The price to pay

It really wasn’t my intention to write about this election very much, as I would rather try to shape post-Trump conservatism, but there is an occasion here for a lesson to be taught.

Late last week we began hearing the rumbles about a letter to the RNC, signed by a number of concerned party members, urging them to stop financially supporting the flailing Trump campaign and concentrate their declining finances on saving the House and Senate from a Democratic takeover. The latter was already a strong possibility thanks to the sheer number of Republican seats in play – the TEA Party wave election of 2010 comes home to roost this year in the Senate. Among those signing are onetime Maryland YR chair Brian Griffiths and my “partner in crime” Heather Olsen, who resigned earlier this summer as county chair in Prince George’s County because she, too, could not support Donald Trump as the GOP nominee.

While I have had my differences with Griffiths over the years, it’s more rare that I disagree with my friend Heather. Yet I believe there are two good arguments for keeping Trump in the GOP financial loop, despite their (likely correct) contention that it’s “throwing good money after bad.”

First of all, those who climbed aboard the Trump Train early on were completely and utterly convinced that he would absolutely steamroller Hillary Clinton just as he has built up his business empire. But now that the polls being reported on a near-daily basis continue to find Trump not only losing nationally but putting several “safe” GOP states in play, these backers not only claim the polls are “fake” but also point to other (non-scientific) polls showing Trump has a “YUGE” lead and analysis saying he’ll win in a “landslide.” So apparently this money is going to a good cause, right? These militant Trumpkins are going to be covered regardless – either he wins and then the purge of the #NeverTrump group from the GOP begins, or he loses because he said early on “I’m afraid the election going to be rigged.”

So if you withhold the GOP money from Donald Trump, it’s just going to be another thing to blame his loss on. “We had these huge rallies and we knew we had this election in the bag,” they will wail, “but Reince Priebus and the GOP establishment wouldn’t give us any support – they must have been in cahoots with Hillary.” Don’t you dare give them that excuse.

As for the second reason, the Republican Party simply needs to be taught a lesson on its own and sometimes the only way to get the point across is letting them utterly fail. They had the chance, several times, to do something to avoid this situation – closed primaries, penalties for skipping debates and insistence on participation to the end, or allowing convention delegates to vote their conscience, as examples - but they did none of these things, allowing a candidate with far less than 50% of the Republican vote to skate off with the nomination. (This doesn’t count the policy failures of Republicans in Congress.) As I have said before: you break it, you bought it. Give Trump the money he’s due, and when the election is lost all of those involved will hopefully resign in disgrace for what they have done to a great party and a great country.

So when I get my appeals for donations to the national Republican party (and even the state version) I’m not giving them a dime. This is actually nothing new for me, since I would rather give to the individual candidate I believe in than a party organization that will be as likely to support a candidate edging left of center as it would a conservative (and perhaps more.) And too often they place their thumb on the scale in a primary even though it’s against their policy to do so. (Heather surely recalls Rule 11 being used for Maryland in 2010.)

It looks more and more likely that a bitterly divided Republican Party will endure electoral disaster unseen in a decade this November. (Maybe it’s years ending in 6, since the last several of those have been horrible for national Republicans – they lost all of Congress in 2006, Bob Dole lost in 1996, they lost the Senate in 1986, and Gerald Ford was defeated in 1976. 1966 was the last successful one.) But just as the Democrats are now split between the radical progressives that backed Bernie Sanders and the establishment which went for Clinton, the GOP is rent asunder by the schism between conservatism and the alt-right populism best expressed by Donald Trump (and, to a certain extent prior to that, Sarah Palin.)

Once we get to 2017, the question will be that of who blinks first. After the new Congress and administration is sworn in, it will be time for the GOP to get together and select new leadership. If things go as expected in November, the January RNC meeting will be must-see TV for political junkies as the fate of the resistance is determined.

But if the right people are placed in charge, the few million dollars wasted on Trump at the expense of Congress will be a memory because many may be willing to open their wallets again. In that respect, perhaps the Trump candidacy will be the catharsis the GOP needed to begin on a path to a post-Trump conservatism. We can only hope.

The case against Trump (part 2)

Since I finished part 1 last week, we’ve had a lot of developments in the race: Trump picked outgoing Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his running mate (or did he actually make the selection?) and came up with an awful logo (that lasted one day) to celebrate. Meanwhile, the RNC apparently succeeded in binding their delegates to this dog of a ticket. (My question: how did our Maryland Rules Committee members vote? I believe Nicolee Ambrose, who has fought in that committee before, voted the proper way and against the RNC/Trump minions. Yes, they are shamefully now one and the same.)

