Upper Shore Senate Seat Selection Process Presses On; Smigiel Allies Blast Scott
The process to fill the state Senate seat vacated recently by E.J. Pipkin has turned into an increasingly bitter brawl, with pressure on local Republican Central Committees in the four-county District to unify behind one candidate to prevent Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley from making the final selection from a splintered GOP list.
Former state Republican Party chair Audrey Scott won the endorsement of the Queen Anne’s County GOP committee on Tuesday, while Del. Michael Smigiel predictably won the Cecil County committee’s support on an 8-1 vote Wednesday. Kent County backed Scott on an unofficial caucus tally. And Caroline County officials said Thursday they were in no hurry to reach a decision. However, the committees must act to submit their choices to the governor by September 10.
Rob Willoughby, chairman of the Caroline County committee, told Cecil Times Thursday that his nine-member panel has begun to review applications from the 14 candidates seeking the seat but had no set schedule for action. He said that if members wanted to interview candidates, the panel would do so but no decision had yet been made. “A vote needs to be informed,” he said, and “we’re looking at every candidate.”
Under the state Constitution, in a multi-county legislative district, a vacancy is filled by the local committees of the political party the former occupant of the seat (Pipkin was a Republican) with each county panel having one vote in the process. And the Constitution specifies that “if there is a tie vote between or among the central committees the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor and he shall make the appointment from the list.”
What is not specified is whether it would constitute a ‘tie’ to be broken by the governor if one candidate won two committees’ support—a plurality– while the remaining two county panels picked two other different candidates.
While the state Constitution sets out the process at the state level, the local party committees are largely on their own to decide how to handle their own procedures. Some panels have interviewed candidates and some—such as Cecil—declined to do so. And there is nothing to prevent a local committee from re-visiting a vote taken previously.
Smigiel, a close ally of Pipkin and co-leader of what had been dubbed the “Smipkin” political organization in Cecil County, was fuming over his loss to Scott in Queen Anne’s County, despite the fact that his legislative chief of staff, Andi Morony, chairs the county party panel and her husband is also a member. And Smigiel supporters were all over the Internet and conservative talk radio with attacks on Scott, including some with disparaging references to her age.
J. Doug Gill, a conservative Internet radio show host, said Wednesday evening he was a “fan” of Smigiel and questioned the candidacy of Scott as a political nostalgia trip, “dipping from the dried up useless well.” He said he favored “young vibrant fighters” and a candidate who would “throw bombs” in furtherance of conservative causes.
Scott served as the state Secretary of Planning in the administration of former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich and she also served as the mayor of Bowie. She has been active in state GOP women’s organizations and is well-known in Annapolis. She was also the only woman on the list of candidates for the Pipkin seat.
During the recent Maryland Association of Counties convention, sources said, Scott’s name was circulated as a potential ‘placeholder’ for the Senate seat– to fill out the remaining year and a few months left on Pipkin’s term while stepping aside and not running in what could be a bloody intra-party GOP primary contest for the seat in 2014. But some local panel members indicated reluctance to back a placeholder candidate and Scott advised many members she was “in it to win it,” as one source put it, for the long haul.
One candidate who has been unabashed about his own status as a ‘placeholder’ is Andrew Langer, a Queen Anne’s County conservative activist and former member of the local GOP committee. Due to his wife’s active duty military status, he expects his family to be moving out of the district shortly after the 2014 election.
In an appeal Thursday to leaders of the Kent, Caroline and Queen Anne’s panels, Langer asked them to consider—or re-consider in the case of those that have already voted or informally indicated a preference for Scott— the advantages of his ‘placeholder’ candidacy. A contested 2014 primary for the seat is a given, he wrote, and “with considerable animosity already mounting between leading candidate camps, the level of vitriol between those candidates in a primary challenge is virtually guaranteed.”
If neither of the leading candidates –Scott and Smigiel– got the advantage of the appointment now, the primary contest would be on a more level and perhaps more civil playing field, he argued. And he offered to play a role in fundraising for other candidates in the primary, with strings attached: play nicely and keep debate civil in the primary or you don’t get campaign funds.
Langer’s was an interesting take on the brewing tempest in the district but it is probably already too late to soothe the personal and political pique of some of the candidates.
Smigiel’s longtime campaign treasurer at one point went on Facebook to threaten to leave the Republican party if Scott got the appointment. And Smigiel fumed that people who had promised to support him on the party panels went back on their word to him.
Smigiel is also feeling betrayed by Del. Steve Hershey, a freshman delegate from Queen Anne’s County who was elected with the money and support of the Smipkin organization in 2010. But Hershey threw his own hat into the ring against Smigiel to seek Pipkin’s seat, seeing an opportunity to advance his political career— but Smigiel has told people he sees Hershey as an “opportunist,” sources said.
Then there is Hershey’s own sense of betrayal—his family was very close to Scott’s family for many years and she had supported his bid for a delegate seat in the past.
And Caroline County has its own political agenda– considering how to get its own resident delegate for the first time in nearly two decades, if one of the sitting delegate seats were to be vacated by Smigiel or Hershey. [See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/08/bulletin-audrey-scott-ex-state-gop-chair-wins-key-support-in-race-to-fill-pipkin-senate-seat/ ]
Meanwhile, former Del. Dick Sossi—who lost to Hershey in a 124-vote upset in the GOP primary in 2010, re-affirmed his plan to run for the Senate seat in 2014 despite the fact that he has not carried any county GOP committees so far in the appointment process. “I said I would run and I will,” he said Thursday. “I’m a man of my word.”
As the rest of the district was tied up in political knots, Cecil County—which has been embroiled in bitter intra-party brawls for the past three years—was remarkably peaceful in its selection process, sources said. Each candidate on the applicant list was put up for a vote, with most candidates getting no more than one or two yes votes, until the expected pro-Smigiel tally of 8-1. The Smipkins ran their own slate of candidates for the party panel in 2010 and won overwhelming control.