A Modest Cecil County Proposal: Moore Could “Unaffiliate” from GOP, Briefly, to Bar Smipkin Pick of New County Council Member
It was a bipartisan or multi-partisan vote that made Tari Moore Cecil Countyâ€™s first-ever County Executive in the November election. But the choice of her replacement on the new County Council is now primarily in the hands of a highly partisan groupâ€”the local Republican Central Committee controlled by the Smipkin political organization that actively attacked Moore and sought to block her from winning her partyâ€™s nomination for executive.
But there is a way out of this conundrumâ€”a way that would require some political courage and â€śthinking outside the boxâ€ťâ€”to yield a new Council member who was not marching in lockstep to a Smipkin-ruled agenda for the next two years and instead would give the new County Executive a partner in progress, rather than a roadblock. And there are already several potential candidates that Moore could choose from who would never be picked by the Smipkin group but who could serve the county well if Moore were free to consider them.
The new Charter form of government approved overwhelmingly by county voters in 2010 specifies the procedures for filling the vacancy in the District 2 seat currently held by Moore, which she will resign so as to be sworn into office as County Executive on 12/3/12. Since she is currently registered as a Republican, the local Republican Central Committee began its role in the process at a Wednesday night meeting, deciding it would advertise for candidates and interview them before sending a list of three names to the County Council.
Under the Charter, the Council will pick a name from that list. But the political reality is the Council will likely deadlock with Councilman Robert Hodge (R-5) and new member Alan McCarthy (R-1) on one side and holdover Two Amigos Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3) on the other. In the event of a deadlock in the Council, the new Executive will make the choiceâ€”BUT the Charter limits her to a selection from the list of nominees picked by the GOP Central Committee.
It is highly probable that any list of nominees compiled by the Smipkin-dominated Central Committee will have pledged full allegiance to their mentors and financiers, state Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, both R-36. As a result, the old Three Amigos alliance that has dominated the countyâ€™s government for the past two years would re-emerge, with a new member replacing defeated Commissioner James Mullin (R-1).
Add into the mix that Broomell would likely be looking for a third vote to give her the title of President of the County Council, and would likely extract a promised vote for that agenda before approving a nominee, and you have a recipe for Smipkin-inspired deadlock on the new Council, poised to thwart the County Executive at every turn.
The Charter specifies that the Executive may veto legislation passed by the Council to which she objects and the Council would need a 4-vote majority to override a veto. But budget decisions would not be subject to veto/veto overrides and a resurrection of the Three Amigos ruling majority on the new Council could stymie Mooreâ€™s overall legislative initiatives for the next two years. Contrary to some local assumptions, Charter does not make the Executive omnipotent and the Council will have a large role to play in moving the countyâ€™s goals and progress forwardâ€”or killing it in its tracks.
There is a way out of this gloomy prognosis. It is quite simple and in some measure quite warranted by a look at the electorate that gave Moore her victory.
The way out is for Moore to walk into the Board of Elections office in the next few weeks and change her political party registration to â€śunaffiliated.â€ť State election rolls re-open on Monday 11/19/12, allowing new voter registrations and existing voters to change their party affiliation. There is no limit on how many times a voter may change their party affiliation, and Moore could re-write her party association back to Republican shortly after assuming office and completing the process to select her Council successor.
In many ways, it would be a thank you to the many Cecil County voters who changed their party registration from Democrat or Unaffiliated last spring in order to register as Republicans so they could vote for Moore in the crowded 7-candidate GOP primary, from which she emerged as the overwhelming victor.
It would also be a way to reflect the bipartisan or multi-partisan coalition that supported Moore in the recent general election.
The early voting, election night and first round of absentee votes gave Moore, a Republican, 52.5 percent of the vote while her Democratic rival, Pam Howard, received 47.3 percent, or a difference of 5.2 percentage points. (In contrast, Cecil County went overwhelmingly for Republican Mitt Romney over Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential contest, 58.5 percent to 38.9 percentâ€”a difference of 19.6 percentage points in the same counts.) Some absentee and provisional ballots are still to be tallied.
