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.

More observations on the RNC races

As I mentioned the other day we had our quad-county meeting earlier this week, where the members of the four Lower Shore GOP Central Committees (Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset, and Dorchester) get together to discuss issues and find common ground. For the most part, this meeting (ably ran by John McCullough of Dorchester County) focused on the upcoming Spring Convention, including what was supposed to be a frank discussion of the two National Committee races.

In the runup to the meeting, we debated whether we should invite the candidates to speak or not. Three of the four county chairs decided to say no, while the other was neutral on the issue. Because of that consensus, none of the hopefuls was invited to speak; however Audrey Scott got her “wires crossed” in the words of McCullough and showed up anyway. It created an awkward scene where we had to have her leave the room so an open discussion could take place.

But before she left, she made sure to tell everyone not to believe what was read on this site. And while she was careful not to single me or my site out by name, I must say that I will abide a lot of things because I bend over backwards to be fair but I will not be called a liar. In fact, I have taken steps to have the information I was provided by several reliable sources disproved and if I find out it is so I will make the correction. As of this writing I’m awaiting the confirmation, after asking a person I frankly thought she threw under the bus when the subject was brought up.

Unfortunately for Audrey, some of her more fervent supporters adopted the same condescending tone Audrey adopted when she discussed what’s been said about her in the campaign. This was especially apparent when one (female) backer wondered aloud if Nicolee Ambrose could handle the position while having a family, ignoring the fact that many women who serve in politics already do so quite well. These supporters as a group believed Audrey’s experience sets her apart, and I won’t deny she’s experienced. But that’s not what the position needs at this time; instead it needs bold leadership and frankly I feel Audrey Scott will treat the post like a retirement gift from a grateful party.

And then we have several points brought up by quad-county members about Audrey’s actions: the Rule 11 controversy, attendance at the rally supporting the gas tax and her weak retort that she only attended the rally to support a bill to keep the Transportation Trust Fund from being raided, and of course the “unelectable” Roscoe Bartlett comment. I found it fascinating as well that, just hours after Roscoe announced his support of Nicolee Ambrose in the NCW race, Audrey Scott slapped up her own grainy picture with Bartlett, taken at the Montgomery County Lincoln Day Dinner last Friday. She also rehashed the “let’s get behind our nominees” mea culpa but the damage has been done.

I also found out, in speaking to some of those attending, that at least two of them who are listed as supporters of Audrey Scott have no intention of voting for her. Of course, Audrey mentioned she would be happy to remove any names from the list but who wants to ask about something like that? It’s almost embarrassing, but more importantly these admissions chip away at her facade of support she’s attempting to build.

Compared to the NCW discussion, the contest between Scott Shaffer and Louis Pope was rather mild. There were some who wanted the change and some who didn’t, but for the most part neither drew many negative remarks.

But I wanted to bring up something I was told today, as a letter from Louis Pope arrived in my mailbox. It proves one thing that Scott Shaffer brought up earlier this week and that I wasn’t sure of: Pope is indeed sending out re-election items paid for by the RNC (at least the stationery is, and presumably postage too.)

I’m not worried about the couple hundred dollars which the RNC may be giving to Pope for his re-election (although it is an important item to point out) as much as I’m interested in this line that Pope wrote:

Over the last decade I have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for MDGOP and our local and statewide candidates here in Maryland, as well as presidential candidates.

I’ll take that at face value, particularly since Pope has led fundraising seminars in the past and has several entries on his political resume regarding fundraising for Bob Ehrlich, Michael Steele, and George W. Bush. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in a decade seems like a realistic amount.

Yet Audrey Scott claimed to raise $1.5 million for the MDGOP along with $1 million from the RNC for Victory Centers, all in the one year she was Chair. I’d be glad to believe that if the numbers were there, but as I dissected them last Sunday they are not. But even if she did, I quite frankly believe that her presence at the quad county meeting may have lost her more votes than she gained, particularly when the Allen West fundraiser that Nicolee Ambrose helped to organize was described in glowing terms. I don’t think MDGOP fundraising would suffer under Nicolee, particularly if she can bring those kinds of personalities to the state.

Out of a two-hour meeting, we spent well over an hour going back and forth about the National Committeewoman race. To me that points out the distinction between the two candidates, and I’ll be quite interested to see how the votes come out from the four counties involved in the quad-county meeting. Our votes may not mean a lot but they have to be earned, and coming down to attend a meeting where her opponent obeyed a specific request not to show up gives me the impression that Audrey Scott believes she’s entitled to be National Committeewoman because she’s served in the Republican Party at a high level for a long time.