Update: Indeed, both Maryland members voted properly, and Nicolee Ambrose is urging members to reject the Majority Rules Report.

So the question may be moot, but I’m going to press on for the record so I can point back at this and say “I told you so.” Not that it will do a whole lot of good, of course, but maybe people will listen to reason in the future. It’s worth a try.

Just as a refresher, the five issues I have left over are taxation, immigration, foreign policy, entitlements, and role of government.

Trump came up with a decent taxation plan during the campaign – maybe not all that I would want, but an improvement. But he later admitted that all of it was up for negotiation, so let me clarify: the rates will not go down for many taxpayers, but the increases that made the package “revenue neutral” in his words will remain. Those on the low end of the scale may get the “I win!” form but the rest of us in the middle will lose, again.

I’m tempted to save immigration for last because that was the first important issue for Trump and the one that propelled him from celebrity sideshow to true contender. Americans, indeed, want something done about the influx of foreigners and a large part of that is building a wall at the border. But it’s not my most important issue and I still run this blog, so it goes in order.

The first crack in the Trump immigration façade for me was the idea of building a “big, beautiful door” in the wall to promote legal immigration. Then I found out Donald was an advocate of what’s called “touchback” immigration, which is a fancy way of saying he’ll give amnesty. And I can see it already: in a “grand deal” to get the wall built, Trump will eliminate the “touchback” part – because it’s oh so hard for these immigrants to be uprooted and return to their homeland – for the promise that a wall will get built. News flash: we were promised this in 2006, but the Democrats (along with a few squishy Republicans) reneged on the deal. We see how Congress acts, and regardless of what Trump may say this is not a promise he would keep. Bank on it.

I know Trump did a sort of catch-all address on foreign policy some months back, but his criticism of the Iraq war (and accusations about soldiers therein) gives me pause. That’s not to say we are always right, but there is a little bit of hindsight he’s taking advantage of here. If Iraq were a thriving nation and American bulwark in the Middle East such as Israel is, I seriously doubt Trump would say word one about it being a bad idea. That’s the sort of person I take him to be.

It’s very possible to lump both entitlements and the role of government into one statement, reportedly made by Trump in New Hampshire back in 2015 and relayed by Andrew Kirell at Mediaite:

The Affordable Care Act, “which is a disaster,” he said, “has to be repealed and replaced.” That line drew applause.

“Whether it is we are going to cut Social Security, because that’s what they are saying,” he continued. “Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want to be cut.”

So will it be fair when the train goes off the tracks and millions of younger Americans are left with nothing? Trump is 70 years old, so (as if he really needed it) if Social Security runs out in 2030 he’ll likely be dead anyway. But I will be 66 years old and hoping to retire at some point, although thanks to the Ponzi scheme of Social Security all that money my employers and I grudgingly gave to the government over forty-plus years will long since be pissed away. And the more I deal with the “Affordable” Care Act, the less affordable I find it. The repeal is fine, but the replace should be with the old system we liked, not some new government intrusion.

In sum, it became apparent to me early on that despite his appeal as an outsider, Donald Trump is far from an advocate of limiting government. If he should win in November, conservative Republicans will likely be in the same precarious position they were often placed in by George W. Bush: it’s difficult to go against a president in your own party even if he goes against party principles.

The Republican Party I signed onto back in 1982 when I first registered to vote in Fulton Township, Ohio was ably represented by Ronald Reagan at the time: strong defense, lower taxes for all Americans, and a moral clarity of purpose that included the concept of American exceptionalism. Yet Reagan also intended to limit government; unfortunately he wasn’t as successful in that aspect because he always worked with a Democrat-controlled House (and usually Senate.) I often wish that Reagan could have worked with the early Gingrich-led House and a conservative Senate – we may have beat back a half-century of New Deal and Great Society policies to provide a great deal for all Americans who wished to pursue the opportunities provided to them.

I don’t know how we got Donald Trump as our nominee, although I suspect the early open primaries (and $2 billion in free media) may have helped. Democrats may have put together their own successful “Operation Chaos” to give Republicans the weakest possible contender. (And if you think that’s a recent concept, I have a confession to make: in my first Presidential primary in 1984 I requested a Democrat ballot so I could vote for Jesse Jackson, who I perceived as the Democrat least likely to beat Ronald Reagan in the general election. Not that I needed to worry.) It’s worth noting that the defeat of “Free the Delegates” also resulted in the defeat of some measures designed to reduce the impact of open primaries.

