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Cecil County Elections: After the Landslide; E Tu, Smipkins; Other Post-primary Pondering

April 5, 2012
By Nancy Schwerzler

Analysis

Now that everyone has caught up on their sleep (maybe), pored over the election returns, and toasted with champagne (or cried in their beer), it’s time for a little post-primary election review and some look-aheads to the rest of the campaign season until November.

After the Landslide

The landslide victory of County Commissioner Tari Moore in the Republican primary for county executive is extraordinary in its depth and spread, despite the low voter turnout. (Local election officials calculate voter turnout overall in both primaries was 23.49 percent of registered voters, including both early voting and the Tuesday polling place voting.)

In such a crowded field of seven candidates in the GOP primary, Moore racked up 46.2 percent of the vote, or 3,019 votes. She carried all [but one] of the county’s polling places, as well as the early vote. (Elections board officials are still counting absentee, provisional and overseas ballots– such as those filed by our military servicemen and women– before there is a final official tally.)

One of the most astute local political players and observers– whose identity we are not at liberty to disclose– had calculated before the primary election that it would take about 2,300 votes to win the GOP primary for county executive. Moore exceeded that benchmark by far. Her closest competitor, fellow Commissioner Diana Broomell, drew just 937 votes, or 14.3 percent.

Reviewing the returns precinct-by-precinct shows Moore did less well, but still won solid majority votes, in more rural areas. For example, she logged a 57 percent margin in Cecilton, the southern-most precinct in the county and the heart of farm country. Second place finisher was former county Commissioner Harry Hepbron, a farmer and founder of the Dove Valley vineyard and winery, with nearly 12 percent of the vote. And in south-of-the-canal Chesapeake City precinct 2-2, she got 55 percent, with underdog anti-tax activist Richard Boyle coming in second with 11 percent.

In the northeastern county Cherry Hill precinct—home of many of the “ARCA” anti-growth activists who waged a costly legal battle against sale of the county’s sewage treatment plants to the private Artesian firm—Moore logged 56 percent. But Broomell—the darling of ARCA folks and who successfully battled against the county’s contract for the sewage plant sale—pulled nearly 19 percent of the vote there, to come in second.

[UPDATE: The one precinct Moore lost, by just 16 votes, was Perryville, where town commissioner Michael A. Dawson pulled in 119 votes to Moore's 103 votes.]

Blank votes, or ‘None of the Above,’ for Congress

Especially in primary elections, it is often telling to look at the so-called “blank votes”– ballots on which people who voted for other candidates and other races chose not to vote in a particular race—registering either their ignorance of the candidates in a multi-candidate field or opposition on a one-candidate ballot line.

Rep. Andy Harris, who was unopposed in the Republican primary for re-election to his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, got half as many ‘blank” votes as he got pro-Andy votes in Cecil County.

He won 4,440 votes from Republican primary voters in his unopposed primary appearance on the local ballot. But there were 2,478 “blank” ballots in his race, indicating that some of those voters wished that someone other than Harris was on the ballot in the GOP primary.

Harris is an ultra-conservative who is seeking re-election for the first time since he beat moderate Democrat Frank Kratovil, of Queen Anne’s County on the Shore, two years ago. Kratovil won his seat by defeating Harris in 2008, after Harris knocked off longtime moderate Republican Wayne Gilchrest, of Kent County on the Shore, in the GOP primary. Harris resides in Baltimore County on the western shore.

The very large blank vote in the GOP primary for Harris indicates that even in ultra-conservative Cecil County, there are many Republican voters who just could not bring themselves to vote for him in the party primary.

But the recently re-drawn map of the First District, which includes for the first time a solidly GOP swathe of Carroll County on the western shore, gives the District a firm Republican registration advantage and Harris is generally considered a safe bet for re-election.

“Smipkins” Strike Out at the Polls—but What pre-November Gambits Loom?

