wife Yumi.

It’s a bit askew because I was looking at two cameras at once. So I grabbed a Hogan-labeled bottle of water as I walked out and headed back down. With the stops, I missed much of what – from the part I did hear – was an interesting panel discussion by conservative black Maryland Republicans.

After that finished, I checked out some of the displays in the lobby. This one was new that morning.

As I understood it, my Worcester County cohort was selling “Benghazi bracelets,” which will be gray and black. Obviously that’s still on the minds of many people to whom it does make a difference. I also spied a more modest display that morning from the Lollar team.

I was remiss in not getting a photo of Ron George’s table, although I think it’s visible in the lobby photo in part 1. Of the four candidates, though, Ron had the least presence with just the table. Craig had a table and suite, as did Lollar, while Hogan had his breakfast suite, a folder at each table place, and hallways festooned with these.

In due course, you’ll understand why I thought it was important to make that comparison. Once that mini-tour was complete and I was checked out, it was time to begin the convention proper.

The first report was a legislative report from Delegate Gail Bates, who’s now running to become a Senator. She pointed out we don’t get our way much, but did achieve some good things: recoupling the estate tax to federal law, pieces of election reform – particularly on voter rolls – and straightening out the pit bull mess to place responsibility on dog owners regardless of breed. These, however, were outweighed by a litany of bad: a budget which continues a pattern of overspending revenues, increasing the minimum wage despite outcry from small business, decriminalization of marijuana, the “bathroom bill”, and the health exchange, said Bates.

We next received the bad news of the treasurer’s report from Executive Director Joe Cluster. The one positive note was that we were “right on course to meet our goals this year” after a slow start. This wasn’t her convention podium, but I wanted to show a shot of Party Chair Diana Waterman to signify her Chairman’s report.

She had one key announcement:

She also recounted recent events like the Reagan Ball and Johns Hopkins gubernatorial forum, but her message stressed the needs for turnout on Election Day and unity after the primary.

In an extension of the forum he moderated, Tony Campbell decried the lack of credibility the party had built in the 16 years he had been involved, and stressed that we needed to find issues that people connected with. This election was the combination of time and opportunity we had been waiting for, though.

Brian Griffiths gave a brief Young Republican report mainly focused on upcoming events, while the College Republicans gave no report because their incoming president, Christine McEvoy of Johns Hopkins, was studying for exams. Thus, the morning continued with National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose and her visual aids.

While Ambrose talked briefly about what the national party is doing, her focus has been on grassroots work in Maryland, particularly the Super Saturday program. Next Saturday, May 3rd, that program comes to Ocean City just in time for Springfest. A second one is in the works for June 21 in Montgomery County. Further ones for the fall will be determined over the summer, as there is an application process. She also stressed that every county should be looking into an absentee ballot program, particularly the larger ones.

But I thought this slide of upcoming events was cool.

It’s not just on the Eastern Shore, though, it’s right here in Salisbury. Do we need a better excuse to have a Super Saturday for Wicomico County? After all, the good Lt. Col. West shouldn’t arrive until the afternoon.

Louis Pope piled on to what Ambrose said as he gave his National Committeeman report, but also believed the June primary was an advantage to Central Committee members – those who win have a four-month period to learn the ropes, while the returning/retiring members could mentor the newbies.

Turning to the 2014 election, Pope quipped, “if you liked 2010, you’ll really like 2014.” The national GOP’s goal was to take the Senate, and with the recent Florida special election showing “it’s all about turnout,” coupled with the McCutcheon decision by the Supreme Court, the potential was there for a great year.

On a state level, Pope believed Wisconsin is a “model” for us – similar size, and a state controlled by Democrats until the last cycle. It all comes down to turning out Republicans.

Finally, we were through most of the reports, and we found out we had a quorum of 236 of 303 members present. But it was troubling that several counties were well short of their allocation. We’re used to this from Baltimore City, which, try as they might, has a hard time getting people to serve. But there were over half the members absent from Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Dorchester, and Talbot counties as well. Granted, it was the last convention of the term and not much was on the docket but that’s still a concern to me.

The last item we dealt with before lunch was a resolution condemning the introduction of House Bill 1513, sponsored by both the Harford and Baltimore County Central Committees. Thanks to a parliamentary maneuver, the resolution passed by unanimous consent in a voice vote.

We were actually well ahead of schedule, even with lunch, so Diana Waterman added two speakers to the agenda: Attorney General candidate Jeffrey Pritzker and Comptroller hopeful Bill Campbell.

Pritzker was blunt: “Maryland is in trouble.” He reminded us he was the first to call for a special prosecutor in the health exchange debacle – a position Doug Gansler would prefer to do away with. “The people need a lawyer,” Jeff said. He promised to create a task force to address the laws, seeking to prune away the unnecessary and redundant.

Campbell made the case that we needed to go to places where we were uncomfortable in order to win. For example, he addressed the Maryland State Education Association – not expecting their endorsement, but to make his case nonetheless. Reportedly he got 40% of the teachers’ votes, which Bill considered to be very good impact.

