Wicomico’s Maryland GOP townhall

I’m sure that Audrey Scott and the Maryland GOP had an inkling of what to expect tonight because she was just here Saturday night for our Lincoln Day Dinner. Indeed, we had a pretty full house for tonight’s event.

Over 70 people were in attendance tonight for the Maryland Republican Party's town hall meeting - and not all were candidates.

As host, Wicomico County GOP chair John Bartkovich made it plain that “if you have been a Republican this is your year to run.” In fact, the setup of the town hall meeting encouraged candidates to come up and briefly say their piece – a number of them did.

Wicomico County Chair John Bartkovich welcomed those attending the town hall meeting and exhorted more citizens to step up and run for office.

But first we heard from state party Chair Audrey Scott, who commented that the GOP was “being ignored” on the local and state levels. There needed to be a better check and balance but Republicans had “no seat at the table.” All citizens benefit when there is the check and balance of a good two-party system, she continued.

Maryland state Republican Chair Audrey Scott spoke to our gathering and acted as moderator.

After successes in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, we had an opportunity in Maryland – the “Massachusetts Miracle” of Scott Brown could be a “Maryland Miracle” too. Yet one of the biggest challenges was fundraising.

Scott also commented that a year ago being state chairman “wasn’t on my radar screen” but she stepped up and began quickly “dialing for dollars” to make up the huge deficit left by her predecessors. The money was necessary because “our message has to get out there.” It’s a message that addresses the high taxes, deficit spending, and rampant unemployment currently featured by the present administration in Annapolis and Washington.

At this point we heard from a number of candidates for posts in Annapolis, most noteworthy among them District 38 Senate candidate Michael James and District 38B Delegate hopeful Mike McDermott.

District 38 Senate candidate Michael James promoted his business experience during his remarks.

James pointed out that he learned from some of the mistakes he made in running for Delegate in 2006. As he “replays the election” in his head, he’s learned to ask for help for this round. But he also noted that several of the current local issues were ones he brought up then – helping the poultry industry and toughening child predator laws were on his radar screen back then, proof that he was a “proactive rather than reactive” candidate.

McDermott used a recent example of talking to a reporter from the Salisbury University student newspaper as an opportunity to expound upon his platform planks of property rights and liberty. He also recounted how he increased services yet lowered taxes as mayor of Pocomoke City by bringing in industry. “Jobs are what Maryland needs,” stated Mike, and spending habits “need to change.”

Local candidates like County Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich also spoke.

Wicomico County Council President Gail Bartkovich repeated her announcement that she's running for her District 3 seat once again. And yes, she and the county chair are wife and husband.

She mentioned the fact that under her leadership County Council is more informed and the public better kept abreast of developments – for example, most of the content of the briefing books used by County Council for each meeting are now online. “I don’t like secrets,” said Gail. Big upcoming issues are getting an elected school board, redistricting, and the county’s comprehensive plan.

Between speakers, Audrey kept the conversation going based on topics candidates brought up. For example, after Gail brought up redistricting, Scott agreed it’s our state’s “number one issue” because that is controlled by the governor. Later on, when other citizens addressed a number of issues, Audrey opined on several of them. One passage I found interesting was her statement that, “‘Atlas Shrugged’ is happening in America.” (I happen to agree.) She also mentioned that “I fear for the future of my country and my state,” which would probably place her in agreement with most of the TEA Party participants in the room.

One of the more prominent TEA Party participants was among about a half dozen citizens who spoke.

Local AFP co-chair and blogger Julie Brewington was among those who stepped up and participated.

While the format made the public comment time somewhat limited, a number of hot-button issues came up. Most of them had to do with trust. For example, Julie was among several audience members who wanted more outreach from the GOP to the TEA Party leadership (a point I have echoed as well.) John Palmer of the local advocacy group VOICE wanted answers from Bob Ehrlich on a number of measures he enacted during his term.

Others had more national concerns. Joe Ollinger said simply that, “Michael Steele cannot be the face of the GOP” given recent party scandals. Another complained about the RNC meeting in Hawaii, but Audrey replied that the meeting had been arranged well in advance at the request of Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle. Scott also noted that “the RNC is listening like they never have before.”

She concluded by telling those assembled that our “first issue is unity” and we need to follow the Reagan 80-20 rule (agreeing with 80% of a candidate’s stances is fine.) We also need to explain the impact of current policies and not be shy about discussing politics.

Overall, the discussions didn’t come to a halt after the 90-minute session was complete as many participants discussed what was said amongst themselves. Some of the candidates continued to press the flesh as well.

Personally I think the concerned public is still a bit skeptical that the GOP has truly changed, but the problem is that as we work to gain trust the other side is working to destroy those things which made our country great. A step to regain trust is one thing but while we fiddle Rome is burning.

By the way, I wonder if we had a spy in our midst. I saw this bumper sticker on the car across from me in the parking lot:

The car had a Kratovil sticker too.

Actually, it probably belongs to one of the workers who were fixing up the HVAC or plumbing system while we were in the building. They weren’t disruptive, but the contrast of an Obama sticker in the midst of a sea of GOP cars was jarring.

2010 Wicomico County Lincoln Day dinner in pictures and text

When we came up with the idea to have Bob Ehrlich as our speaker, our original thought was that we would catch him just after a January announcement of his candidacy. But Mother Nature put the kibosh on our original February 6th date and as it turns out this may have been the ex-governor’s last public appearance before he officially declares he’s running again.

