Two GOP Panels File Hershey’s Name for Senate 36th Seat to End Local Process, with Gov. to Choose Hershey or Smigiel
After two weeks of political drama, two county Republican committees have sent to Gov. Martin Oâ€™Malley the name of their nomineeâ€”Del. Steve Hersheyâ€”to fill the vacant state Senate seat in Dist. 36, thus apparently ending the local process and shifting the decision to Annapolis to break a tie between Hershey and Del. Michael Smigiel.
But even after the hand-writing was on the wall, Friday afternoon Smigiel launched yet another gambit to try to shift the local votes his way before the ultimate deadline of 9/10/13 for the local committees to submit their choices to the governor.
The Caroline County Republican Central Committee had voted unanimously to support Hershey and on Thursday sent that tally to the governorâ€™s appointments secretary, according to Robert Willoughby, the panelâ€™s chair. And sources said that Kent County, which had a majority vote for Hershey, did the same.
That effectively moots efforts by Smigiel to try to get yet another re-vote in the process. Smigiel won his only clear cut victory on an 8-1 vote in his home Cecil County GOP panel, which is controlled by a slate of members chosen with financial support and endorsements by Smigielâ€™s political organization in 2010. Then, after two votes and an attempted unilateral declaration of a Smigiel victory by his paid legislative aide who also chairs the Queen Anneâ€™s County party committee, Smigiel eventually got the support of Queen Anneâ€™s. That leaves a tie, which under the state Constitution must be broken by the governor.
Oâ€™Malley, a Democrat, can only select from the names supplied to him by the local GOP committees. Since the former occupant of the seatâ€”E.J. Pipkin, who resigned suddenly earlier this monthâ€”was a Republican, the GOP was the party to seek a successor to fill the remaining year and a half of Pipkinâ€™s term. The seat will be at stake in the 2014 elections for a full four-year term.
The governor was widely expected to pick the low-key Hershey over the abrasive Smigiel, who has sued the governor several times and attacked him in personal terms. But Oâ€™Malley would no doubt consult with Democratic Party officials to assess the political prospects for his party in the district in 2014, and how the bitter GOP appointment battle might influence that contest.
The tie vote in the four-county district has led to some hand-wringing and finger-pointing at the failure of the local panels to reach a majority decision on their own and instead turn it over to the governor. But members of several of the local committees say privately that the aggressive campaign by Smigiel and some of his supporters– including phone calls, emails and robocalls by non-district residents and organized groups– turned off local members and did him more harm than good.
But Smigiel and his backers claim that â€śoutside forcesâ€ť were aligned against him and worked to deprive him of the appointment that he thought was rightfully his.
After Smigiel finally got his second county panel vote Tuesday evening, he issued a statement, saying, â€śI suggest that, for the good of the party, we agree to bring the two nominees before the members of the four central committees to profess our qualifications and debate any issues the members of said honorable Central Committees desire.â€ť
Then, on Wednesday, Smigielâ€™s political ally and chair of the Cecil County GOP committee, Michael A. Dawson– (known locally in Perryville as MAD Mike Dawson, to differentiate him from another GOP candidate for the Cecil County Council, Michael W. Dawson )– posted his own challenge on Hersheyâ€™s Facebook wall:
â€śMike Smigiel has proposed a debate in front of all the â€śvotingâ€ť Central Committee members. We ask the questions, we have roll call votes and winner takes all. What say you Steve, are you in? â€¦â€ť
Hershey responded: â€śMike, the Cecil County Central Committee had the opportunity to question and interview the candidates prior to voting. Collectively your committee made its decision not to spend the time vetting the candidates in that manner. As far as the contest you refer to – the votes belong to those of the individual central committee members, they are not mine to barter or trade for events of your choosing.â€ť
Contrary to MAD Dawsonâ€™s proposal, the state Constitution does not provide for a member-by-member, winner take all approach to the selection process. It must be done county committee by county committee, with each committee ultimately having just one vote in the process.
But Smigiel apparently was still unwilling to concede the fight Friday afternoon and launched yet another fusillade of his own on social media. (Smigiel’s two county panel votes apparently had not yet been sent to Annapolis.)
Despite the other two county panelsâ€™ move to end the debate, Smigiel suddenly sought to re-open it, saying:
â€śIn an effort to motivate the Republican Central Committees of the 36th District to choose one of the two candidates whose names have been chosen by the four central committees, I have proposed that Delegate Hershey meet with me and the Central Committee members to present our accomplishments answer questions and debate issues important to citizens of the 36th District.â€ť And, Smigiel added in a jab at Hershey, â€śTime is of the essence and we must choose the strongest candidate to represent us in the Senate or the governor will select the weakest.â€ť
About an hour before Smigiel posted his statement on Facebook, Hershey told Cecil Times that Smigiel had not contacted him to discuss his earlier demand, or that of Dawson, for a head-to-head debate.
Hershey said it was clear that the local GOP committees were â€śready to move onâ€ť and did not want to re-open previous decisions. â€śThe governor has to choose from one of us,â€ť he noted. â€śHe canâ€™t just pick anyone.â€ť
While the intensity of the process in the 36th Senate contest has prompted some calls to review the process for selecting appointees to fill a vacant legislative seat, Hershey said he believed much of the problem was in the unusual four-county coverage of this district.
â€śAnytime you have four counties trying to decide, personalities will get into it,â€ť he observed. He said he did not think special elections would be an appropriate solution, given the costs to taxpayers of conducting such an event, as well as the money that candidates would have to spend in a brief time period on an all-out political campaign to the voters.
â€śIt is what it is,â€ť Hershey said. â€śIt is not perfect but it is the system we have to deal with.â€ť
Other Republicans involved at the county GOP committee level voiced similar views, saying that the process can succeed if all involved keep foremost in mind the good of their political party rather than personal ambitions.
To get party bylaws changed â€śwould be like trying to pull teeth without Novocain,â€ť one GOP leader said. And changing the state Constitutionâ€”which has very narrow language on how to fill a vacancy and leaves much up to the local committeesâ€”would be even more problematic.