We also had the Executive Director’s report from Joe Cluster, who told us to focus on four numbers: 6, 19, 48, and 16. These weren’t for Powerball, they were 6 of 10 County Executive seats, 19 of 24 county councils or commissions, 48 Delegates, and 16 Senators. “It would make us relevant in this state” if we achieved all these milestones, said Cluster. Joe continued by pointing out both Barack Obama and Martin O’Malley had approval numbers under 50 percent. “People are tired of what they’ve done to taxpayers,” Cluster said. “I don’t see any incumbent Republican losing.”

He also announced there were plans for Victory Centers in Towson for District 42, and in the District 38 area – Salisbury is in District 38, as is Ocean City. We then got to new business.

The Tweet tells you the result, but how we got there was interesting. I was one of perhaps four who spoke in favor of moving it to the floor, but by the crowd reaction to myself and other speakers I knew the effort was doomed. By the time the roll call got to Baltimore County (only fourth in) the result was obvious: just Caroline County (and its one representative), Dorchester, Howard, Kent, and Queen Anne’s favored it (Wicomico was 6-3 against) and the motion died by a weighted vote of 385-91. (In terms of bodies, it was 192-42, with one abstention.) Ten counties were unanimously against it. I thought it would get between 1/3 and 1/2 of the vote, so less than 20% was shockingly low.

But it is typical of the party’s “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.

Before adjourning, we heard yet another plea for unity and turnout from Diana Waterman, who was stalling a little bit because there was a full hour before the afternoon seminars were scheduled. But we finally received the results of the straw poll conducted at the convention.

Brian Griffiths, a confirmed Hogan supporter, came over to Jackie Wellfonder and I and huffily said, “that’s the last thing (Lollar’s) going to win.” He chalked up the loss to proxies who were in the Lollar camp.

Here are the actual vote numbers:

  • Lollar – 68 votes (29.8%)
  • Hogan – 62 votes (27.2%)
  • Craig – 60 votes (26.3%)
  • George – 29 votes (12.7%)
  • undecided – 9 votes (3.9%)

I remember looking quickly at Wicomico’s ballots before I handed them over and we split among the four candidates. I think it was 3 Hogan, 3 Craig, 2 Lollar, and 1 George.

But look at what was put into the convention by the candidates. Granted, Charles Lollar had a large and very visible party and David Craig had a lively suite of his own. All but Larry Hogan had lobby tables, with Ron George having very little other presence. I didn’t even see him there, although I did see Shelley Aloi frequently making the rounds.

Yet Larry Hogan spent a lot of money for sponsoring the programs, the folders at each seat, the breakfast suite, and the multitude of signs only to come in second by just two votes. (I have it on good authority that one Hogan supporter I know may be switching to Craig – had that person came to that conclusion a little sooner, there would have been a second-place tie.) I would have expected Hogan to get 35 or 40 percent based on the hype.

Unfortunately, my traveling companion needed to get back to Salisbury so I couldn’t stay for the seminars. It never fails – had we started at lunchtime, we would have argued the bylaws change clear through dinner. But out of the seventeen conventions I’ve now attended, this was one of the more quiet and non-controversial. I guess we’re fairly united despite the straw poll vote.

It was definitely time to go home and get to work.

2013 Maryland GOP Fall Convention in pictures and text

I think I can get all this in one part. To be quite honest, this convention didn’t match the buildup.

It was sort of strange. I noted earlier in the week that the whole Lollar controversy in the blogosphere overshadowed the months-long debate over the open primary question, and then the prospect of a Larry Hogan gubernatorial announcement upstaged several other events.

These were the scenes around the main ballroom on Friday night after arrival.

There was no doubt that they were proud of their achievements.

And something tells me that most of these stickers were gone by the end of the night.

The Change Maryland party even had a live band, called the Great Escape Band. I noted on Facebook that may be something subliminal if Larry doesn’t win.

Aside from one song they sort of butchered up in my line of thinking, the band was really pretty good. They also reinforced my belief that there’s not a band which doesn’t know ‘Mustang Sally.’ Although he actually didn’t write the song Wilson Pickett must be proud, wherever he is.

But when they took their break, the real rock star came into the room.

What I have found interesting in looking back and listening again to what Larry said is that my interpretation is much different than what Larry presented to other outlets.

This, which I transcribed from the remarks he presented, is part of what Larry Hogan said last night:

Now everyone who knows me knows that I love this state, I hate to let people down, and that I’ve never walked away from a tough fight.

I’m not a professional politician – I’m just a businessman – but I don’t think that you need to be campaigning all throughout 2013 for an election that takes place at the end of 2014. But, you know, we are getting pretty close to the end of the year.

I promised my wife and family that I would spend a little quality time with them over the holidays, and I’m looking forward to that.

And as you may know I founded and run a group of companies that has brought hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs to Maryland, and I promised the employees and my colleagues that I would stay at the helm and continue to work hard with them to try to have a strong finish to the calendar year.

