BULLETIN: Queen Anne’s County GOP Panel Backs Del. Smigiel for Dist. 36 Senate Seat; Tied with Del. Hershey in Four County Vote
A majority of the Queen Anne‚Äôs County Republican Central Committee voted Tuesday night to endorse Del. Michael Smigiel for the vacant Dist. 36 state Senate seat, creating a tie between Smigiel and Del. Steve Hershey among the four counties in the district.
Hershey has won the endorsements of the Kent and Caroline counties‚Äô local GOP committees while Smigiel had previously won the support of the Cecil County panel. It is possible, but seemingly unlikely, that Kent or Caroline could hold a re-vote before the September 10 deadline to submit a name or names to Gov. Martin O‚ÄôMalley. So if the tie vote among the four counties covered by the district persists, the governor, a Democrat, will decide who gets the seat for the year and a half remaining on the term of E.J. Pipkin, who resigned the seat several weeks ago.
The inferno intensity of the battle for the appointment to the Senate seat would seem to make it unlikely that state Republican party officials would be able to mediate the situation so as to avoid handing such an important decision‚ÄĒ who will get the political advantage of incumbency going into the 2014 elections when the seat will be at stake with the voters‚ÄĒto a Democratic governor. The newly elected chair of the state GOP, Diana Waterman, an Eastern Shore resident, has been accused by some conservative supporters of Smigiel of trying to influence some local committee members to support other candidates. Waterman has denied the allegations.
Smigiel‚Äôs win in Queen Anne‚Äôs County Tuesday night was a do-over of an earlier vote that he lost to Audrey Scott, the former chair of the state Republican Party. But Scott subsequently withdrew from the contest.
Andi Morony, a paid legislative aide to Smigiel who also chairs the Queen Anne‚Äôs GOP panel, initially handed the endorsement to Smigiel after Scott withdrew‚ÄĒdeclaring unilaterally that since Scott was out of the race, Smigiel as the runner-up should get the nod without having to have a committee re-vote. That drew broad criticism throughout the district, and from Waterman.
The committee met Tuesday night at a restaurant in Stevensville and immediately went into closed-door, executive session. After the meeting, Morony announced in a brief statement on her personal Facebook page that the committee had conducted a new vote and Smigiel was the victor.
Smigiel commented on Twitter after the vote, claiming that his wins in Queen Anne‚Äôs and Cecil counties ‚Äúgives me the support of 64 percent of the district electorate.‚ÄĚ
That is a stretch of both political and electoral math. The central committees are selected in a partisan process‚ÄĒand in Cecil County, the central committee is dominated by acolytes of Smigiel and Pipkin, whose ‚ÄúSmipkin‚ÄĚ political organization financed a slate of candidates in the last election to take over the GOP panel. In any case, one political party‚Äôs local committees do not speak for the entire ‚Äúelectorate‚ÄĚ of the sprawling, four-county district.
In his most recent election bid, Smigiel was overwhelmingly defeated for a Circuit Court judgeship in Cecil County last year, even losing by a wide margin to a Democrat.
Smigiel supporters, including elements of the ‚ÄúCampaign for Liberty‚ÄĚ conservative group that is active in Cecil and Harford counties as well as gun rights activists, had inundated members of some of the local county GOP committees with emails, phone calls and ‚Äėrobocalls‚Äô‚ÄĒattacking Scott at first and then shifting their ire to Hershey after Scott‚Äôs withdrawal from the contest.
The re-vote by Queen Anne‚Äôs county, setting up the tie between Smigiel and Hershey, was not required under party rules or state law. Party officials say they had obtained legal opinions that the earlier tally for Scott could have stayed in place, with the result that the district-wide outcome would have been 2-1-1, with Hershey holding the majority. In that way, the decision would have been one made by local Republicans rather than kicking the decision up to the Democratic governor.
[UPDATE: Responding to the re-vote in Queen Anne’s, Robert Willoughby, chair of the Caroline County GOP committee, commented, “It is regretful that memers of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee voted this evening to create a tie in this process and send the decision to Governor O’Malley. Now, a decision that should have been made here in the 36th District will be made instead in Annapolis by a Democratic Governor.”]
O‚ÄôMalley is widely expected to give the nod to the more low-key Hershey over the brash Smigiel, who has sued the governor on various issues and attacked O‚ÄôMalley in personal terms.
Once a final choice is made to fill the Senate seat, that will create an opening for a Delegate seat in the district, with a repetition of the local GOP central committees selecting a candidate. But this time, county residency requirements will come into play.
If Hershey‚Äôs seat becomes vacant, its next occupant will have to be a resident of his home county, Queen Anne‚Äôs, or Caroline County‚ÄĒsince the Kent and Cecil seats would be already represented in the district.
Currently, Caroline is the only county in the state without a resident delegate‚ÄĒand local Republicans are determined to fill the slot with one of their own. Support for a Caroline County occupant of whatever Delegate seat would be vacated by the Senate appointment was a key factor in that county‚Äôs deliberations. Both Hershey and Smigiel pledged to work to help Caroline get an appointee for their seat if they won the Senate slot.