This story was updated Sunday morning with new material from three of the candidates. A version of this story ran earlier on Saturday in the Chestertown Spy.
By Dan Menefee and Len Lazarick
The score is now 2-2 in the race to fill the seat vacated by Sen. E.J. Pipkin, and the drama goes on.
Del. Mike Smigiel, R-Cecil, and Del. Steve Hershey, R-Queen Anne’s, have now each won the votes of two Republican central committees in District 36, and both have complaints about how two different central committees handled their nominating process.
Other candidates said people were "disgusted" with the process and expected "another round of bizarre behavior."
Hershey people criticize Queen Anne's chair, a Smigiel aide
Smigiel won the votes of the Cecil Republican Central Committee on Tuesday and secured the vote of the central committee in Queen Anne’s after Audrey Scott, the former Republican State Party Chair, withdrew her candidacy Friday afternoon.
“Scott’s withdraw automatically gave the winning vote to the only other candidate who was voted for by our committee,” said Andi Morony, chair of the Queen Anne’s Republican Central Committee.
“You can’t get around the fact that Andi Morony is Smigiel’s chief of staff, and the one who threw Scott’s votes to Smigiel as chair of the Queen Anne’s Republican Committee,” said a source in the Hershey campaign. “We need to check if she has the power to automatically give Smigiel those votes.”
Morony's position has been questioned privately by several of the 14 candidates and central committee members from other counties throughout the process. As Smigiel's top aide they said she would stand to profit from his elevation, as would her husband John, who also serves on the seven-member Queen Anne's committee.
Smigiel told Maryland Reporter that he obtained a legal opinion last month from the Maryland Attorney General's Office that Morony's position on the Queen Anne's Republican Central Committee was not in conflict with her job as his chief of staff.
Hershey says he might win in re-vote
Hershey commented: "I understand that some of the committee members are not pleased with the manner which the chairwoman awarded their votes."
"I believe the central committee would have again supported a Queen Anne's County resident for senator," Hershey said. "I spoke with many people in Queen Anne's today [Saturday] and they were very upset that their representatives in the central committee were not given a chance to revote as suggested in Audrey's withdrawal letter. This was a huge opportunity for Queen Anne's County to avoid a 2-2 tie, which I think may have been enough to swing the support my way. If the votes were truly there for Smigiel, then it would have been easy for her to just call for a full committee vote."
“It’s unfortunate that Morony will not give her committee the right to recast a vote by simply interpreting the will of her committee on her own,” said Brian Harlin, former chairman of the Howard County Republican Central Committee, in a phone interview on Saturday. “She can’t know whether those votes were for Scott or against Smigiel — but if she’s certain those votes would go to Smigiel, then let the committee have a recount.”
Smigiel upset with process in Caroline
Hershey won the votes of the Kent Republican Central Committee on Thursday and the committee in Caroline early Friday evening.
Smigiel said he was surprised of the vote after being told by the committee chair in Caroline that the interview process was still in the early stages.
“I’m absolutely shocked the committee in Caroline had a vote on Friday without conducting the interviews they promised,” Smigiel said. “We also were told as late as Friday afternoon that there was no date set to have a vote.”
“The majority of Caroline had promised their support for my nomination, and never contacted me to withdraw that support, and I’m absolutely shocked,” Smigiel said.
“I can’t believe that Caroline County has given this choice to Gov. Martin O’Malley,” Smigiel said. “Caroline had an opportunity to have a resident delegate within the next few weeks, and has given that up on orders coming from Congressman Andy Harris.”
Harris on Friday issued a statement saying he was remaining neutral in the race, but Smigiel and others continue to insist he's been operating behind the scenes.
Hershey election prospects, credentials questioned
Having lost his home county of Queen Anne’s, the biggest in the District 36, some close to the nomination process fear that Hershey cannot keep the senate seat in the 2014 election if he is appointed by O’Malley – much less win a primary fight.
A source in the Hershey campaign said that they’ve looked at the field of primary candidates and believe Hershey could “mount a strong campaign and keep the seat.”
Tea Party Republicans who had been upset at the prospect of Scott's appointment questioned Hershey's conservative credentials as well.
In an email Saturday, Patrick McGrady, chairman of the Maryland Liberty PAC, said "Hershey is not a friend of conservatives in Annapolis," citing two bills cosponsored with Democrats. McGrady also said that Scott might return as a candidate for Hershey's delegate seat if he rises to the Senate.
Hershey noted that both bills McGrady cited had Republicans sponsors, and one had 37 Republican co-sponsors. He said Scott was "extremely unlikely" to run for the delegate seat.
Sossi, Wargotz promise a Senate run next year
Former Del. Richard Sossi, whom Hershey defeated for reelection in 2010 and who also applied for the Pipkin vacancy, promised on Facebook Saturday that he would run for the Senate seat.
"One thing is for sure, I will have to wait until the 2014 election to claim the senate seat," Sossi said. "It is also almost certain that there will be another round of bizarre behavior by some of the committees/members as they choose a replacement for the vacating delegate."
"I WILL NOT apply for the post...I WILL BE planning for the Senate race. I am guessing that there will two committee votes for an applicant from Caroline County, of course you never know."
Another candidate for the nomination, former Queen Anne County commissioner Eric Wargotz, said he will run for state Senate next year as well.
"I am still hopeful that the Kent, Caroline, and Queen Anne's County Central Committees will reconsider their choices and put forth an individual, such as myself, who has no focus other than serving the best interests of the constituents of the District," Wargotz said in an email.
"Given the current state of the District 36 selection process, it appears that this fact has gotten lost among the decision makers. Many of the applicants and the central committee members I have been in touch are disgusted with this situation."
"They all still have time to do what is best for District 36," Wargotz said. "As the US Senate Nominee in 2010, I received approximately 34,000 votes in District 36 in the general election. To many in the district, the central committees decisions do not appear to reflect community will. If not selected, at this time, it is my intention to run in the primary for the State Senate District 36 seat"
Nancy Schwerzler has provided some alternative coverage at the frequently anti-Smipkin Cecil Times.