So there won’t be a formal announcement or an official launch until January, but tonight – tonight I wanted to be very clear about our intentions.

I happen to believe very strongly that the people of Maryland simply cannot afford another four years of O’Malley/Brown/Gansler tax and spend policies.

Hogan went on to say, “This isn’t a fight between right and left, it’s a fight between right and wrong.

I honestly believe people went in there expecting Larry to make the formal announcement last night, so once he made his remarks a good percentage of the people left his party.

Of course, Hogan’s wasn’t the only party. Before I stopped by the Change Maryland event, I dropped in to Ron George’s suite which featured this.

I had one other photo which, alas, didn’t come out. Ron actually had a pretty lively thing going early on.

Just downstairs from Ron was David Craig’s suite. The candidate wasn’t there because he was at the RGA meeting in Arizona, but David had a lovely second-in-command to take his place.

LG hopeful Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio held down the fort. It’s worth noting they had pretty good traffic.

They also have a slew of printed material. I suppose you can cut out the Craig part if you really share the sentiment.

Instead of a suite, fellow candidate Charles Lollar (who was also in Arizona at the RGA) had a lobby table.

On the table, among the other handouts, was a letter explaining his absence, which read in part:

Unfortunately, this means I will miss the opportunity on Friday evening to meet with you, answer your questions, and tour the hospitality suites, but I look forward to joining everyone on Saturday to share my plans for returning prosperity to Maryland.

One place Charles may have found himself welcome was the Maryland Liberty PAC suite, which was all by itself on the other end of the building. Despite that, they had a lively group.

Alas, I think I missed this presentation.

The other suites were county suites from Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties. This photo was of the Anne Arundel suite, which by the way had the best food.

But it seemed like a lot of the air was sucked out of the celebrations early, with most of the parties finished before the clock struck 12. That’s when I took to Facebook and wrote:

So my thoughts on day 1 as I head to bed:

I’m sure I’m not the only one scratching my head over Larry Hogan and his decision to wait to announce his intentions until January. The chatter around the convention seemed, well, less than positive. He had 1,000 supporters in a festive mood and plenty of press only to cite family and business as reason to wait.

There were a number of good parties about, though, and I renewed acquaintances with a number of friends and fans. But pardon me if tomorrow seems a little less exciting.

I think I’ll have some more thoughts on all this tomorrow, but allow me to move on. They probably won’t be in line with the thoughts of these gentlemen: from left to right, Jeff Quinton of The Quinton Report and Greg Kline, Mark Newgent, and Andrew Langer of the Red Maryland Network.

And no, I was not on their show last night. Wasn’t sought out and didn’t seek them out – gave some others a chance.

This is what I saw looking out the window this morning.

So when I woke up, I was at least expecting to deal with this lengthy issue regarding open primaries – finally, a chance to decide. Wrong!

I suppose I should back up and point out that I did not cover the Friday evening Executive Committee meeting as I usually do. There were a couple reasons for this, but the primary one is that I was the escort for a good friend of mine who was the lucky recipient of my second Change Maryland ticket. But had I done so I may have found out that open primaries wouldn’t be discussed. Nor did I do breakfast this time, because the speaker didn’t appeal to me.

So the first (and only) Saturday event I attended was our combination lunch and session.

Let me say that I thought having the lunch and session as we did was a splendid idea, with the key reasons being we didn’t have to get settled in after lunch in a different venue and the fact we could sit at tables – no more balancing my note pad on my lap.

First we heard welcoming remarks by Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman.

Yes, the photo is dark. But Laura had an intriguing story of being an MBA without being a high school graduate. Her remarks reflected a philosophy which said “over and over, if I worked hard, opportunity would be available to me.”

“My story could only happen in this country,” she added. “That’s why I’m a Republican.” She expressed the belief that hard work should equal opportunity.

Our luncheon speakers both came from the RNC.

Kristal Quarker-Hartsfield is the director of African-American Initiatives whose family “has been Republican since Reconstruction.” Her task was to spread the Republican message to areas not typically reached by the party, including black churches, historically black colleges and universities, and so forth. She added that Reince Priebus was “serious about going into these communities and doing things the right way.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Fong noted there’s “a good mix of people” here, and talked about the GOP’s renewed emphasis on minority communities. He made the case that many blacks would “consider” voting Republican if we were “just showing up.”

There was a buzz about the next speaker as well.

Described by Chair Diana Waterman as the future of the party, Annapolis Mayor-elect Mike Pantelides briefly outlined some of his secrets to success, particularly in social media. (The Twitter debate seems like a good way to promote brevity of remarks.)

With that out of the way, we rolled through some convention business so routine I snapped this on the Allegany County sign.

I guess the one interesting part was the complaint that the minutes didn’t reflect a resolution which was on the spring agenda but not brought up – the Tari Moore resolution tabled a year ago. But parliamentary procedure showed it was dead once the gavel fell in April.