Alas, the GOP may be stuck with Trump as the nominee. So my message for the national Republican Party from here on out is simple: you broke it, you bought it. The mess is on you and I’m washing my hands of it.

Programming note: Over the next four days – in addition to her regular Tuesday column – I will run a special four-part series sent to me by Marita Noon, but originally written by John Manfreda, who normally writes on the energy sector like Marita does. She ”spent most of the day (last Thursday) updating it, reworking it, and cleaning it up,” so I decided to run it as the four parts intended during the Republican convention.

I intend it as a cautionary tale, so conservatives aren’t fooled by a smooth-talking charlatan ever again. Don’t worry, I have a couple things I’m working on too so I may pop in this week from time to time if I feel so inclined. But I trust Marita and this seems quite relevant and enjoyable, so look for it over the next four afternoons…probably set them to run at noontime (how appropriate, right?)

The battle now turns on fundraising

(Update: I was surprised to find Bossie read this piece and sent along pages of additional Presidential Coalition donations since 2006, to the tune of almost $140,000.)

Do you think Louis Pope is feeling the heat? I got a second letter from him Monday; this was the letter I alluded to Monday evening and was hoping to get to yesterday.

There were one passage in it that I found interesting. It talks about his opponent’s lack of party experience and Pope’s fundraising ability:

I now have competition in my race for re-election. My opponent has not yet served in any of the (party-related) jobs listed above, nor on a Central Committee or any party office. I wholeheartedly invite him to become more involved on the local & state level over the next few years. Experience pays in politics and I am one of the most experienced members of the Maryland Republican Party as well as the RNC. My seniority on the committee is important as I am able to direct RNC resources and funds back to Maryland.

The final piece of the puzzle needed for success at both the MDGOP and RNC is the ability to continually fundraise. Virtually ALL of our money comes through donations and you can only get those by making thousands of phone calls along with e-mails and letters to my personal donor base. Over the last two decades I have helped raise millions of dollars for MDGOP and our local & statewide candidates in Maryland, as well as Presidential candidates. (Emphasis in original.)

As we have seen in the last several months, GOP voters are perfectly comfortable with eschewing experienced politicians for someone who has done practically squat for the Republican Party until the day he decided to run for President representing it. And perhaps this is the problem with Pope’s experience: those who have stayed in an office too long tend to lose touch with their electorate, and become immersed in a world divorced from reality. Pope moved up the Republican ranks over a couple of decades, making it to state party chair in a good year to do so (2002.) And it seems the glide path for a former party chair involves serving in a different capacity with the RNC, since both Pope and former National Committeewoman Joyce Lyons Terhes were state party chairs at one time – Audrey Scott thought she could get in on that, too, but the Central Committee voters thought differently four years ago.

But I have to question whether that much in “resources and funds” accrued to the state party before Larry Hogan became governor. When I first became a Central Committee member in 2006, the Maryland Republican Party was worse than bankrupt financially – for years we were saddled with debt and things really didn’t come around until Hogan was elected. (And note that he used public financing to do so.) Perhaps Pope escaped Audrey Scott territory by being less than specific about dates and fundraising totals, but there were a lot of lean years while Pope was in office.

But Bossie’s organization has been no slouch, either. As part of the Citizens United umbrella, their Political Victory Fund has donated $119,000 so far this cycle to 40 different candidates, including a $5,000 shot in the arm to Kathy Szeliga’s Senate campaign (as well as a radio ad) and $3,500 to Andy Harris. In addition, this 2014 release shows the Presidential Coalition (another offshoot of Citizens United) donated over $33,000 to state candidates during that cycle.

I don’t doubt the Republican establishment likes Pope, as he’s been one of their loyal footsoldiers for many years. But perhaps it’s time for a new chapter, some fresh ideas, and a different style. One thing that struck me about Pope’s letter was how much it looked back at accomplishments rather than forward at goals. While there’s the idea of supporting the GOP nominee for President, the fact that Donald Trump begins with a “yuuuge” 325,000 vote deficit here in Maryland to Hillary Clinton (in a state which only has 677,000 unaffiliated voters compared to almost exactly 1 million Republicans) means that a more realistic goal is to concentrate on keeping a Republican governor and chipping away at the Democratic majority in the General Assembly – if the GOP succeeds there, they can finally control redistricting for the first time in decades and perhaps have districts more fairly drawn based on geography and not politics.

As I said a couple weeks ago, twelve years is enough. Looking back into the past is nice, but I prefer to look forward when I can.

The question of slates

You may recall that I wrote about the “Conservative Club” and its slate of proposed Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the Republican National Convention, and that discussion came up briefly tonight at our meeting (which was actually to interview candidates for the Wicomico County Board of Education; the discussion came as we were tallying the ballots for ranking the candidates for submission.) Later on, I observed in an e-mail to another member that there will probably be a “Trump slate,” “unity slate,” and any other number of combinations.

So, lo and behold, I came home to see my mail for the day. One of the two envelopes to me had a letter I’ll get to tomorrow evening, but the other had these sentences:

I was honored to be asked by the Trump Campaign to be a Trump Delegate. I will be running on the Trump Slate.

(snip)

As a central committee member, you play a very important role in the future of our Country. Thank you for your service. I respectfully ask for your vote as a Trump Delegate to the National Convention representing Maryland.

Indeed Trump will have a slate. Without revealing the name of the letter writer, I can tell you this person ran in our Congressional district but did not win because he wasn’t one of the “official” Trump delegates. (Editor’s note: I stand corrected, this person alerted me to the fact he DID NOT run in the primary. My error.) And while I happen to know this person is a businessman, I have to question his wisdom when he “believe(s) that he will stay true to his promises and fight and scrap for our future.” It’s taken Trump just a few days to flip and flop on some key issues, so I have to ask why this tendency wasn’t as obvious to everyone else as it was to me?

The letter writer is a nice guy, but I’m afraid he’s going to get egg on his face before this is all over by supporting Trump.

I hope someone publicizes the Trump slate because it will make a handy guide of people I can skip voting for come Saturday. (Turns out they did.) I think I have a pretty good idea of who I’ll favor, but there’s still a lot of research to do before I make my decisions on that front.

Update: There is also an official Cruz list, so I encourage you to start there with your voting.

The noble ninety-eight

If you want to talk about an absolute scrum, look no further than the list of candidates for Delegate and Alternate Delegate to be presented to us at next Saturday’s Maryland Republican Party Spring Convention. Between the two races there are a total of 98 people vying for the 22 positions that will be available for Central Committee members and/or proxies to vote upon.

A lot of them are well-known names: 16 are current state or federal elected officials – Andy Harris is one of those trying for a spot – in addition, all of the party officers are on the ballot as well as a host of other elected officials, candidates, and familiar faces such as Anne Arundel County Executive (and former Delegate) Steve Schuh, two-time Comptroller candidate William Campbell, unsuccessful Congressional aspirants Faith Loudon and former Delegate Mike Smigiel, and even the onetime First Lady of Maryland Kendel Ehrlich. But there are several dozen activists and people who ran for the positions in the primary but failed to be successful. The insurgent campaign of Donald Trump vaulted a lot of unfamiliar names to the Cleveland convention because many of Maryland’s elected officials backed other candidates.

With so many in the race it’s only natural to see slates formed. Here’s one from the “Conservative Club” of Maryland:

I have no idea who runs the Conservative Club, where their meetings are, and whether I owe them any dues, but I can tell you a little about their slate:

  • I have previously endorsed their top two candidates for National Committeewoman and National Committeeman.
  • Six of their ten At-Large Delegates previously ran as Cruz delegates or alternates: Boone, Brewington, Loudon, McConkey, Pycha, and Rey. Two of the others were Rubio delegates (Cluster, Patel) and the other two did not run. Bossie is a natural pick as he’s trying to be National Committeeman.
  • Three of their At-Large Alternate Delegates previously ran as Cruz alternates: Alzona, Lathrop, and Trotta. O’Keefe was a Rubio delegate, while the others either did not run or were unaffiliated.

So this seems to be a combination of Cruz and Rubio supporters under the conservative banner. Fair enough, although I can question Patel’s conservative bonafides when I see a photo like this:

Silent majority of what? It’s not a majority of Republicans in the country, since Trump still has only a plurality. And to me, backing someone who’s not going to advance many conservative principles is not worthy of being in a Conservative Club. So I think I’ll skip that name on the ballot.

Obviously there are not any Trump delegates from April running in this election since the voters of Maryland blindly sent them to Cleveland. But out of the field who ran for the seats in April there are a number who are trying again, and it will be interesting to see how they fare in round 2. In my case, I’m looking to send as many Cruz delegates as possible to hopefully bring some sanity to the Maryland delegation – however, it is likely there will be a Trump slate as well and that group is to be avoided. I may have to bring my own list and check names off as I figure out their allegiances.

