Cecil County Council GOP Candidates: Anti-Government ‘Campaign for Liberty’ Faction vs. Problem Solvers, Economic Development Backers
Republicans running for the Cecil County Council in this yearâs June primary election squared off Thursday night in a political forum, with two chief factions emerging in the contests– local education and economic development backers and problem-solvers contrasted with allies of the state and national anti-government âCampaign for Libertyâ organization. But there were also some nuanced positions in the middle.
The forum, which was sponsored by the Cecil County Republican Club and held at the county administration building in Elkton, was largely polite and restrained in tone, under strict guidelines for decorum set in place by the clubâs president, Steve Moore. (Husband of County Executive Tari Moore.) But one candidate, incumbent Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4), did get a âwarningâ from Steve Moore when she burst into laughter at comments of another candidate. Under the forumâs format, questions were posed to one candidate at a time but other candidates running for any seat had the chance to offer a rebuttal comment.
Only three of the five County Council seats are at stake in this yearâs election: District 2, currently represented by Joyce Bowlsbey (R); District 3, currently represented by Michael Dunn (R); and District 4, currently represented by Broomell (R). All three incumbents are seeking to return to their seats. Candidates run at-large, meaning that voters all over the county can vote for candidates from any district.
Challenging the incumbents are two staunch backers of the âCampaign for Libertyâ (C4L) groupâwhich is aligned nationally with Sen. Rand Paul and his father, Ron. Robert Willick, chairman of the Cecil County C4L group and an admitted political newcomer, is running against Dunn. Chris Zeauskas, who chairs the countyâs GOP Central Committee but is a backer of C4L, is running against Bowlsbey.
C4L âis no compromise,â Willick said. âWe happen to believe the extremes define the middleâ and his approach to politics and government is âpulling people out from the center out to the right.â
Michael A. Dawsonâ a former one-term, one-vote winner as a Perryville town commissioner and a frequent county political candidateâ has been less visible in the C4L organization but voices identical views to the groupâs anti-government positions. Dawson (known locally as MAD Dawson to differentiate him from Michael W. Dawson, another Perryville resident who is running for county Register of Wills on the ballot as âGood Mikeâ Dawson) ran unsuccessfully against Broomell and Moore in the GOP primary for county executive in 2012. He is now running against Broomell for Council, after earlier filing but then withdrawing as a candidate for a state Senate seat in 2014.
Dawson got one of the few laughs of the night from a room-filling audience when he introduced himself by saying, âI was trying to think of a nickname but apparently all the good ones have been taken.â In response to a question, he dismissed the facts that he pulled out of the Senate race, only filed for Council a few hours before the deadline for candidacy, and his home is for sale as irrelevant, and said that if elected he and his family would rent a home in the county.
In contrast to the C4L devotees, Bowlsbeyâa former Gore executive, Chamber of Commerce leader and architect of successful efforts to convert Cecil County to Charter government– and two other candidates emphasized their community, business and county government volunteer experience. They outlined their views on fiscally-responsible promotion of education and job training, economic development, and infrastructure in the growth corridor to attract business, to expand the tax revenue base and job opportunities as investments in the countyâs future.
George Patchell, executive director of the countyâs YMCA and an active volunteer in youth groups, is running against Broomell and MAD Dawson in District 4. Dan Schneckenburger, an engineer and longtime member of county business and economic development advisory groups, is running against Dunn and Willick in District 3.
Bowlsbey, Patchell and Schneckenburger outlined what they were âfor,â and not just âagainst,â in responses to questions at the forum. All three said they supported the countyâs acquisition of the Basell property, which will be converted to a modern vocational-technical school. (Broomell and Dunn voted against the vo-tech facility project as county Commissioners and Council members.)
âWe need a skilled workforce to fill the jobs that are going to be created,â Bowlsbey said, as the county seeks to attract new business and expansion of existing business in the county. A skilled workforce is a key factor in decisions to locate a business in a community, she said.