If there were any big losers in Tuesday’s primaries, it was the “Smipkins,” the political machine organized by state Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel, both R-36. Their scorecard was 0-for-5 at the end of primary election day.

All of the candidates the Smipkins opposed won huge victories in the election and none of the Smipkin-endorsed challengers for County Executive, County Council, or Judge won or even put in a respectable showing.

Pipkin used his state political campaign fund to finance robocalls and negative smear mailers against fellow Republicans Tari Moore, who won the GOP nomination for County Executive, and successful District 5 County Council candidate Robert Hodge. Pipkin also endorsed a “slate” of local Cecil County candidates for executive, judge and two Council seats, all of whom went down to defeat by wide margins.

The most significant victory of anti-Smpkin forces was that of Circuit Court Judge Keith Baynes, who overwhelmingly defeated Smigiel himself in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in a non-partisan race. Baynes and incumbent Judge Jane Cairns Murray coasted to election by summarily dismissing Smigiel’s challenge in both the Republican and Democratic primaries, with the result that they will be unopposed for election to the two seats on the local Circuit Court in November.

Embarrassingly, Smigiel was repudiated even by his own Republican party voters by a wide margin all over the county. Smigiel has never before run county-wide for elected office, since his current Dist. 36 state delegate seat is largely won by his cozy ties to conservative Republicans in Queen Anne’s County in a multi-county district that only includes southern Cecil County.

Finally given the chance to render their opinion of Smigiel, Cecil County voters all over the county said a resounding “NO” to Smigiel to don the robes of a judge.

But the Smipkins “never say never” and have sent signals that their negative tinkering with Cecil County government and politics is never-ending. There is rising concern that Smigiel, or a Smipkin surrogate, will try to file a candidacy as an independent candidate for county executive to appear on the November ballot.

State election law permits an independent or “unaffiliated” candidate to file a certificate of candidacy in late June, followed by subsequent presentation of verified petition signatures of local voters, to get on the November general election ballot. There is even more time for an upstart candidate to seek the nomination of a “minor” party that is officially recognized by the state elections board, such as the Libertarian, [Constitution] or Green parties.

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3 Responses to Cecil County Elections: After the Landslide; E Tu, Smipkins; Other Post-primary Pondering

  1. HdG Business on April 5, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Glad to see the people of Cecil County now realize what we in Havre de Grace know. A good vote is one against Diana Broomell.

    • Successful in HdG on April 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      I also represent a HdG business, and I know first-hand that Diana was appreciated by an overwhelming majority of downtown businesses in her capacity as Main Street Manager. She worked in HdG for 2 1/2 years and during that period of time she tripled the membership and successfully expanded and helped create new programs that attracted new visitors to the downtown area. She is greatly missed!

      I would request that “HdG Business” please validate your statement? Do you have any specific examples of how Diana did not perform above and beyond the call of duty?

      Many know that Diana did not support any special favors being handed out to board members or community members. She did this to preserve the integrity of a volunteer organization.

  2. Al Reasin on April 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Unfortunately it takes only 641 valid petition signatures, with the other filing requirements, to get on the general election ballot. One also wonders if a non-candidate, as with Sen. Pipkin, can issue mailers as if a candidate in the election. One also wonders if those who contributed to his campaign would wish for their money to be spent on other candidates. For now Cecil County need not be renamed Pipkin County, which would then be a county similar to Hazzard County from the TV series.

    The grass roots efforts of the Cecil County Patriots membership was instrumental in the success of the winning candidates. Boots on the ground are very important and the Pipkin forces apparently had some difficulty in recruiting volunteers. Money, negative misleading robocalls and mailers do not necessarily make a victory possible when a respected citizen’s group counters it.

    Now let’s see what is done by the commissioners who were defeated. Do they seek revenge against the good citizens of Cecil County and the candidates that defeated them, or do they respond with honor and integrity to tackle the serious issues that confront the county? Actions will speak louder than words and the audio recordings of the commissioners’ meetings will record the truth.

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