I don’t believe in entitlements. I believe we need a leader, and Audrey Scott isn’t translating the success she had as Chair into a good campaign for National Committeewoman.

Shaffer responds

This was addressed to the members of the “quad county caucus,” which presumably means that the 36 or so members of our four central committees (Wicomico, Worcester, Dorchester, Somerset) received this e-mail. It was in reply to the post I did endorsing Shaffer’s opponent, Louis Pope. I am posting this as closely as I can to the original, with slight edits as needed for formatting and shortening links. I’m also choosing not to blockquote the letter; instead I’ll divide it manually.

**********
In a recent article on Monoblogue, Michael Swartz of Wicomico County endorsed Louis Pope in the National Committeeman’s race, because as he put it it’s “a case of six of one and a half-dozen of the other.”  With respect to Michael (Monoblogue is one of my favorite reads), I’d like to point out some differences between Louis and myself.  At the end of the day, I’ve never been the type to hold grudges.  Whether a Central Committee member endorses or votes for Louis is his/her prerogative, and I’m not going to let that stop me from working with said Committee member in trying to make our party better.  But if anyone votes for Louis simply because they see no difference between the two of us, then I have utterly failed in communicating my vision for National Committeeman.

First off, Louis Pope is a two-term incumbent who believes that he is entitled to the position as long as he wishes to hold it.  He has characterized the National Committeeman role as a job reserved only for the most senior member of our party, essentially nothing more than a reward for past service.  On the other hand, I am an advocate of term limits (at my very first county Central Committee meeting after being elected, I proposed a bylaws amendment instituting term limits for Anne Arundel Central Committee members).  I have stated that I would not seek this position beyond a second term, because it is imperative to the party that we bring in new people and new ideas on a regular basis.  Allowing the party to be run by the same small group of people for decades at a time has done nothing to advance our cause.  Furthermore, I believe that any election like this should be based on future expectations – what the candidate is proposing, not what they’ve done in the past.  The NCM role is too important to be treated as a retirement package or social club membership.

Second, Louis was responsible for the Rule 11 waiver in 2010.  But this is only one example of a demonstrated pattern of behavior.  He has consistently used his position to sway the results in contested primary elections, by giving unfair advantages to one Republican candidate over another.  This year he served as state campaign chair to the Romney campaign, dismissing the other candidates.  Now, he is attempting to force a slate of at-large convention delegates and alternates on the State Central Committee at our upcoming convention.  My view is that no party officer should be publicly favoring one candidate over another in a contested primary – whether by waiving Rule 11, joining a campaign staff before the primary election, or otherwise endorsing a candidate before the primary.  Contested primaries make our party stronger, and the job of our party leaders should be to create a level playing field that allows all factions of our party to be heard, and ensures all candidates have a fair chance at winning over voters.  Louis believes he should decide the primary outcomes; I believe the voters should be the ones making those decisions.

I also believe that one of the main responsibilities of this role is constituent service.  For Louis, constituent service means nothing more than showing up twice a year at our conventions, and delivering a speech dictating the RNC’s decisions to us.  My pledge as National Committeeman is to contact all 24 county Central Committees before each and every RNC meeting I attend; finding out what you need from the RNC so I can truly represent you.  Any speech I give at the MD GOP conventions will include status updates on those items important to you.  Along the same lines, the state party needs to do a better job of “sharing the wealth” within our state.  For example, the annual Red, White, and Blue fundraising dinner should be rotated around the state – and not simply handed to Howard County each year.

Louis believes it’s ok to spend RNC money on his reelection efforts (despite claiming he pays his own expenses).  I’m sending you an email (not a “Paid by the RNC” mailing).  As the minority party in Maryland, I believe we need to do things better and cheaper, like making the MD GOP’s communication efforts with the Central Committees 100% electronic.  Besides cutting out wasteful spending, this also makes us more efficient.  We all know what happens when we have to have a 10 day notice required because we’re relying on the US Mail.

Louis has lost the respect of many of his RNC peers, first by mismanaging spending on the Tampa convention and approving a budget putting the RNC in unprecedented debt, then by trying to stonewall RNC efforts to investigate that misspending and related rules violations.  I have already been extended an invitation to join the Republican National Conservative Caucus and the RNC Conservative Steering Committee by other RNC members should I win this election.  As much as my opponent would like you to believe it, Maryland’s stature within the RNC will not be diminished if he isn’t returned to the post.  In fact, our credibility will be restored.

