Smipkins Howl over Loss of Power to New Cecil County Exec Moore; State GOP, Conservatives Bite Back
State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) has never liked losing, although he has done a lot of it in his repeated failed efforts to move up the political ladder in Maryland. So it is perhaps not surprising that he and his political cohort, Del. Michael Smigiel, who recently lost a campaign for a Cecil County judgeship, are screaming so loudly over the decision by new County Executive Tari Moore to remove their power to appoint her replacement on the County Council.
“Benedict Arnold,” harrumphed Smigiel on Facebook, utilizing his usual hyperbole and bluster to attack Moore, whom he also maligned in personal terms by claiming she “has no honor.”
Smigiel and Pipkin did not attend Monday’s swearing-in ceremonies in Elkton for Moore as County Executive and for fellow Republicans Robert Hodge and Dr. Alan McCarthy as members of the new County Council. Also absent were the Smipkin-aligned holdover County Commissioners/Council members Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3.) Both Broomell and Dunn are former employees of Smigiel as aides in his legislative office.
If they had attended, they might have been seated in the front row, next to US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), who defeated Pipkin in the 2008 GOP primary for the House seat. And they might even have had to be face-to-face with former Del. Richard Sossi, a Queen Anne’s county Republican who was defeated in a primary after the Smipkins launched a last-minute, expensive smear mailing and robocall campaign against him. (Sossi, who now works for Harris, had not dutifully toed the line with the Smipkin legislative and political agenda.)
What has set the guys (and Broomell) off so much is the decision late last week by Moore to change her party affiliation from Republican to “Unaffiliated,” a step that removed the power to determine her District 2 successor on the Council from the Smipkin-controlled county Republican Central Committee. As a result, a different process will be utilized under the county’s Charter to give the Council first shot at picking someone not hand-selected by the GOP committee, But the practical political outcome is that the Council will deadlock and Moore will pick her own successor—without the burden of limiting her choice to a list of three names hand-picked by the Smipkins.
That has, of course, also ticked off the Cecil County Republican Central Committee, whose chairman, Chris Zeauskas, is a pure Pipkin loyalist who lost to Moore in the 2010 GOP primary for County Commissioner. The Smipkins installed him as chairman of the party panel as a consolation prize and he was expected to be a prime name on the Smipkin list to claim the now vacant seat.
The local GOP committee has posted an online petition on its website, demanding that “Tari Moore Must Resign” and condemning “her despicable actions in defecting from the Republican Party for personal gain.”
How Moore’s temporary shift to “unaffiliated” – she is expected to realign with the GOP after the dust settles on filling the Council seat–amounted to “personal gain” was not explained in the petition call. Moore’s salary is established by the Charter. But Zeauskas, who operates an auto paint shop on Route 40, had money to gain since he would have received $25,000 a year in salary if he was selected to fill the Moore vacant seat on the Council.
Zeauskas also led the charge at last weekend’s state Republican party convention with a resolution seeking to have the party condemn Moore’s unaffiliation action. That resolution was hastily approved by a resolutions committee headed by Andi Morony, a current aide to Smigiel and former employee of Pipkin. But when the resolution went to the floor of the full convention, it was tabled by the delegates.
As part of the Smipkin verbal war, they are trying to portray the local issue in such a way as to attack Rep. Harris as well. Harris endorsed Moore when the Smipkins launched a series of negative robocalls and smear mailers against her and Hodge in the April GOP primary.
Giving new meaning to the word “chutzpah”—or revisionist history mixed with unabashed amnesia for the facts—Smigiel’s Facebook rants asserted that the guy who beat Pipkin was “intervening” in local politics. “Lesson here: leave local political choices to the local officials,” declared Smigiel.
(Pipkin and Smigiel have long intervened in local Cecil County government issues, including a failed effort in Annapolis to limit County Commissioners’ power to set local property tax rates. And Smigiel was present in the courtroom last Friday, consulting with Broomell and Dunn, during a hearing on a motion by the Cecil County SPCA to try to block the Three Amigos, in the final moments of their control of county government, from awarding a multi-million dollar 3 ½ year contract to a Delaware group with no animal shelter and no experience in animal control.)
Meanwhile, the Smipkins latest tantrums have not gone unchallenged by the state GOP—which rebuffed their attempt to censure Moore—and party conservatives.
Andrew Langer, who heads the Institute for Liberty in Washington and is an influential Eastern Shore conservative with ties to the “tea party” movement, challenged the “Pipkinites” motivation for the attack on Moore in a column posted Monday on the popular conservative blog, “RedMaryland.” [See it here: http://redmaryland.blogspot.com/2012/12/whats-really-going-on-in-cecil-county.html
Langer defended Moore, saying that the deck was stacked against her by Smigiel and Pipkin’s all out opposition to her in the 2010 and 2012 GOP primaries and their control of the county’s Republican Central committee that would hold the balance of power to fill her seat on the new County Council. So Moore did “what more and more Americans are doing—eschew partisan labeling and change her status to unaffiliated.” In that way, Langer wrote, she was seeking “a way of discharging her public obligations in as faithful a manner to her electorate as possible.”
And, Langer added, “…the people screaming the loudest about this are the people who have lost a small slice of political power.”
Meanwhile, Broomell has posted a long screed on her personal website, re-writing the history of the past two years of County Commissioners’ actions from her personal perspective. She also renews her frequent vitriolic attacks on Hodge and adds a few new unsubstantiated and potentially libelous allegations to her past litany. Also coming into her gunsites are the Cecil Guardian weekly newspaper and the Cecil Times.
It looks like it will be a rough few weeks until January, when Moore can finally pick a successor for her Council seat and the county can finally get down to the citizens’ business.