BULLETIN: Caroline County Endorses Del. Hershey for Dist. 36 Seat; Hershey Likely to Prevail Over Del. Smigiel
The Caroline County Republican Central Committee has voted to endorse Del. Steve Hershey, of Queen Anneâ€™s County, to fill the vacant Dist. 36 state Senate seatâ€”with the likely result that he will prevail over remaining rival Del. Michael Smigiel, of Cecil County.
In a whirlwind of events in the past day, the Caroline County panel decided to forego a potentially prolonged interview of candidates process and members voted via email to support Hershey, according to Robert Willoughby, the panelâ€™s chairman. As members saw other counties going forward with votes and disclosing their results, the Caroline County Republicans decided they did not need to interview all 14 candidates, he added.
The Caroline panelâ€™s votes were tallied by late afternoon on Friday, Willoughby said, a few hours before the bombshell disclosure by Audrey Scott that she was withdrawing from the contest.
Scott, the former state Republican Party chair, sent an email to current state party chair Diana Waterman, saying she was pulling out of the process. Scott had already won the endorsement of the Queen Anneâ€™s County GOP committee.
Scott had also won an informal â€ścaucusâ€ť vote in Kent County earlier in the week but that panel shifted courseâ€”and its votesâ€”to Hershey on a subsequent formal vote.
That left Smigiel with just one voteâ€”that of the Cecil County committee that was controlled by the â€śSmipkinâ€ť political organization led by Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, whose sudden resignation from his seat recently led to the whole political drama of a four-county search for his replacement.
(Under the state Constitution, since Pipkin was a Republican, his successor was to be selected by the local GOP Central Committees in the four counties covered by the district, with each county panel having one vote.)
In her withdrawal note, Scott did not endorse any other candidate but said she hoped that her decision would lead to a re-vote in Queen Anneâ€™s County.
But Willoughby said that Queen Anneâ€™s could allow its previous vote to stand and was not required to have a re-vote. The Queen Anneâ€™s panel is expected to decide by Tuesday whether to have a re-vote.
However, Hersheyâ€™s quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts to build support for his candidacy put Smigiel into a political boxâ€”but one that is really of Smigielâ€™s own making.
Willoughby said that consultations with legal experts concluded that if the final tally is 2-1-1, (Hershey with two votes and one each for Smigiel and Scott), the candidate with two votes would be considered to hold the majority and it would not constitute a â€śtieâ€ť to be broken by Gov. Martin Oâ€™Malley under the state Constitution.
But if Smigiel demands a re-vote in Queen Anneâ€™s and winsâ€”a strong prospect since the panel is chaired by his legislative chief of staff Andi Morony and her husband is also a voting memberâ€”that would create a tie and hand the final choice of a Senator to Oâ€™Malley, a Democrat. The governor was widely expected to choose the low-key Hershey over the brash Smigiel who has sued the governor and state officials several times and attacked Oâ€™Malley in personal terms.
[UPDATE: Morony has now posted a statement on Facebook, declaring that since Scott withdrew from the contest, Smigiel is now being declared the winner of the Queen Anne's county panel's vote-- because "the only other votes having been cast were for Delegate Mike Smigiel."]
Either way, Hershey is likely to winâ€”and Smigiel would lose, especially if he were seen as giving Oâ€™Malley the final say over who fills a Republican Senate seat.
â€śIt would be a much cleaner process,â€ť Willoughby said, to â€śleave the decision in the hands of the districtâ€ť rather than kicking it up to the governor to decide.
As the convoluted, see-saw process has played out, Hersheyâ€™s quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts paid off in what now looks like a masterful power play. In contrast, Smigiel and his allies were shouting from the rooftops on social media and in emails accusing â€śoutside forces,â€ť including Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), of conspiring against him.
Harris, who has denied any involvement in the fracas, is very popular with local Republicans in the district. And while Smigiel was focusing his attention and animus against Harris, Hershey was working the local committee members.
Cecil Times is working on a longer article and analysis of the fight for the 36th and will post more later.