One other aspect of the race that fascinates me is the sheer volume of people and ballots that need to be created. When I ran in 2008 for a at-large post, there were only about 25 of us and I think the voting and tallying took about 45 minutes. One problem is that our voting system is a somewhat proportional one based on the county you represent and its relative voting strength – as I recall, the bulk of the modest amount of support I received came from Eastern Shore counties and their votes weren’t much in the scheme of things. It’s better now, but thanks to variances in the voting strength and number of members on a Central Committee, a member from Anne Arundel County has about four times the power as a Montgomery County member – or, for that matter, my vote from Wicomico County. Because their strength is diluted so much by having 48 members (the maximum allowed by law) each of the nine of us on the Wicomico County Central Committee are roughly at par with each member of Montgomery County’s CC – they just have a lot more bodies. Anne Arundel only has 13 members, so they each have a lot of say.

Long story short, I’m told they will have an electronic system in place for this so I hope it goes smoothly. I would like to be home before church on Sunday.

It’s just another aspect of what could be the most contentious convention in the ten years I have attended them.

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.

Cleveland rocks!

To me, it was good news from the RNC: the 2016 GOP convention is slated for Cleveland. For those of us on the East Coast, it’s a city within driving distance and in my case I would have a ready-made place to stay because part of my family lives there. The “mistake on the lake” could achieve the daily double as well, since the Democrats also have their eye on Cleveland for their convention – if so, it will be the first time in 44 years both parties have held their convention in the same city, with Miami being the site of both 1972 conventions. Cleveland last hosted a national convention in 1936, when Republicans picked Alf Landon to face Franklin Roosevelt. (They also hosted the 1924 GOP convention, which nominated President Calvin Coolidge for a full term.)

But to me it’s a milestone of a city going through the pains of revitalization, A few weeks ago, on my Sausage Grinder blog, I wrote a piece reviewing a study done in Cleveland about how the city is attracting more and more young workers. Frustrated by high real estate prices on the coasts and finding good jobs in the “eds and meds” fields, Cleveland is becoming a destination of choice around the region. Yes, that Cleveland.

If the GOP wants to send a message about their vision for America, they should focus on the process Cleveland is using for its rebirth. The city is a laboratory to study mistakes made and methods which work, as it serves as a microcosm of sorts for the country at large. Built up in an era when brains and brawn were needed in equal supply to create the goods which helped a young America prosper and witness to an exodus to both its suburbs and more favorable regions which all but killed the city, Cleveland can still be a survivor. As I wrote in my piece, Cleveland is a place “where manufacturing is in the blood.” I think making things in America again is the key to a national renaissance.

Certainly Dallas and Kansas City, Cleveland’s two main opponents in the fight to be convention host, have their own stories to tell. But there’s a political factor to consider: Texas and Missouri have been fairly safe Republican territory over the last several elections, but Ohio has gone with the winning Presidential candidate a remarkable 13 elections in a row – so any Republican advantage there can be vital. On a state level, the GOP has been dominant for much of the last quarter-century, albeit with less-than-conservative politicians occupying the governor’s chair – George Voinovich, Bob Taft, and John Kasich have left a lot to be desired insofar as the conservative movement is concerned. But if Kasich secures re-election this year, he will be the fourth two-term Republican governor in a row stretching back to the days of James Rhodes, who served four non-consecutive terms beginning in 1963.

So if I’m blessed enough to get an opportunity to cover the proceedings – or even be a delegate or alternate – I think it would be fun to give the perspective of a transplanted Ohioan. It’s something I can scratch off my bucket list in fairly familiar surroundings.

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.

Observations on observations

Perhaps the pro-liberty crowd is still a little restless in Maryland.

Today I got an e-mail from “the Susquehanna Conservative,” a.k.a. Scott DeLong of Harford County. Let me toss out a couple caveats before I begin with my analysis of his remarks: one, he was a Collins Bailey supporter for Chair as I was,  and two, Scott is part of the Campaign for Liberty group, which probably makes point number one unsurprising since that was Bailey’s base of support. This rather lengthy e-mail mainly speaks to Scott’s thoughts about our recent convention, although he opines on some other topics as well.

Upon his arrival, he noticed the same thing I did: a handful of Waterman signs but many passionate Bailey supporters out sign waving. Of course, he also highlighted the Maryland Liberty PAC hospitality room to a much greater extent than I did, because I went to several others in my travels that evening. I didn’t realize, for example, that Delegate Michael Smigiel spoke to the group and the information Smigiel related about the SB281 gun bill was quite enlightening. I truly appreciated the overview and wonder if anyone recorded all of the speakers there for future reference.

