Dysfunction in the Maryland GOP

Dysfunction has ruled the Maryland Republican Party for a very long time.  And tomorrow’s contested election of a new chairman is giving that dysfunction a more public airing.

I served from 2006-2012 as an elected member of the Republican central committee in Maryland.  I’ve since moved out of state, but I had always avoided the airing of dirty laundry.   Still, I think it’s reached a point at which sunlight is probably the best and only disinfectant.

When I first came on board I rolled up my sleeves, bright-eyed.  I naively assumed that party leaders actually valued hard work and creative problem-solving. So I was ill prepared as a newbie to observe my county GOP chairman running meetings like a petty dictator, complete with minions chiming in to protect his fiefdom and squash questions and innovations.   It was a surreal shock to watch the only “organized” political opposition in a blue county in a blue state squandering what was left of its role. 

I was likewise ill prepared at state conventions.  I watched in disbelief as members from around Maryland squandered our Republican energy by bickering over internal procedures while Democrats were burning the state.  This happened not once or twice, but at every single one of the 12 state conventions I attended.  

In short, the Maryland Republican central committee has behaved much like a crony-infested bureaucracy, something that Republicans are supposed to stand against in principle.  

That’s not to say I didn’t have allies within this jalopy of a GOP machine.  There are some good folks elected to what is termed the Maryland GOP “establishment.”  But they are up against a cronyism that abhors innovation, inspiration and real problem solving.

Let me give just one stray example of the insanity.  At the convention in May 2011, things were heating up over a change in the voting rules which would abolish proportional voting.  Another delegate came out of nowhere to physically grab my arm, and start shouting profanities at me.  My offense?  I was from a big county, Montgomery, and was quietly filming some of the proceedings (per official announcement stating it was okay to do so).  He wanted me to delete photos and video.  I never provoked, nor took any pictures of anyone in particular and certainly not of him.  But then, out of nowhere, the supposed sergeant-at-arms appeared and held his hand out, telling me he had to “confiscate” my little digital camera.  I refused.  My complaints to officers of the state party went unanswered.  This stupid little Soviet-style episode should have been shamefully embarrassing to the state party.  But somehow it was not. 

At issue was the abolition of a voting system that gave each member a vote proportional to the number of registered Republicans each member represented.  I once asked the first vice chair, Diana Waterman, why she was so set on abolishing proportional voting in the state GOP central committee.  It constituted just one body, analogous to a “lower house” in the organization.  After all, I noted, each county chairman had an equal vote in the much more active executive committee, which was analogous to the Senate or an “upper chamber.”  And in that body the smaller counties had a huge majority, something like 20 to 3.

Her answer?  Well, the regular body still elects the officers and the delegates to the national convention.  So the smaller counties need more votes toget a fair shake at some of those positions. 

I was floored.   

So this is why we back-burnered critical discussions all those years?  This is why we abolished proportional voting? So that certain people in certain quarters might feel they have the votes to get a delegate slot at the national convention or get to be an officer?  Are we really that divided?

Reality doesn’t even bear out Waterman’s assumption of  bloc voting for candidates.  I reminded her that the majority of the Montgomery County delegation did not even vote for one of its own, former secretary of state and candidate for lieutenant governor, Mary Kane, when Kane ran for state GOP chairman in 2010.

The bad taste is still there.  The push to abolish proportional voting was not really about equity.  Such things rarely are.  It was about obtaining the kind of power that destroys unity and teamwork and good ideas.

I can only conclude that the first vice chair was merely projecting her vision of how she believed things were supposed to work:  through local cronyism. 

What a shame.

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