So we moved on to State Senator David Brinkley’s report on the Senate, where we have a “tremendous field of candidates.” He made sure to mention that if Anthony Brown thought he’d have a coronation, he should have a cup of coffee with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Brinkley bemoaned the economic state of the state, making the case that job creators are “voting with their feet” and “anyplace south of the Potomac is friendlier (to business) than Maryland.” If we want more manufacturing jobs, Brinkley added, “right-to-work has to be one of the conversations.”

Overall, David believed that “even the Democrats are disgusted with the games and gamesmanship.” All we need are candidates who are conversant with the issues.

On the House side, Delegate Kathy Szeliga was kind enough to pass out her report, which highlighted many of the measures to be considered in next year’s session. It’s a list which includes tax cuts, a repeal of the “rain tax” and Common Core, protecting charter schools and creating a voucher system, and modifications to the gun bill.

Moving into the Chair’s Report, Diana Waterman exhorted us to “take advantage of all the opportunities our liberal Democrats gave us.” She also pushed an initiative called the Old Line Club, which was a monthly fundraising of $8 or more a month, automatically deducted.

But I found the Executive Director’s Report from Joe Cluster made me sit up and take notice: county-by-county goals. Even the Republican strongholds of Carroll and Garrett counties had marching orders: hold what you have and help other counties out.

Nicolee Ambrose, in her National Committeewoman’s Report, touted the successes of the Super Saturday program in Annapolis and Frederick. It also served as a good test market for issue advocacy, and next year the program will be expanded and divided into pre-primary and post-primary positions.

She also related the success of 3-part fundraisers like the Allen West event in Prince George’s County as a model for others to follow.

On a national scale, Nicolee spoke on IT improvements the party was undertaking as well as the winter RNC meeting in Virginia.

As is often the case, National Committeeman Louis Pope was optimistic: “We’re going to have a phenomenal year in 2014,” he predicted. He shared good news on the financial front and on how the party was working on regaining its technological advantage. Moreover, Obama’s “Teflon-coated presidency is coming to an end,” said Louis.

Pope also spoke on Maryland, calling the state one with a “very angry electorate” and “very energized (GOP) base.”

Finally we made it to resolutions. Two of them made it out of committee and two didn’t.

The ones which were presented to the floor came from John Fiastro, Jr. and Dave Myers.

You could call Fiastro’s resolution the Don Dwyer resolution, since it seemed tailored with his situation in mind. But Delegate Michael Smigiel, who was carrying a proxy, spoke up and called it “too broad.” An amendment to allow for acts of civil disobedience to address Smigiel’s concerns failed on a voice vote when Smigiel noted “there’s not enough lipstick to put on this pig.”

Once the question was called, the Fiastro motion failed by a large margin, over 75 percent voting against.

The other resolution was one which called on the party to stop sending “mixed messages” and integrate the pro-liberty community. It lost on a voice vote, even after the “mixed message” portion was excised. But Diana Waterman promised to create an advisory committee to hear the diverse portions of the party after the first of the year. So we’ll see.

Certainly the Maryland Liberty PAC and other groups will be watching.

There was an attempt to get one other resolution to the floor concerning the Frederick robocall, which had some support. But more people wanted to adjourn, which was the motion presented by Nick Panuzio of Talbot County. He’s good at that. (Update: I’m told by Denise Lovelady of Talbot that it actually was Josh Horner who motioned to adjourn, but I heard the motion credited to Nick by the Chair. So let’s say Talbot County is good at that.)

Upon driving home, though, the four of us who traveled together saw perhaps the prettiest sunset we’d seen in quite some time, so I’m going to take it as a divine sign we did something right even if it wasn’t expected.

Bongino echoes “high road” sentiment

Well, folks, I have to admit my wheel wasn’t the one which squeaked last on the matter since the crap I described last Wednesday continues apace. So hopefully someone with a little law enforcement experience can get this din to a dull roar:

As Republican candidates in a deep-blue state, we have a responsibility to provide you with a quality message and a quality campaign.

The likely nominees for office on the Democratic side will be flush with campaign cash, aided by an accommodating media and, in the case of Democratic candidate for Governor Anthony Brown, operatives from the Obama campaign. These campaigns are not playing games and this is not a joke, they are running to install a permanent tax and spend super-majority which will bankrupt our beautiful state and drive thousands more to flee across our borders.

I write this out of a deep and genuine concern for our state’s future. Some of the parochial spats developing amongst a limited number of campaign staffs are causing unnecessary and damaging rifts within our Party while we struggle for relevancy and the support of the people of Maryland.

It’s time for us to put the games and the nonsense aside and focus on the real fight. As the head of my campaign team I promise you a relentless effort and a quality team and if either I or my team fail to produce, email me immediately at campaign@bongino.com. I respectfully request that the remaining candidates on our Party team do the same and start to prune their campaign trees of people who alienate rather than unite.

That’s what Dan wrote on his Facebook page earlier this Tuesday evening, and I (almost) couldn’t agree more. (I think we will get the Obama operatives regardless of who wins that Democratic primary because we have one of the state-run exchange states.)