And since I’m sure I have the attention of the pro-liberty crowd – and hopefully the MDGOP leadership as well – I’d like to offer a suggestion. I’ve alluded to this before, but honestly I’m not sure I have done so in this particular forum: why not move the Maryland Liberty PAC suite out of Friday night, when the focus is more on socializing and schmoozing, to Saturday morning? As DeLong explained later, not all of the Saturday morning fare was well-attended, and to me it would be like a miniature MDCAN conference before our convention business began. Perhaps we could integrate a continental breakfast into it, but in either case I bet it would draw more than seven people.

So only a small portion of Scott’s reflections focused on Friday night. The next part, though, I found interesting. To quote Scott, “It was the Establishment versus 2 grassroots candidates,” but by the very next paragraph he darkly alludes that “The Establishment was going to pull out all the stops to make sure their candidate, Waterman, would win” by “Thugging The Vote.”

Personally I found what I heard to be happening reprehensible, then again, this is politics and “politics ain’t beanbag.” While we had a proxy unsure of the direction to go, having heard conflicting information about following the wishes of the person being substituted for versus following their own desire, I was hearing some of the same stories being related by DeLong in his account.

So let me back up the scenario a little bit. In previous discussions, Dave Parker (our county Chair) and I agreed that our county’s vote could easily (and likely would) split three ways. I actually was mildly surprised by the split as one person I thought of as a Waterman supporter picked Bailey and one other did the reverse. In the end, we were about as split as any county was – but our Chair was perfectly fine with that, and allowed us to make up our own mind.

Contrast that to the browbeating some county chairs gave to their charges, particularly those in the Waterman camp. It was disappointing, but frankly not too surprising. They weren’t going to repeat the same mistakes they made when they thought Audrey Scott had the National Committeewoman’s seat in the bag last spring. Granted, the three votes DeLong alludes to would not have changed the end result – unless it was the tip of the iceberg, and we may never really know that.

But after Scott goes through the voting process, he points out some of the goings-on between ballots for the Chair position:

The chain of events after the first round of balloting for Chairman was interesting.

The Kline and Bailey camps appeared to be genuinely cordial to one another.

It was reported that during that pow-wow that when Kline was deciding what to do that Bailey told him that if he thought he should stay in for one more round, he should.

That’s just Collins being Collins.

However, if one of their goals was to get a grassroots chair and get Pope off the RNC Rules Committee, then the Kline team really needed to be able to see the writing on the wall.

The only thing that would be accomplished with Kline remaining in the race would be the election of Diana Waterman as Chairman since she was 11 votes away and it would be virtually impossible for Kline to get enough to get close.

The Bailey team was prepared to endorse Kline had the outcome been reversed.

The supporters of these two groups clearly had more in common with each other than with Waterman and Pope.

Had either become the Chairman the other groups would have certainly had a seat at the table and would have had their ideas and input considered, and if found workable, implemented.

The Kline guys seemed like a decent bunch, but they clearly need to get better at reading the tea leaves.

Now that last statement will probably earn Scott DeLong the everlasting enmity of the Red Maryland crew, for whom I am an erstwhile contributor (as they like to point out.) One result of this particular election, though, is that it may create a change in the bylaws or the adoption in the future of a special rule where the lowest-ranked candidate is automatically evicted from the ballot. Again, we will never know if a Kline withdrawal and endorsement of Bailey would have been enough to push Collins over the top given how close Diana was in the first place, but as things turned out Bailey supporters got the next best result.

From here, Scott implores us in the pro-liberty movement to “unite for common goals” and launches into a discussion about national party affairs. I believe DeLong is correct that National Committeeman Louis Pope will be extremely resistant to change, and given some of his statements regarding the “Liberty Pack” (as he calls it) it doesn’t appear he will be of much use to the purpose of revisiting the RNC rules.

Yet some of the ideas in the “Growth and Opportunity Project” that DeLong doesn’t like are ones I happen to be in favor of. Personally. I would like to see multi-state primaries – but I don’t want the calendar front-loaded because I would prefer the primaries occur in the timeframe of May through early July, with the conventions remaining in September. With such a compressed schedule, there would be plenty of time for a grassroots candidate to gather support beforehand, not to mention “as much debate and discussion as possible.” (By the way, we should tell the cable networks that either we pick the debate moderators or they can pound sand.) On the other hand, the idea of all caucuses intrigues me as well – perhaps we can have a cutoff number of Republicans in a state (say, just for an example, one million) between a state which can caucus and a state which must hold a primary. (And yes, I think the primaries should be closed. Don Murphy hasn’t convinced me yet.)

