A version of this column appears in the July issue of The Business Monthly circulating in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
By Len Lazarick
Gov. Larry Hogan and I will not be going to Cleveland this month for the Republican National Convention — but for different reasons.
Ten thousand other politicos and journalists will flock to Cleveland and Philadelphia for the staged extravaganzas that are our political conventions.
Thousands more demonstrators are expected, especially in Cleveland which is bracing for potential violence from the left, Latinos and other anti-Trump forces.
In Cleveland, there was already one lawsuit by the ACLU now settled over the usual police plans to keep the protests far, far away from the Quicken Loans Arena and out of sight of the delegates.
Real news might actually break out in Cleveland over Donald Trump, both inside the hall and on the streets, but GOP leaders will try to keep the unpredictable from happening, even with the Donald involved.
I won’t be going because I’ve got other deadlines to meet and no travel funds. More importantly, the national conventions I’ve attended in 1976 (New York City for Jimmy Carter), 1980 (New York again for Carter, Detroit for Ronald Reagan) and finally 2012 (Charlotte for Obama) showed that a lone reporter on the ground but with limited access is really no better than a reporter working the phones and social media from afar as I did for the Baltimore Examiner in 2008.
Watch it on TV
Yes, you miss the atmospherics, like experiencing the audience reaction to Bill Clinton’s nominating speech for President Obama as I did in 2012. I even had a seat, but it was behind the massive risers for TV cameras, so I could only watch Clinton on the big screen.
The next day, I couldn’t even get in the hall for Obama’s acceptance speech, and watched it on TV with hundreds of other reporters in the overflow filing center. If you’re gonna watch it on TV, why not do it in the comfort of home?
Even Maryland’s Democratic delegates were high up in the rafters last time; the GOP Marylanders had a better floor location to see Mitt Romney in Tampa, and Clint Eastwood talking to the empty chair (minus Obama), the kind of unscripted event that convention managers appall.
So sit back and watch the conventions on TV; switch to C-Span for the least chatter and the least bias.
Hogan’s no show
For several months, Democrats and reporters with hopefully more legitimate reasons had been trying to get Hogan to say what he thought about Trump. Hogan had gone whole hog supporting his friend and political ally, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, for president. When Christie dropped out, and quickly threw his lot with Trump, Hogan was adrift. He said he was “disgusted” with the process in both parties, and didn’t like either major party candidate.
He announced he wasn’t going to the convention — where governors typically play a prominent role. Finally last month, asked if he would vote for Trump, Hogan said, “No, I don’t plan to. I guess when I get behind the curtain I’ll have to figure it out. Maybe write someone in. I’m not sure.”
It was a lose-lose situation for the Republican governor in a consistently Democratic state, and Democrats knew it. Support Trump, and lose some support from the centrist Democrats who helped him get elected; reject Trump, and lose some of his conservative base, as his statement did; continue to play coy, and raise doubts in both camps.
He was already on shaky ground with some of the more conservative and libertarian elements of his party for his failure to make real, painful cuts in the state budget, instead of restraining it to modest growth. He has also failed to produce most of the tax cuts he pledged to pursue — though he has tried.
Maybe, just maybe, at the risk of seeming terribly naive, Hogan’s stance on Trump wasn’t just a political calculation, but a true reflection of his beliefs. And Democrats will not lure him into attacking Trump to further alienate his base.
A happy Trump delegate
Laura Walsh, on the other hand, is going to Cleveland as an enthusiastic Trump delegate from the 7th Congressional District. She lives in Woodbine in Western Howard County and works in Columbia as a paralegal and office manager at Walsh & Co., an estate planning and tax counseling law firm headed by her husband Jim.
“Trump’s campaign intrigued me because it was a different approach so I spent more time reading up and watching Trump’s speeches at his rallies more than other candidates,” Walsh said in an email interview. “I was on the fence between Trump and Cruz but finally went the Trump route somewhere in January, if not before.”
Walsh and her husband have been active in Republican politics for three decades, and in 2014 she was elected to the Howard County Republican Central Committee.
“I am not fed up with the Republican establishment,” Walsh said. “But rather disappointed with Congress’ failure to assert a constitutional role to control spending and failure to stand up to Obama.”
This is a common theme among Trump supporters. They feel they helped turn the House of Representatives GOP red in 2010, got the Senate a Republican majority in 2014, and yet little has changed in Washington.
On the primary ballot, Walsh was a designated Trump delegate, approved by the candidate’s campaign after a review of her resume. Every single Trump delegate in all eight Maryland congressional districts got elected, beating by wide margins many better known candidates and elected officials running uncommitted or supporting other candidates.
Delegates bound to Trump
“I believe Trump will be nominated at the convention with little dissent,” said Walsh, who was chosen to serve on the credentials committee for the convention, two from each state judging who gets to vote. “I’m getting emails now from individuals pushing for Rubio votes at the convention and other emails requesting me to vote with my conscience — and not follow the state rules.”
But she said, “I am following Maryland rules at the convention.” Those rules bind her and all the delegates to vote for the person who won the primary for at least two ballots — unless Trump releases them or gets less than 35% of the votes in a roll call.
“The [#NeverTrump] movement is ill advised and will hurt the Republican party and help the Hillary campaign,” said Walsh.
This requirement also binds the 11 at-large delegates chosen by the state convention in May, such a Larry Helminiak of Carroll County, 2nd vice chair of the state party and a longtime ally of Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman.
Helminiak says he too has been contacted about switching from Trump, but has no problem supporting the party’s nominee.
He sees growing support for Trump in Carroll County — admittedly one of the staunchest Republican bastions in Maryland. He notes that typically it’s hard to get people to take political yards signs. But now at carnivals at the volunteer fire companies, when the GOP sets up shop, people are lining up and asking, “Do you have any Trump signs?”