But we’ve had “unnecessary and damaging rifts” for a long time, well before this campaign began. I’m going to go beyond the whole Lollar aspect for the moment because plenty enough has been said about that over the last week; in fact, the controversy over that has enabled the argument over open primaries to be swept way under the rug. People may need to be reminded we have a convention next week.

In essence, it seems to me the party lost its unity when Bob Ehrlich lost. That so happens to be the time I was elected to my Central Committee – I swear, though, this is not cause and effect – and these are just some of the political slugfests we have endured since:

  • The argument over convention voting, which got so bad for a time some small counties boycotted the whole thing
  • The vote of no confidence on party Chair Jim Pelura
  • The return of Bob Ehrlich, which begat the Rule 11 controversy because Brian Murphy was also in the race (as was a challenger for Andy Harris, who also benefitted)
  • Audrey Scott and “party over everything” – her tenure neatly coincided with the rise of the TEA Party and pro-liberty movement
  • Speaking of Scott, her battle with Nicolee Ambrose for National Committeewoman
  • The ongoing question about whether Delegate Don Dwyer should resign, which one of the current gubernatorial candidates used to score political points
  • The referendum battles, including the times we chose not to use it
  • Alex Mooney’s resignation and the bitter subsequent election for party Chair
  • And now the open primary question

It’s been a constant routine of renegades, rule changes, and rancor for the last eight years – all we’ve been missing is the string of victories we need to make ourselves relevant in Maryland. The math is simple: one governor + one comptroller + 19 Senators + 57 Delegates = relevance. Anything less and we may as well not be there at all. Get that or more and maybe this state can be saved.

Now I will cheerfully admit I’ve had a hand in a couple of these issues I alluded to above; surely I’m not on Audrey Scott’s Christmas card list. But my goal is to help drag the Maryland Republican Party (insofar as it relates to the idea of enhanced liberty and freedom) over the finish line and make this more of a truly “free state.” (I’d like to do the same for all the other states as well.)

So this is why it bugs me that we have this whole power struggle between campaigns, between individuals – and even between websites. I like a good argument as much as anyone, but after awhile it gets pretty pointless. (Although I should take this moment to thank those who have supported me and my efforts – never hurts to acknowledge them! I have a support base I’d stack up to anyone’s.)

Certainly the average person, who may only now be starting to pay attention peripherally to the race (we’re months away from it being foremost in mind to probably 90% or more of Marylanders; this won’t occur until after the primary) would be unaware of what has transpired so far but right now we’re doing a damn fine job of both providing the opposition research Democrats can use in the general election and probably cheap entertainment for them as well. Doug Gansler has to be thanking his lucky stars that word of these shenanigans on our side is starting to get out because people will forget his transgressions long enough for him to rehabilitate his image.

I can surely guarantee, though, that Dan Bongino’s got enough of a struggle on his hands without having to worry about being tarred with these same broad brushstrokes. His is advice which should be heeded.

2013 Maryland GOP Spring Convention in pictures and text (part 1)

As I have done in the past, part 1 will deal with my observations on Friday night and part 2 will deal with Saturday’s events.

When I finally arrived in Timonium, a good 45 minutes or so after beginning the stop-and-go battle with I-695 traffic that made me thankful I toil in the Salisbury environs, I knew I was at the right place almost immediately.

But not 15 seconds after I grabbed my bags and headed over to check in, I was greeted by these fine folks doing an old-fashioned sign wave.

So the battle was somewhat joined. And the Bailey forces weren’t deterred by the rain which began just after I arrived – they just moved inside, to the spacious Crowne Plaza lobby.

In the meantime, the people putting Blaine Young’s party together were in the middle of their setup, which included this “can’t miss” signage.

Having checked in and after immediately running into old friends in the lobby, I went to my room to freshen up and prepare for the Executive Committee meeting. I was told the Baltimore County suite would be opening first, so I was hoping to grab a bite to eat and say hello to those I knew therein.

But they weren’t quite open yet, and by the time I got back they were closing (more on that later.)

However, there was another suite with plenty of food available, perhaps the best selection. This was the Draft Charles Lollar suite, and although I didn’t get to say hello to the man himself, I will show that he had a nice spread of giveaway items, including several pocket Constitutions.

Alas, I did not get to add this bad boy to my collection. Instead, I retained the useless collection of losing raffle tickets I have paid for over the years.

On my way down to the Executive Committee meeting, I happened by the setting up of the Maryland Liberty PAC suite. As they did last fall, they had a lot of books for sale. Not sure about the flags, though.

They also were on the Bailey bandwagon, showing their support.

To me, it didn’t seem like there were nearly as many vendor tables as there were at past events. There was one with bundles and bundles of the red convention tote bags, but the only other one I noticed was the Stratgeic Victory Consulting table sitting there all forlorn.

One piece of advice for the nice ladies who run SVC – you need fresher peanuts.

We may need a fresher approach to the Executive Committee meeting, which began several minutes late.

It began well enough: Chair Diana Waterman asked for a moment of silence for the Boston bombing victims. But her report didn’t shed a lot of new light, as she recalled the “wonderful event” of the Reagan gala back in February and noted her predecessor resigned, “moving on to other endeavors.”

Looking at current events, Diana noted our Red, White, and Blue Dinner will be held June 20 with Paul Ryan as featured speaker, and proclaimed the Pathfinders program was “going strong.”

Nicolee Ambrose, in her National Committeewoman report, spoke about efforts on both the state and national levels to engage voters and train volunteers. On the state level, the Super Saturday program would return in an effort to register new voters. Saturday morning, she continued, would give activists an opportunity to learn about the new voter registration rules in the state.

On the national front, Nicolee spoke briefly about “another incremental step” in reworking the RNC rules but conceded “there is much to be done.”

Diana Waterman chimed in during Nicolee’s remarks regarding the voter registration efforts to point out that we were working on data services for our counties.

In his National Committeewoman report, Louis Pope gushed that he was “excited about our prospects…(after this weekend) we will go back to unity.” He spoke about the recent RNC meeting in Hollywood, joking that “we decided to invade their territory.” Included among those who addressed the event, Louis continued, were Michael Reagan, Dick Chaney, and Allen West. The party also discussed outreach with Asian and Hispanic leaders as well as CPAC speaker Mia Love. “Republicans need to get into their sphere,” warned Pope. The party was embracing ideas for change, but also was in the process of “internal soul-searching.”

Louis also talked briefly about the RNC rules, noting it was “pretty cool” that people were reading them. He also commented on being named to the leadership of the party’s Northeast region, an area where “Republican prospects are certainly improving.”

The main thrust of Brian Griffiths’ YR report was to stress how we should “put our best foot forward” in two key municipal races: Annapolis and Frederick. He was “really excited” about prospects in Frederick, where a number of young Republicans are seeking alderman posts.

Fiona Moodie, representing the College Republicans, made the case for giving her body and the Young Republicans a vote on the Executive Committee. Those adjunct organizations would join the Maryland Federation of Republican Women, who already have their vote.

Amidst the various county reports, one point which was brought up was the concept of regional gatherings or conventions similar to the one Montgomery County has. Obviously the smaller counties could team up to have enough of a critical mass to make them worthwhile.

On my way back from the Executive Committee meeting, which went into a quick closed session to discuss the budget, I stopped to check out David Craig’s room.

Surprisingly to me, there was plenty of room to move around.

By contrast, I walked next door to the Maryland Liberty PAC room and found a large group of passionate activists.

Arguably, it was the most lively of any hospitality suite although I will concede I didn’t stop by all of them.

At the time I walked in, Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild was speaking on the idea of nullification.

“I don’t think Martin O’Malley wants a dozen counties not following his orders,” Rothschild exclaimed. He is working on a blueprint ordinance for counties to resist the gun ordinance.

Outside of the Liberty PAC gathering, gubernatorial hopeful Blaine Young was wooing supporters with a fancy setup.

(Yes, the photo is dark. Not much light in there.)

For a second, though, I thought I ended up on the set of “The Bachelor.”

As it turns out, these roses were for the women who came in. As an added touch, each table was named after a leading female activist in the party. This one I know very well.

Yes, that would be my “partner in crime” Heather Olsen of Prince George’s County. We didn’t have much mischief cooked up for this rendition of the convention, but you never know what’s in the future…

My immediate future at that point was comprised of a lot of choices.

Even though I wasn’t supporting his bid for state Chair, I decided to pay a visit to Greg Kline’s combined suites, since those non-credentialed members of the new media were welcome there.

They were doing an episode of Red Maryland Radio (or Purple Elephant Politics, or both) as I came by.

As it turned out, I got a little guest role when Jimmy Braswell asked me a question about this post on Greg Kline. I spoke my piece, he spoke his, and we basically agreed to disagree. I also found out my fellow Central Committee member Joe Collins is a radio natural.

But because I was having so many other interesting conversations there, I never made it to a number of suites. Granted, there were extenuating circumstances, such as the fact Baltimore County was packing up theirs as I arrived – apparently at the behest of the hotel.

You see, I was actually pretty surprised to find that several hospitality suites were along the same corridor as my room. Since the hotel hadn’t hosted an event such as ours, they apparently had a number of noise complaints – as one consequence, the Red Maryland radio crew had to turn off their speakers.

Anyway, I never made it back to the MoCo, Bongino, or Diana Waterman suites to see how their action was. But I did see Dan since he was a Red Maryland guest after I was.

And the Red Maryland crew had a special surprise for Jackie Wellfonder as the dubbed her the Maryland Blogger of the Year. (Jackie thought they were going to give it to me, I knew she would get it for her hard work.) As I tweeted:

 

After several hours of conversation and a couple adult beverages, I realized it was well after 1:00 in the morning, so it was time to put myself (and this part) to bed. Part 2 will be tomorrow morning.

Dorchester GOP Chair forum gaffe-free entertainment

The race for Maryland GOP Chair came into a little sharper focus last night as the three candidates stated their case for the last time before they appear at Saturday’s MDGOP Spring Convention.