Zeauskas, Bowlsbleyâs opponent, strongly opposed the tech schools project during the forum, saying that students should get job training through private employersâ âapprenticeshipsâ as he did as a âfloor sweeperâ at a Baltimore steel mill, rather than through county schoolsâ education programs.
On the countyâs economic prospects, Schneckenburger said he was âbullishâ on the future of the countyâs economy and âCecil County has great potential.â He added that he was âa fiscal conservativeâ and mindful of taxpayersâ wallets so the county only âspends within our means.â But some investments, in job training and infrastructure in the countyâs growth corridor, he said, would pay off in the long run. Expanding the business tax base, he said, is the key to easing the burden of providing basic services to residents without boosting homeownersâ taxes.
But MAD Dawson, a former Prince Georgeâs county police officer, proposed eliminating any county spending on economic development activities and said that money should be given to law enforcement agencies to combat illegal drugs. He did not address the socio-economic and health-related aspects of drug addiction.
Patchell said the county needed to focus on âbusiness retentionâ of current employers, so they donât move out of the county, as well as attracting new employers. And the county needs to consider economic/family issues, such as the high proportion of low-income students in county schools, leading to drop-outs and drug usage. âThatâs unacceptable,â he said. Job training would help address that issue, he added.
On other issues, Willick, an electrician from Rising Sun, said he was upset that the county libraries spent money on video games for patrons to borrow, opposed building a countywide park at Calvert that he thought the private sector should build, and advocated cutting county school funding to the state-mandated âmaintenance of effortâ minimum level. He also said the county should strip out unnecessary regulations, such as adherence to a national electrical standards code, âand stuff like that.â
Candidates were asked about the âdysfunctionalâ local Republican Party, which has been divided for the past several years between business-oriented members and allies of the Smipkin political organization led by Del. Michael Smigiel and former state Sen. E.J. Pipkin. The Smipkins, who control the current county GOP central committee, were responsible for smear attack mailings against fellow Republicans such as Moore and Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) in the last GOP primary election.
MAD Dawson, who is also running for the local GOP Central Committee, said party members âgotta man upâ and be âhonestâ that the Republicans should not be âone big tent.â He said he didnât care that â95 percent of the people canât stand me.â
Willick, who is also running for a seat on the countyâs GOP central committee, said Republicans âshould stop trying to be Democrats light.â And, Willick added, he thought a Council member should use the position as a âbully pulpitâ on issues such as gun ownership rights, and speaking out on such matters in Annapolis âshould be first priority.â
Meanwhile, the usually silent at Council meetings Dunn spoke more during the forum than he probably has in the past three-plus years as a Councilor. âIâve been a good steward of the taxpayersâ dollars,â Dunn said. And he said his time on the Council gave him an âinsightâ into budget issues that his opponents lacked. He also said he had been a âvoice of calm and reasonâ on the Council and âan independent thinker.â
Dunn, who is also running for a seat on the GOP Central Committee, said he thought it was a good sign that there were so many Republican candidates running in the partyâs primary for Council.
Schneckenburger said that GOP infighting was counter-productive and attacks on fellow Republicans were âcoming from people who probably like to fight more than come up with solutions.â And he said his âmindsetâ is âfinding a solutionâ to a problem, rather than complaining or attacking others on an issue.
Meanwhile, Broomell found herself in the unusual position of being on the defensive, in contrast to her usual attack-mode at County Council meetings. She supported the Calvert Park, unlike some C4L candidates, and tried to portray herself as an anti-establishment candidate. She said she spent more time than any other Council members attending local meetings and various state issue sessions in Annapolis. Broomell also emphasized her votes against the county budget and county spending on upgrading the Seneca Point sewage treatment plant. âWe have to live within our means,â she said.
But, as she often does at Council sessions, Broomell couldnât resist getting in verbal shots at entities she perceives as opponents. She launched yet another attack on the Cecil Guardian weekly print newspaper, without actually mentioning it by name, that seemed to go over the heads of all but the most regular attendees at county meetings.
[UPDATE: A big thank you to Bob Laird, who videorecorded the Council candidates forum and has uploaded it to Youtube. We know it took a lot of hard work and time for Bob to upload his video. You can see it here: