By Dan Menefee
Special to MarylandReporter.com
Three-term Del. Michael Smigiel of Cecil County will now have to compete against a close colleague in District 36 to fill the seat vacated by Senate Republican Leader E.J. Pipkin, who is moving to Texas.
Freshman Del. Steve Hershey, R- Queen Anne’s, said he will enter his name for consideration with the Republican central committees of Caroline, Cecil, Kent, and Queen Anne’s counties — saying there is currently “no clear cut favorite.”
Former Del. Richard Sossi, defeated by Hershey in a close 2010 race, said he will also file. UPDATE MONDAY A.M.: Former U.S. Senate nominee Eric Wargotz is also applying for this post to be chosen by just 32 Republican central committee members.
The deadline to submit a name for the nomination is the close of business Monday. The four committees must select a nominee or nominees for appointment by Gov. Martin O’Malley within 30 days of Pipkin’s resignation, which will be Sept. 10.
“We have lots of qualified people putting their names in for the nomination,” Smigiel said, shortly after an informal meeting Wednesday with Hershey and Del. Jay Jacobs, R-Kent, at the Queen Anne’s County Fair.
Who is most qualified
“The daunting question that the central committee members have to answer is how do you chose the ‘one’ most qualified person who can hit the ground running when they get to the Senate, be able to understand the issues, and be able to stand up to the Democratic machine of Senate President Mike Miller,” Smigiel said. “As a three-term Republican, I’ll put my record up against anyone in the House of Delegates for opposing the policies of the O’Malley administration.”
Under the Maryland State Constitution, a single candidate could receive two votes and still win the nomination if the two remaining votes are split between two other candidates. In the event of a 2-2 tie, O’Malley would choose among the two nominees.
Sources with firsthand knowledge of the process said Hershey has a “possible chance” to force a tie — with the hope of giving O’Malley the final say. Smigiel’s relentless opposition to the administration’s gun legislation and tax increases would make Hershey the easy choice for O’Malley.
“The administration would most definitely prefer someone who doesn’t put up as much of a fight,” said a source close to the process who asked for anonymity. “[Smigiel] has been one of the administration’s fiercest and most outspoken opponents.”
Hershey promises unity
When asked if his decision to seek the nomination would create disunity in the district and complicate the process, Hershey responded that “we all three have ambitions and at the end of the day the district would be unified.”
“I think the process with four central committees is as complicated as you can get, and I don’t think there is a clear cut favorite,” Hershey said. “I think people on the committees were waiting to see who was going to enter their name [for the nomination] and who was not.”
District 36 includes parts of Cecil and Caroline counties, and all of Kent and Queen Anne’s counties on the Eastern Shore. No county is permitted to have more than one delegate, even if another delegate candidate gets more votes. Tiny Caroline County, population 33,000, is the only county in Maryland that has no resident delegate.
“All three of us are qualified to serve the citizens as their senator,” Hershey said, referring to himself, Smigiel and Jacobs. “Although we may have different styles, each are highly effective legislators and I did not take this decision lightly. I have spoken with many constituents, business owners, and community leaders, and I appreciate their support and encouragement.”
Jacobs said he received a great deal of encouragement and support as well but decided he could best serve the district in his committees — and as the newly appointed House Republican Caucus Chair — an appointment that is rarely given to a freshman delegate.
Caroline County playing for a delegate
Caroline County has not had a representative in the House chamber for nearly two decades. It is looking to support a delegate who could help steer a House seat to a Caroline native when the nominee moves over to the Senate, said a source close to the process.
The last Caroline native to hold a seat in the House was Robert Thornton of Denton, who lost to Del. Adelaide C. Eckardt of District 37 in 1994. Caroline’s representation is split between the Districts 36 and 37. Thornton is also pursuing the nomination.
There is also talk circulating that Congressman Andy Harris will stay neutral in the nomination process but could endorse a candidate in the 2014 election.
Sossi plans to file
Former Del. Richard Sossi, R-Queen Anne’s, plans to file with the central committees for the nomination. Sossi currently serves as Harris’ community liaison in Kent Island and said he is actively fundraising for the 2014 election. He served two terms in Annapolis from 2003 to 2011 before losing to Hershey by a mere 124 votes in 2010.
“I intend to submit my application to the central committees of the 36th District for appointment to fill the vacancy in the State Senate,” Sossi wrote in an email Friday. ”I can honestly say that when you consider the overall responsibilities of a legislator, I am the most qualified to fill the seat.
“I have an excellent track record of representing the views and best interests of our constituents and have long been regarded as one of the most honest, ethical and responsive members of the General Assembly. I am proud of the often repeated statement, ‘Sossi is everywhere’ Whether or not I am selected by the central committees to fill this interim period, I have every intention to register, after the first of the year for the State Senate from the 36th District.”