Here are two articles you should read about Louis Pope’s tenure on the RNC, and here are two items you should read about how my vision differs from that of Louis Pope.

As I alluded to earlier, our state party has been held back by a small number of people in positions of power, who put their future ahead of the party’s future.  We have “leaders” who seek to hold on to their titles indefinitely.  We have fundraisers who would rather take their rolodexes to their graves than pass on their skills and contacts by mentoring and training the next generation.  We cannot survive as a party as long as there are people within it who are “too important to lose.”  A big focus of my campaign has been on the need to grow our party within the younger generations of voters, to begin recruiting younger candidates who can reach those voters, and to ensure that our institutional knowledge doesn’t end once our current leaders are gone.  But this will not happen as long as there are people at the top who refuse to get out of the way; people who would rather horde their few table scaps of power than ensure our party’s future.

Thank you for your consideration as your next National Committeeman.  I look forward to seeing you at the convention.  In the meantime, please visit my Facebook page to learn more about me and my campaign.

**********

In all honesty, I wish Scott had written this position paper about two to four weeks sooner because one of my chief complaints about his campaign was that it was so low key for several weeks. Because he was unknown to so many of those who serve on the 24 various Central Committees, it was truly up to him to make the rounds and explain why we need to topple the lone incumbent running. You can’t run your campaign in the last few weeks, because first impressions mean a lot in this particular election. His effort doesn’t favorably compare to the one Nicolee Ambrose is running in terms of mileage driven and meetings attended, at least that I’m aware of.

Now I’d like to respond to a few of the points Shaffer brings to the table. First of all, I don’t believe Louis Pope should be on the RNC for the rest of his life; in fact, I would make the case that 12 years is enough should he be fortunate enough to win this time. It’s why I believe Scott should pursue another party office in 2014 and if he’s still interested make a 2016 RNC run, which I’m more likely to support should I be able to win another term myself. If I do, that would be my last one because I’ve no interest in serving beyond 12 years either.

On the question of neutrality: I think some confusion over that was part of what doomed the Rule 11 resolution Heather Olsen and I put up at the Fall 2011 state convention. It’s a double-edged sword – for example, I was a Herman Cain backer at the time but I was also careful to note that the remainder of my Central Committee may not have agreed with me.

Yet being on the Central Committee should not preclude having an opinion on who is the best candidate. Where I object is when the party places its imprimatur on one candidate over another. And while Louis was one of those who invoked Rule 11 in 2010, he was a backer of our amendment last fall – even though he didn’t think it would be necessary anymore.

While I think Scott is understating Louis’s role to some extent – I recall Pope going through the finer points of fundraising at a seminar during a convention held in my first term, before Shaffer joined the AARCC, as one example – I do agree with Shaffer that communication could be better and Pope could be more of an advocate for individual concerns. That extends to Shaffer’s next point as well, although I would have to look and see about the “RNC money on his re-election efforts” since I don’t have any of Pope’s correspondence in front of me.

As far as the next charge, I would be interested to see those invitations. I’m quite aware that Louis is not the most conservative Republican in the Maryland party.

Yet I most agree with Scott’s final assessment of the state of our party. Having said that, though, and taking into account his paean to conservatism regarding those invitations he’s received, I’m having a hard time reconciling his conservative stance with his opposition to the effort to overturn Maryland’s newly adopted same-sex marriage law – a bill that almost every Republican in the General Assembly voted against. This places Scott on the opposite side of many who attended our quad-county meeting tonight. (I have much more on that tomorrow or Wednesday, depending on when I receive a certain piece of information.) Given that particular stance, I have a hard time supporting Scott. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t work with him if successful (so far in my five years on the Central Committee I haven’t voted for a single Chair on the first ballot, having voted against Jim Pelura, Audrey Scott, and Alex Mooney in succession) but I’ve grown to support them in time because they generally seem to have the party’s best interests at heart.

So it’s still pretty much six of one, a half-dozen of the other. I’m voting for Louis Pope, but I can see the case for voting in Scott Shaffer’s favor as well. Aside from one fundamental disagreement, he and I aren’t all that far apart. Shaffer can do a lot of good and prove his worth if he can lead Anne Arundel County as a testing ground for his GOP growth theories. We have 24 counties, and if something works in one it may be worth a shot elsewhere.

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