Cecil County Exec Moore Breaks GOP Ranks to Support Democrat in Howard Co Exec Race; Uproar Among Republicans, Conservatives
Cecil County Executive Tari Mooreâa Republican who came under fire in her party when she briefly left the GOP to break a deadlock on appointing her successor to the County Council two years ago– has endorsed a Democrat running for County Executive in Howard County against a well-known statewide Republican.
The endorsement, highlighted during a candidatesâ debate this week, was the topic of much hand-wringing among state Republican party officials last Friday during the state partyâs annual Oktoberfest gathering. âPeople were asking, âWhat was Moore thinking?â,â according to a source who attended the event but spoke on condition of anonymity.
Courtney Watson, a Democrat, is running against Republican State Sen. Allan Kittleman for Howard County Executive. The winner of the election will succeed Ken Ullman, who is running for Lt. Governor on the statewide Democratic ticket with gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown. The local race is seen as a high-profile contest with potential statewide political implications by both parties.
On her campaign Facebook page, Watson recently posted that she was âProud to have the endorsement of the only elected female county executive in the state, Tari Moore (who happens to be a Republican!)â The post included a photo of the two women together and a statement from Moore:
âIâve known Courtney Watson for several years through her leadership position with women of MACO (Maryland Association of Counties.) Under Courtneyâs leadership, county and state leaders came together to talk about practical approaches to solving problems on a local level. With those proven skills, I believe Courtney Watson will be an excellent County Executive.â
(Cecil Times has left multiple messages for Moore at her county office, and on her personal cell phone, seeking comment and will update this report upon her response. Her office staff noted that she had been on vacation for the past two weeks and was still catching up on messages).
Watson is a two-term County Council member and former school board member in Howard, where Democrats hold a sizeable voter registration majority. But there is also a substantial unaffiliated voter registration and both candidates in the race have been de-emphasizing their own political party ties and appealing for cross-over votes.
Kittleman, a former GOP minority leader in the state Senate, has at times steered an independent and more moderate course from his party and has had a high political profile statewide as a result. He resigned his leadership post in 2011 because he supported legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, while most other Republicans opposed the bill. He also voted to repeal the death penalty in Maryland.
Mooreâs endorsement of Watson came up in a debate on Tuesday between the Howard County candidates. Watson cited the Moore endorsement as evidence of her ability to work across party lines.
[See Baltimore Sun debate report here:
Among issues in the campaign have been Watsonâs support of imposing a so-called ârain taxâ on local residents in response to a state stormwater runoff mandateâKittleman says the needed funds should be taken out of the county budget with offsetting cuts rather than passing the tax on to residents and businesses. Watson has challenged Kittlemanâs vote against Governor OâMalleyâs tighter gun control legislation in 2013.
In general, Kittlemanâs positions are more in line with Cecil County Republicans and local independent votersâ views than the positions of Watson.
Watson has been airing ads on Baltimore broadcast TV recently in spots that donât mention her party affiliation.
Kittleman aired TV ads in July in which he pitched for votes from independents and Democrats and included endorsements from citizens saying they would cross party lines to support him for Howard County executive. His ads did not mention his own GOP ties. Kittleman also has his share of official cross-party endorsements, including two Democratic state Senators.
The Howard County executiveâs race has been drawing a lot of attention in Baltimore media and it is considered to be a very competitive contest, with the outcome far from certain.
Mooreâs support of the Democratic candidate drew predicable fire from the most conservative elements of the Republican Party. But it also left more moderate party members and longtime Moore backers puzzled. The action also posed a potentially difficult situation for her husband, Steve Moore, who is president of the Cecil County Republican Club that is pledged to support local GOP candidates.
[UPDATE: At a meeting of the Republican Club Thursday night, Moore spoke briefly about the issue and said she had endorsed Watson because she believed there might be some economic development benefit to Cecil County in the future, according to several attendees. It was not clear how taking sides in the local contest– especially if the other candidate wins– would benefit Cecil County.]
Bill Harris, incoming chair of the Cecil County Republican Central Committee when a mostly new membership of the panel is sworn in after the November election, told Cecil Times that he was uncertain of Mooreâs actual intent and had not discussed the matter with her. But if Moore meant her positive comments as an endorsement of Watson, âI would be very, very disappointed.â
The Cecil County Campaign for Liberty group, an ultra-conservative faction that has long been critical of Moore and other GOP elected officials in the county, intoned on social media that âTari Moore has once again shown that she is a traitor to the conservative movement in Maryland.â
Brian Griffiths, a blogger on the Red Maryland conservative network of online and Internet radio pundits, was incensed by the Watson endorsement and suggested that the state Republican Party should resurrect a previously tabled resolution to sanction Moore over her 2012 temporary defection from the GOP. The party convention is slated for early December.
âMoore’s endorsement of Watson is merely the latest in a number of ways that she has insulted the Republican Party and insulted the primary voters who selected her as the party’s nominee in 2012,â Griffiths wrote. âBetween her end-run around the Cecil County Charter, her indifference toward the Cecil County Central Committee, and now her endorsement of Watson, it’s very clear that Tari Moore’s only loyalty is to Tari Moore.â
[Griffithâs commentary is here:
Mooreâs temporary departure from the GOP, after her election as County Executive but before she was formally sworn in, was designed to break a deadlock in the County Council over the appointment of her successor on the Council.
Under the new county Charter, the GOP Central Committeeâthen controlled by the Smipkin political machine headed by Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkinâwould have held the power to decide who could hold the vacated seat, subject to ratification by the remaining four members of the Council who were evenly divided between Smipkin and anti-Smipkin factions. Mooreâs temporary switch to âunaffiliatedâ removed the Central Committee from the equationâbut the Council still deadlocked, 2-2, on how to proceed, with the result that Moore was empowered to name longtime Republican community activist Joyce Bowlsbey to the Council.
Most Cecil County residents, regardless of political party, understood the rationale for Mooreâs actions and there was strong public support for her decision– in light of a two year history of dysfunction under the Smipkin-backed âThree Amigosâ groupâs control of the old county Board of Commissioners.
But outside the county, many Republicans didnât understand the dynamics of the local political situation and accused Moore of disloyalty, despite the fact that when the dust settled, she returned to the GOP party fold.
However, Mooreâs latest involvement in the Howard County election can only escalate the statewide GOP questioning of Mooreâs loyalties, with some disgruntled Republicans saying they will actively work to defeat Moore in a Republican primary if she runs again for county executive in 2016.