So it’s needless to say we had a pretty packed house for the event with the only empty spots being on a few side tables – over 150 were in attendance. They were treated to a great display of patriotism and politics, as always kicked off by our 16th President. He brought a few dinner guests this year.

President Lincoln - a.k.a. Art North - brought a quintet of soldiers dressed in period garb. Four Yankees and one Reb comprised the fivesome.

One thing I didn’t realize was that this President was a TEA Party activist.

It looks like Honest Abe still gets around to Washington D.C. once in awhile.

The evening’s featured speaker was introduced by his better half Kendel, who complained that Bob wasn’t much help around the house – thus “he needed an important job again.”

Soon-to-be candidate Bob Ehrlich makes a point during remarks to the Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner, April 3, 2010.

The former governor noted that over the last year he’d seen a number of “tired, angry, frustrated people” who were now getting involved in the political process; where he’d seen 150 at Republican club meetings before now he was seeing 250 and most of them were new faces.

Bob listed a number of Maryland assets as one side of a ledger in his remarks, with his most savage criticism of the liabilities directed at General Assembly Democrats. He noted that when he was first elected to the General Assembly in 1986 he was one of just 16 Republicans, yet the Democrats there were “in balance” because many were business owners and otherwise worked in the real world. Back then they weren’t so “anti-success.”

Now, though, Republicans “have to be relevant…we have to count.” By getting five additional Senate seats the GOP could sustain vetoes, and instead of being shut out of leadership discussions Minority Leader Allan Kittleman would be a necessary part of the process.

Ehrlich blasted the majority party for a number of measures they’ve passed, stating “no one forced them to do this stuff.” For example, they passed the recommendations of the Thornton Commission without a funding source and placed the fourth highest personal tax burden in the country on Maryland residents – “we tell wealth to leave the state” by enacting such policies.

Yet Republicans couldn’t just count on savaging Democrats to win because they have to work with those newly politically involved people. “The TEA Party people are free agents,” noted Ehrlich, and Republicans “just have to perform” once they assume some responsibility.

The former Governor didn’t leave the dais when he was through; we had one more task for him to perform. He helped present the award to our Republican of the Year.

Marc Kilmer (left) receives the 2010 Republican of the Year award from Governor Ehrlich (center) and Wicomico County Republican Party chair Dr. John Bartkovich (right) as part of the Lincoln Day Dinner on April 3, 2010.

Marc Kilmer was his usual humble self, simply stating that his leadership task is to “just get the job done.” As president of the Wicomico County Republican Club and Young Republican member he does just that. (He also is a regular commenter here.)

We next heard from several area elected officials, beginning with District 37 Senator Rich Colburn. He refused to apologize for his characterization of the Waterkeeper Alliance as “green on the outside and red on the inside,” blasting the group for being anti-agriculture and telling us that larger environmental fees simply can’t be handled by local farmers.

Andy Harris was next, speaking as both a State Senator and Congressional candidate.

State Senator Andy Harris points out a familiar face in the audience as part of his remarks to the Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner, April 3, 2010.

Harris described the excitement in the district as “amazing” and noted that the most important vote Frank Kratovil made in his tenure was to elect Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. This race, he said, comes down to a choice between Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner.

Two of the eight announced Republican U.S. Senate candidates were in attendance, with both being gracious enough to pose for me post-event.

Two candidates who see a lot of each other on the campaign trail - Carmen Amedori (left) and Dr. Eric Wargotz are both seeking to unseat current Senator Barbara Mikulski.

During her remarks, Carmen Amedori gave a brief rundown of her background and said it was time to send Barbara Mikulski home to retirement. Eric Wargotz echoed the sentiment but also said, “I believe in a better…healthier America” instead of the Constitution being treated like a “doormat.”

Turning to more local candidates, Michael James, seeking the District 38 Maryland Senate seat, reminded the audience that, “I have created jobs” as a businessman. He described his approach if elected as “proactive, not reactive” and recounted that he only lost in a 2006 bid for Delegate by a very slim margin.

District 38B Delegate candidate Mike McDermott came prepared.

If Mike McDermott didn't build name recognition after this display, attendees spent too much time at the nearby cash bar.

McDermott joked that, along with Michael James, “we need a balance of Mikes” in the General Assembly to counter House leader Mike Busch and Senate head Mike Miller. McDermott hammered Governor O’Malley for “never (meeting) a family farm he didn’t want to shut down” and pronounced the GOP’s eventual goal as “71” – that being the number of seats to gain a majority in the General Assembly.

Pinch-hitting for candidate for Governor Brian Murphy (home awaiting the birth of his fourth child), Meghan Mueller briefly ran down Brian’s resume as business owner and Eastern Shore native. She did well being placed in the tough spot of having an opponent be featured speaker.

Local County Council candidate Dave Goslee, Jr. told those gathered President Obama made him politically active. He’s running against Democrat Sheree Sample-Hughes for the District 1 seat.

Maryland GOP Chair Audrey Scott prepares her remarks for delivery at the Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner, April 3, 2010.

An optimistic Audrey Scott recounted some of her accomplishments and reminded us that she would be back here Monday evening for a townhall meeting in the Danang Room of the Wicomico County Youth and Civic Center. That’s where I’ll be too.

Much of the crowd stuck around after Scott finished to mingle and ponder the thoughts of electoral success in November. Fellow blogger Julie Brewington was there and had a few pictures as well.