Collins Bailey, Greg Kline, and Diana Waterman were mainly cordial toward each other but recorded differing priorities for the party in front of a audience of about 30 in the room and untold others online as the event was streamed over the internet. Questions for the trio dealt with a number of issues: Second Amendment, fundraising experience, the role of Central Committee and Executive Committee members, maintaining principles in the face of bad legislation, the independent blogger issue which came up yesterday, Tampa rules changes, gay marriage and the LGBT vote, and whether to compromise principles for unity.

I want to begin with the opening statements. I found it interesting that Greg Kline read most of his from a prepared statement, but departed on one key point: mentioning that the Red Maryland blog came because “good conservative folks…didn’t know what was going on.” Otherwise Kline stuck fiercely to his thoughts that “part of (our) resistance needs to be a functional Maryland Republican Party” but now it has a “leadership culture (which) has become far too insular.”

Diana Waterman, on the other hand, seemed relieved that this was almost over – running this race has been “exhausting.” Her single goal was to “bring balance to the state of Maryland” and “begin to approach a two-party system.” While she had “two worthy opponents,” her key points were the experience she brings and the fact much of her plan is already in place.

Collins Bailey seemed to chafe at the word “opponent.” “We’ll pick a captain on Saturday,” said Bailey. Describing the 2014 election as a “window of opportunity” Collins tried to look at the bright side of what we’ve done in the last two years but found himself wanting. Registering just 39,000 new Republicans out of a quarter-million voters isn’t success, nor is leaving over fifty General Assembly seats uncontested as we did in 2010. We need “measurable, meaningful, and doable” goals for 2014, with the object being to “make it freer and fairer for every Marylander.”

Since no one disagreed that the idea of restricting automatic weapons – a stance held by former RNC Chair Michael Steele – was a bad one, I’m going to skip to the question about fundraising experience.

Greg Kline liked it to having a product to sell, with specific electoral goals he promised to create within 60 days of his election.

Diana Waterman, though, decided to take us back in time and note that she’s fundraised all the way back to when she was a Girl Scout selling cookies, continuing through the parochial school her children attended and up to the United Way. In the here and now, she wanted to get back with former donors.

Fundraising was “a team effort,” said Collins Bailey, and he would approach the problem by finding our party’s most gifted fundraisers and letting them take to the goal of expanding our donor base tenfold. He also made an interesting claim that 80% of what is donated to the MDGOP goes to “overhead.” I suppose that means salaries, rent, and the like – it’s worth making the point on my end that this would automatically go down as a percentage with increased donations.

“If you want a dictator for Chair, don’t vote for me,” explained Collins in his answer to the question on the role of Central Committee and Executive Committee members. Above the others, Bailey saw his role as Chair as a “facilitator.” He would canvass the membership in order to establish a platform and goals for the next election.

Diana Waterman seemed to agree. “There is no successful 2014 without Central Committee members,” she said, hastening to add that, “communications works in both directions.” She wanted to begin a monthly conference call for Executive Committee members to supplement their quarterly meetings, although it might be difficult to schedule.

Greg Kline advocated for an “interactivity leadership,” featuring regular communication between both sides. He also repeated his call for an informal group of advisers, a body he’s previously called a “kitchen cabinet.”

I had written a question regarding the idea of reining in bad legislation as well as keeping our legislators in line with party principles, but the idea was sort of lost in translation in the way it was asked.

So after Collins Bailey answered that “I don’t think that’s an either-or proposition,” Diana Waterman agreed and added that “the state party doesn’t set policy.” (Why not?) Waterman also advocated for a good working relationship with the General Assembly.

Kline took the question to make a point that we should “show our value” to legislators and voters as well as take advantage of the new media.

Just so you know, I think the party should have more in a hand in policy and should use its influence to keep wayward legislators in line.

That answer by Kline, though, seemed to foreshadow the next question, which dealt with the latest MDGOP misplay. I was hoping someone would bring up the fact CPAC screens bloggers for their media credentials, and Greg Kline did when the question was presented to him.

But first we had to listen to Diana Waterman stumble her way through a defense of the decision, which she conceded left “a lot of room for improvement.” She didn’t want to have a subjective judgement or make anyone feel left out, so they decided on the “harsh” standard. In the future she promised to work with the blogging community for improvements.

Collins Bailey didn’t support the decision, but took the question in a different direction. He envisioned conventions being much larger, with up to 10,000 people. He wanted to open conventions up, which would create a “ripple effect” of excitement.

It seems to me from my recollection Virginia has these mass gatherings, and if you have the right speakers it could happen.

Obviously the question seemed tailor-made for Kline, and he didn’t miss the softball. Chiding the “open hostility” of a state party which doesn’t work with new media, Kline pointed out that CPAC and the RNC national convention welcome bloggers and it’s “an embarrassment we haven’t.” His response drew perhaps the largest applause of any of the evening’s answers from those in the room.

The next question was also harshly critical of the interim Chair, for it dealt with the Tampa RNC rules.

