By Glynis Kazanjian
The beleaguered Maryland Republican Party, which has won only one statewide election in decades, is having yet another bitter internal contest over who will chair the state central committee.
In February, GOP Chairman Alex Mooney, a former state senator, resigned the unpaid party post, moving to West Virginia from Frederick for a potential congressional run and leaving the job in the hands of First Vice Chair Diana Waterman of Queen Anne’s County.
But just weeks after she assumed office, Waterman made a risky move when she replaced Nicolee Ambrose, a representative of the younger, socially conservative wing of the party, on the Republican National Committee’s Rules Committee with Louis Pope, a long-standing member of the older establishment wing of the party.
The move was seen by many as a deliberate attempt to endorse controversial rule changes that were made during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The rule changes are believed to limit grassroots efforts and participation by GOP factions not adhering to the mainstream line of the Republican Party.
County party chairs are divided
The three candidates for party chairman appeared at a Rockville forum last Thursday evening. Besides Waterman, the candidates are Greg Kline, an attorney from Anne Arundel County and co-founder of the conservative blog Red Maryland, and Collins Bailey, a Charles County businessman. Republican Central Committee members across the state will vote for their next chairman at the state GOP convention April 20 in Timonium.
“I am supporting Diana Waterman,” said Montgomery County Republican Central Committee Chairman Mark Uncapher. “[But] there are a lot of folks who are not because they prefer to have Nicolee Ambrose on the Rules Committee instead of Louis Pope.”
Baltimore County Central Committee Chairman John Fiastro, whose members represent about 20% of the vote in the election, according to Fiastro, said his county overwhelmingly backed Ambrose for the rules committee by a vote of close to 2-to-1.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a similar vote for new blood,” Fiastro said of the state chairman’s election this month. “I will be advising my committee not to dilute its voting strength.”
Other counties that have similarly weighted voting blocks include Anne Arundel and Harford Counties. Under the GOP system, counties with larger numbers of elected and registered Republicans are rewarded with more votes.
Frederick County Republican Central Committee Chairman Stephen Gottlieb said many people on his central committee are upset about Ambrose’s name being withdrawn the way it was. Frederick County Republicans will host the candidates’ second forum Thursday evening, April 11, at the Jekyll and Hyde Tavern, 906 N. East Street, Frederick.
“The majority of the people on our central committee are upset with Nicolee’s nomination for Rules Committee being withdrawn the way it was,” Gottlieb said. “That being said, we as a committee have not discussed who we are going to support and we are not going to publicly say who we will support.”
Candidates asked about restoring Ambrose to RNC Rules Committee
At the forum last Thursday evening in Rockville, all three candidates were asked if they would reinstate Ambrose to the Rules Committee if elected.
Both Kline and Bailey indicated they would immediately, but Waterman said she stood by her decision to nominate Pope. She reasserted that she did not remove Ambrose, since the nomination did not become final until March 1.
Waterman denied the move was made for ideological purposes, which many believe support the disenfranchisement of grassroots politics in the Republican Party. (In a letter to central committee members, Pope also denies the charge.)
“Normally the way this is operated is we usually had to draw straws and whoever had the short straws ended up on the Rules Committee,” Waterman said. Ambrose disagrees.
“As a result of the 2012 Tampa Convention, membership on the RNC’s Standing Committee of Rules has become a hot button issue for grassroots activists,” Ambrose said in an email. “Now that a state can change their representative to this committee at any time, our grassroots should feel empowered not only in Maryland, but also across all states and territories.”
Waterman wants an advisory committee
Waterman said one of her first steps as chairwoman would be to form an advisory committee made up of members from different factions of the conservative party.
“The people that represent the libertarian wing, social conservatives and various regions, I’d like to bring them together to discuss issues and policy and find ideas of commonality,” Waterman said in an interview.
Waterman mentioned speed camera legislation as an example of where she thought the party could come together.
“I think universally across the map Republicans in this state do not like speed cameras,” Waterman said. “We don’t see them as a safety factor – we see them as a taxing factor.”
Waterman also emphasized that some central committees perform better than others with candidate recruitment, training and voter registration efforts. She suggested developing a “consolidated training guide” to help them become more effective at the local level.
Recently the GOP introduced their new Pathfinder’s program, a candidate recruitment and training tool at the grassroots level.
Kline’s goal is to pick up Assembly seats
Kline promoted a plan that he said would be achievable and realistic. The plan sets a goal that people could buy into, he said.
“Our campaign has come up with what we call the 19/14 plan,” Kline told the audience. “An electoral plan to elect 19 Republican state senators in 2014, that’s a seven seat pick up. Nineteen is important because that is the number we need to sustain a filibuster.”
Kline said his team has identified nine senate seats that were decided by five points or less in the last election. (The party lost two Senate seats in 2010, but picked up six seats in the House of Delegates, and now has the most delegates it has ever had — 43. However, Democrats redrew district lines last year to undercut that voting strength.)
Kline called for more transparency and inclusiveness, and reiterated a need for creating an advisory committee. But he said his strategy would emphasize a grassroots approach.
“There is a lack of confidence among folks of whether our party is even functional, so we need to have some dramatic change and move beyond the status quo,” Kline said. “We need an interactivity of leadership approach, where we have [members of] our state party in regular communications with folks on the local level of their central committees – having small group, regular communications back and forth about what their needs are rather than the top down model. Instead of telling them what the state party is doing, we’re working collaboratively in a way that develops our policies.”
Bailey’s long range plan
Collins Bailey presented a long range plan to change the political landscape in the Democrat-controlled House of Delegates.
“We need a 50-week plan that will take us to the filing deadline of April 2014 and flip that House in 2014. We need a five-year plan to take us to 2018 to build upon those successes, and we need a 20-year plan to turn Maryland into a red state,” he said.
Collins used a sports analogy to explain what he believed to be the current state of the Republican Party.
“We are in the fourth quarter of the game. We’re shoved up against the end zone. The other team has twice as many players on the field as we do. I see all these blue jerseys and no red ones, and we’re going to try a Hail Mary at the last moment and there’s nobody down field to catch it. We’re a team. We’ve gotta come together as a team. We can turn this state around, but we’ve gotta have a plan.”
Editor Len Lazarick contributed to this story.