DeLong returns to the convention narrative to talk about the reports from Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin and now-former House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell as well as the “usual parliamentary chaos.” I have to agree with Scott on that one.

There have been far too many conventions where we simply ran out of time before important business could be concluded, and to me that’s inexcusable. In one case, I had a pending bylaw change on the short end of the time stick; this time, there was the Tari Moore resolution which was tabled last fall. It always seems like we have some sort of high-priced dinner afterward that no one really wants to attend because they’re dragged out from 24 nearly non-stop stressful hours with very little sleep and – for many – a long drive home. (Next spring in Rocky Gap will be a classic example of that for those on my end of the state, just as Ocean City conventions were difficult on those who came from out west.) I understand we weren’t expecting a Chair election when this spring gathering was scheduled, but why put people through this?

Another place where I part ways with DeLong is over the Tari Moore resolution. If you want to be critical of her budget and other decisions she’s made since becoming Cecil County Executive, that’s one thing and I can accept that. But unless and until she files to run for re-election as an unaffiliated candidate, I think she deserves the benefit of the doubt that she will revert back to her Republican registration so I wouldn’t support such a resolution coming off the table.

To me, Scott is beginning to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and not looking at the 80% rule. Certainly I can pore over anyone’s voting record and find at least a few flaws, but until a better alternative comes along the idea is to try and steer them right.

Yet I think we could have had a better alternative than Nic Kipke for Minority Leader; unfortunately none stepped up to the plate. DeLong correctly points out some of the many flaws in Nic’s voting record but also savages Tony O’Donnell for his mistake of supporting Thomas Perez for a federal position several years ago.

I think Scott’s letter is shorter than my analysis, but in the end he does point out that:

I hope that some of the issues I’ve highlighted in this e-mail provide you with a starting point.

So I made it such. It’s better to get this discussion underway now so we can get through it in plenty of time for 2014, since it’s not like the Democrats aren’t dealing with their own problems.

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.

Furious backtracking?

I don’t know if all Central Committee members will get this in their e-mail, but at 12:35 this morning I received a missive (ostensibly) from Louis Pope claiming to be a “Response to Morton Blackwell’s incorrect diatribe!” When it begins with Pope asserting that:

Morton has now tried to inappropriately interject himself in the Maryland Chairman’s race. I have Never seen this type of behavior in any previous election. Morton Blackwell is the one who has recently made numerous resolutions to support of the Liberty Pack and the Ron Paul supporters trying to change several of the RNC Rules that were passes (sic) overwhelmingly by the Rules Committee in Tampa.

…you know it’s going to be a doozy.

At this point, it’s really beyond what happened at the RNC last week – the damage was done long ago, and Pope fails to mention that he was one of the 28 votes to provide the margin which killed the outright repeal of the Tampa rules as they didn’t get a majority in the Standing Rules Committee. Granted, had Nicolee Ambrose retained her membership the margin would have been 26-27 but one never knows if a vote was made to please an RNC master knowing there were 27 others to provide cover.

The other statement about Blackwell which interested me was the one where Pope denied accusing Alex Mooney of a quid pro quo involving the ascension of Nicolee Ambrose to the Standing Rules Committee at Pope’s expense. This is what Pope wrote in the original letter – judge for yourself:

Alex (Mooney) called me just before he announced his resignation effective immediately on February 22nd and said the RNC member Morton Blackwell of Virginia has (sic) asked that he sign Nicolee’s form. Alex and Morton Blackwell are in a business deal regarding the book Alex is preparing on door-to-door campaigning. He also told me in the same conversation that while he was doing this as a favor to Mr. Blackwell, Diana Waterman could reverse the situation…

Honestly, was there a need to bring up the business deal at all? Why the backhanded slap at a fellow RNC member? The point that the situation could have been reversed could certainly have been made without the insinuation that this was payback for services rendered. Obviously Morton Blackwell had a preference and a long-standing relationship with Alex, just as Pope obviously has his own (unnamed) friends in “leadership on the Rules Committee, all of who (sic) encouraged me to remain on the Rules Committee.” No word on what dealings Pope has with them.

But now Pope is doubling down, attaching a fundraising letter he considers a smoking gun of some sort. “This issue slandered No One and simply shows the connection and association and explains why Mr. Blackwell felt he has reason or right to inject himself into our own MDGOP Chairman’s race and previously the Rules Committee seat,” Pope adds in his most recent missive.

Yet Blackwell has made no formal endorsement in the race and simply reacted to what he saw in the letter as a false accusation! Morton, though, reveals something Pope failed to point out:

Your interim Chair, Diana Waterman, joined with Pope to pass the (Washington D.C. National Committeeman Ben) Ginsberg changes.