Collins Bailey got first crack and assessed that “2012 was a really unfortunate year.” Making the case that under these rules Ronald Reagan would have never been elected, Bailey revealed he felt the election was lost in August once these changes were made over vehement objections. “We’re better than that,” he stated, “Let’s make it right and move on.”

Again, Diana Waterman was thrust into the position of having to defend the unpopular. She launched into a technical explanation of what was changed, mentioning that a couple of the more egregious changes were dispensed with last week in California. These changes, though, were “not taken lightly.”

Waterman also defended Louis Pope, stating she felt his letter didn’t accuse Virginia RNC National Committeeman Morton Blackwell of  a “crooked deal” or quid pro quo.

Greg Kline told those gathered they could make up their own minds on Blackwell since he had appeared on Red Maryland Radio. But he also called Tampa “an unprecedented effort to change the rules” and spoke about the Nicolee Ambrose vs. Louis Pope Rules Committee controversy and its role. (Both Kline and Bailey are on record as supporting Nicolee Ambrose for the RNC Rules Committee; Waterman would retain Louis Pope.)

On the question dealing with gay marriage, Waterman leaned on her assessment that the GOP can be an 80/20 party, where people can agree with most ideas and choose to disagree on items like same-sex nuptials. It’s a “polarizing issue,” said Diana. She also bemoaned the fact that resolutions condemning same-sex marriage were included as part of a package at the recent RNC meeting, included with others like the one thanking Ron Paul for his service and supporting other key issues. She also took advantage of the RNC reference to note most of the Ginsburg Tampa rules were defeated.

Greg Kline also stated his support for traditional marriage, but noted “it’s okay to disagree…we have a common purpose.” There’s even a difference of opinion among those at Red Maryland, he continued. Just base our appeals on other issues, he concluded.

Repeating his assessment of the Chair as facilitator, Bailey derided those who would make the party “Democrat-lite.”

“We need to define who we are as people,” added Collins.

Speaking of unity, I thought the last question was excellent. Would you compromise your principles for unity?

None of the Chair candidates took that bait, with Greg Kline opening up by saying “we shouldn’t compromise who we are.” Abandoning our principles won’t help us with voters, Kline argued, and because our principles haven’t been clear, we have a branding problem.

Diana Waterman agreed, adding that we don’t have to bend for unity. We can all still work together.

But the most firm answer came from Collins Bailey. “I don’t believe in compromise,” said Bailey, but he would take incremental success. “Compromise means to give up who you are,” he said. “Are we a social club or a political party?”

Collins asserted the question could be asked in another way: are you willing to destroy who we are for the sake of unity? I know I’m not.

In their closing statements, the trio laid out the final elements of their case.

Greg Kline believed the questions were “really good,” and assessed that “the state party has tremendous opportunities in 2014.” But it also has a lot of problems, he continued, and his goals were to transform the way the party does business and change the leadership culture. He concluded that he saw criticism from places like the new media as opportunities for change, making that case that new media would “spread the message” unlike the Washington Post or Baltimore Sun.

Diana Waterman conceded there’s “definite room for improvement for the party” and that the Tampa rules are “definitely not perfect.” But she agreed with Kline that we have “great opportunities” next year and “fundraising will be the most important thing.”

As he has throughout the campaign, Collins Bailey was complementary to his opponents, saying “I’ve seen growth in all three of us.” The selection, he believed, was a choice in management style and vision.

And since Collins originally thought he only had two minutes, he added a couple anecdotal examples to his remarks about sharing the credit with others but taking the blame for himself. But he also revealed a good friend of his, a Democrat no less, was hoping he’d win. We needed a viable second party, the unnamed Democrat elected official argued, because “the Democrats (in Annapolis) don’t think, they just do what they’re told.”

So until Saturday afternoon, when the candidates make their remarks as their pitch to the convention, this will be the last time the members of the state GOP will get to hear them address questions. Dorchester County Chair Dale Coldren ran a fairly tight ship, which maximized the number of questions heard in a little over two hours.

I leave this for you to judge, but to me it’s worth pointing out that Greg Kline was the first to leave, with Diana Waterman next and Collins Bailey leaving sometime after I did. I happened to come in at the same time Bailey did, so I think he was the first to arrive followed by Kline and Waterman. (Admittedly, that order could be reversed.)

So who do I think won? Well, I would say both Kline and Bailey made the best statements, with each showing strength in various categories. Conversely, Diana Waterman always seemed to be on the defensive and certainly the race and interim Chair job has taken a toll on her. Bailey also mentioned the long hours and time away from family involved.

I’m sure some on the Red Maryland side of things would score this another runaway win for Kline, but I’m inclined to think it’s no better than a draw for him because he got off to a bit of a slow start. But he didn’t hurt his cause, and I think Collins might have helped his own a little bit.

Still, the race would appear to be Waterman’s to lose, and there were some of her supporters crowing yesterday the race was over because Andy Harris endorsed her. But if she can’t otherwise make traction in that district – which includes her home turf – I’m not sure what chance she has if she doesn’t score the first-round knockout.

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