While Cecil County rejected the national choice for president and also strongly opposed the statewide choice of incumbent Democrat Ben Cardin for US Senate, the local results were not as one-sided in county office contests.
The fact that the local executiveâ€™s race was much closer than the national contest here indicates that members of both political parties and unaffiliated or independent voters were willing to consider local candidates individually without undue emphasis on party labels. In other words, the numbers indicate a lot of Romney voters backed a Democrat for county executive and many Obama voters went with the GOP for executive, whether they were registered with a political party or were unaffiliated voters.
Looking at local precincts, Moore won a majority of the countyâ€™s 19 precincts plus the early voting tally. But Democrat Howard carried some Romney-winning precincts as well as traditionally Democratic-leaning polling places. For example, the North East elementary polling place (Precinct 5-4) went for Romney by over 4 percentage points over President Obama– but backed Democrat Pam Howard by over 10 percentage points for county executive. And the Perryville Middle School site (Precinct 7-2) backed Romney by about 16.7 percentage points but voted for Howard locally by nearly 10 percentage points over Moore.
That shows that Cecil County voters were willing to look beyond just party labels in considering who should lead the local government in the new Charter era.
Meanwhile, there are several qualified, civic-minded people who have expressed interest in filling the County Council seat that Moore will vacateâ€”but some are on the Smipkin â€śenemies listâ€ť and would likely never emerge from the Smipkin-dominated GOP Central Committeeâ€™s list of nominees,.
Joyce Bowlsbey, who headed the citizensâ€™ panel that wrote the Charter for the county that voters overwhelmingly approved– and a longtime community activist and government relations committee chair for the Chamber of Commerce– has put her name into the ring for the Council seat. Bowlsbey is a regular attendee at commissioner worksessions and is up to speed on many key issues facing the county government.
Former County Commissioner Rebecca Demmlerâ€”who held the District 2 seat before Mooreâ€”has declared her interest as well. Both Bowlsbey and Demmler are said to be interested only in serving out the remaining two years of Mooreâ€™s term and would not be candidates for re-election in 2014, sources said.
But Bowlsbey is high on the Smipkin enemies list, especially for her role in winning voter approval of Charter government which Smigiel and Pipkin vehemently opposed, since it would diminish the power of the state legislative delegation to dictate policy and procedures for Cecil County. And Demmler has written letters to the editor and other public comments critical of the Smipkins.
In addition, sources identified Kennard Wiggins, a retired military employee and reserve officer and local community land use activist, as expressing interest in serving out Mooreâ€™s council term. Wiggins has taken an interest in a wide range of county issues and he often attends county government meetings and worksessions.
All three of those candidates are unlikely to show up on a Republican Central Committee nomination list, but if Moore were to briefly become â€śunaffiliated,â€ť could be considered by the County Council and Moore herself for possible appointment to the new Council.
During a Wednesday night meeting at the Knights of Columbus hall on Route 40 in Elkton, the GOP Central Committee initially was in disarray on how to proceed with their process to select a three-name list, according to attendees. But eventually members decided they would advertise for interested candidates, to submit applications by December 1, with subsequent interviews of candidates before an eventual closed-door meeting to pick the three names
But that process would be mooted if Moore became â€śunaffiliatedâ€ť before she resigns from her commissioner/council seat.
Cecil Times has emailed and called Moore, who is currently out of the county on vacation to recuperate from the arduous political campaign, for comment for this article. We will update this report upon her response. [UPDATE: In a brief message, Moore responded, "I'm off the grid until next week."]
However, multiple sources say this scenario has been broached with Moore but she has so far expressed reluctance to â€śunaffiliateâ€ť from the GOP even for just a few weeks
If she has political ambitions beyond Cecil County local office, even a temporary hiatus in her GOP affiliation might be considered a political liability. But the numbers of her recent election victory indicate a brief vacation from partisan politics might be a positive, not a negative, with local citizens.