Although some members of the Convention Rules Committee, including me, strongly objected to Ben Ginsberg’s obviously centralizing power grabs, most members of that committee went along with everything Ginsberg wanted.

(snip)

Mr. Pope and Mrs. Waterman have made clear that they support the radical, destructive power-grabs that occurred at the national convention.

You would be well-served to elect a principled Chairman who works in the interest of the conservative grassroots.

Don’t you want a Chairman who will work to make the Republican Party about the grassroots ultimately telling the RNC how to operate, instead of the other way around?

I know I would. But this whole affair has reminded me of the Rule 11 imbroglio in 2010: moves which directly affect the future of the Maryland GOP made without input from the rank-and-file. Honestly, there aren’t a whole lot of decisions I would ask the Chair consult with the Central Committees about making but this is one of them given the work Nicolee did at the January RNC organizational meeting.

In short, it was a failure in leadership.

While I’m on the subject of questionable decisions made by the party, I should mention that I received a note from Chair candidate Collins Bailey which cleared the air on one subject:

I was also informed that (MDGOP Executive Director David) Ferguson was not paid to go to South Carolina which I think is positive. He went at his own expense.

This refers back to the March 23 Martin O’Malley campaign stop in South Carolina, which featured Ferguson shadowing him and led to the postponement of Wicomico County’s Pathfinders event. Glad Collins cleared that up and shared it, even though I still disagree with the trip’s intent. South Carolina has a GOP which can handle itself, in my estimation – and I still haven’t heard of any Palmetto State guests at our Lincoln Day dinners.

The Pope perspective

In this continuing saga of he said-she said regarding the status of who represents us on the Rules Committee of the Republican National Committee, one person had remained silent – until now. Yesterday a copy of a letter from Louis Pope was acquired by the folks at Red Maryland and posted on their site. (Update: I finally received my copy today, April 8. My mail is apparently slow out in the hinterlands.)

While Brian Griffiths, who wrote the Red Maryland piece and is an avowed supporter of Chair candidate Greg Kline, makes the case that Pope’s objection stems in part from a supposed quid pro quo between Virginia RNC member Morton Blackwell and former Maryland chair Alex Mooney regarding a book Mooney is writing, I’m more appalled that Pope believes “a great deal of misinformation has been flying around the Maryland Republican Party through various blogs, e-mail chains, letters, etc.” about the affair. If this has been so, the (undated) letter to “set the record straight” should have come out some time ago in order to clear the air.

Also intriguing is the implication that Waterman indeed did not make the decision on her own, but spoke to “senior leadership at the RNC who encouraged her to have me remain on the Rules Committee.”

To me, that says the RNC is really not serious about revisiting the rules adopted in Tampa. Sure, they will pay lip service to the concept of listening to the grassroots but in the end they’re really going to listen to the cadre of inside-the-Beltway consultants who are already sizing up the 2016 field and trying to determine who is both most malleable and “electable.” My guess would be Marco Rubio, who remains popular among activists despite his pro-amnesty immigration stance.

As one would also expect, Louis states his support for Diana Waterman, saying “I feel terrible to have put Diana in such an awkward position…she deserves our thanks and admiration, not our criticism.”

While I agree that Diana has performed a number of valuable services to the MDGOP over the last two years as First Vice-Chair, I cannot place her above criticism for the way she has handled this particular duty. Central Committee members are assured over and over again that communication is paramount, only to be bowled over by incidents such as this Rules Committee dustup. Having seen this before with the Rule 11 controversy in 2010 I really don’t like how this movie ends.

Pope goes on to talk about the Tampa rules changes, which he conveniently did not vote on because of his leadership position. At the time, of course, our National Committeewoman was Joyce Terhes, who was not going to rock the boat on her way out the door to a well-deserved retirement from party affairs. Nor is it apparent that Alex Mooney strenuously objected.

The only person who has stood up for the grassroots and voiced her objection was our newly-elected National Committeewoman, Nicolee Ambrose. Since she was the squeaky wheel who got the grease, it’s no surprise that Diana Waterman was “encouraged” to keep Louis Pope in the Rules Committee position.

Lastly, it should be noted that not all Central Committee members have received this message from Pope yet; to be fair, it may have been mailed to all the 300-plus membership and perhaps my copy hasn’t hit my mailbox yet.

But once again it seems to me the party insiders are trying to play their games and, as the aforementioned Griffiths has pointed out, be “the tallest midget in the room.” I’d rather stand tall on my principles, thank you.

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