Smigiels File Double-Play, Names-the-Same Political Contests: Dad for Judge, Son for Dad’s Old Delegate Seat

February 27, 2018


Never let it be said that perennial candidate and three-time loser Michael D. Smigiel, Sr., doesn’t have any more political tricks up his sleeves, even if they aren’t the sleeves on a Cecil County judicial robe that he desperately wants to wear.

Now he’s trying for a two-fer: a judicial seat for himself and his old District 36 state Delegate seat for his son and namesake, Michael D. Smigiel, Jr., a young filmmaker and video photographer. Daddy Smigiel lost his delegate seat in the Republican primary in 2014, when he didn’t even carry his home base of Cecil County in the four-county area covered by District 36. Daddy has also lost a previous run for a judicial seat and lost badly two years ago in a GOP primary challenge to incumbent Congressman Andy Harris (R-1st).

Smigiel Sr. filed on Monday as a candidate for a Circuit Court judicial seat, running against incumbent judge Will Davis. Davis was appointed by Gov. Hogan to fill a vacancy on the local bench in 2016 and, under state law, must stand before the voters in this year’s elections for a 15-year term. (Davis was recommended for the court by an independent nominating commission that found him well-qualified while the panel declined to say the same about Smigiel who had also sought appointment to that seat.)

Both Smigiel and Davis are Republicans, but judicial contests are non-partisan, so candidates run on the June primary ballots of both the Republican and Democratic parties. If one candidate wins both primaries, he will appear unopposed on the general election ballot in November. If the primary outcome is split, then the two candidates would face a re-match in November.

Smigiel ran, and lost, in an earlier Circuit Court seat election contest against Keith Baynes in 2012. Baynes, who is now chief administrative judge for the Cecil County Circuit Court, was appointed to a vacant seat by then Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, even though Baynes is a Republican. Smigiel’s losing election campaign was supported by some political pals who created a shadowy political action committee that viciously attacked Baynes with blatantly false distortions of his record as a prosecutor and on the bench.

Given Smigiel’s past record of scorched-earth political tactics, Davis may be in for some negative attacks. But Davis is well-known and well-liked across party lines for his involvement in many community and civic groups before he became a judge, including serving as a trustee of Cecil College and involvement in many youth mentoring programs. He has retained an active schedule of attending community and civic events around the county, even as judicial rules limit formal board memberships that he had to resign after going on the bench. Davis is also the first African-American to serve as a judge in Cecil County.

Meanwhile, Smigiel the Younger filed as a Republican for the Delegate seat from the same Chesapeake City address owned by his parents. Social media posts indicate that he previously lived in Baltimore while attending a filmmaking program at the Maryland Institute College of Art until leaving the program in 2017. He previously attended Cecil College and now lists his occupation as a free-lance filmmaker and cinematographer. Other social media posts by family members indicate he has made a short film that was showcased in Boston and worked on a film crew assembled by famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns to interview Sen. John McCain (R-Az).

The bright lights of Hollywood, or at least the film festival circuit, might seem to hold more attraction for a millennial than a part-time political gig in Annapolis. But the names-the-same advantage, long a fixture of Baltimore City Democratic machine politics, cannot be underestimated, even on the GOP-heavy Eastern Shore.

And the unique four-county political dynamics of District 36—in which candidates fight for just three available seats—add to the political complexity.

The incumbent most affected by Junior’s entry into the race is Del. Jeff Ghrist (R-Caroline County), who narrowly won election four years ago by a slim 400+ vote margin over Smigiel the Elder. Until Ghrist won, Caroline County had not had a resident delegate in over 20 years but with his win, Cecil County lost local representation in District 36. Candidates have to run in all four counties but there are only three available seats. (Incumbents Jay Jacobs of Kent County and Steve Arentz of Queen Anne’s County occupy the other two seats for the district.)

Daddy Smigiel lost Cecil County to Alan McCarthy, now the Cecil County Executive, but Daddy did well enough in the other counties in the district to offset some of his local loss, until Ghrist finally eked out a narrow victory district-wide.

Ghrist has actively courted Cecil County voters and drew substantial donation support from local GOP elected officials and residents at an Elkton fundraiser he hosted last year. His latest campaign finance report, filed 1/17/2018, shows a cash bank balance of $5,242, after expenses for printing, fundraiser food costs and other campaign events. (Delegates are barred from holding any fundraisers while the General Assembly is in session, as it is now, but after adjournment in April candidates have a window for fundraising before the June 26 primary election.)

No campaign committee organization or finance report for Smigiel Junior was yet on file on the state Board of Elections website as of Tuesday afternoon. But Daddy Smigiel likely has a healthy balance in his old Friends of Mike Smigiel fund, although it is hard to determine how much. He hasn’t filed a detailed expense accounting since 5/14/2014, the pre-primary re quired filing, when he had $20,679 in the bank. Since then, he has used the affidavit provision allowed by state law to swear that he spent no more than $1,000. That means that he could have spent up to $1,000 for each of the 13 affidavits he filed since the last detailed accounting in mid-2014.

Daddy could use his campaign funds for his judicial bid or could transfer some money from his own campaign fund to Junior’s campaign.

If past is prologue, the Smigiels campaigns could provide some political entertainment—such as the famed mis-appropriation of the official seal of the non-partisan Administrative Office of the Courts on a Daddy Smigiel fundraising letter and his O, Canada moment, when his campaign pens urged voters to call his office but listed a Quebec, Canada phone number. But there may also be some ugly revenge and score-settling.

Smigiel Senior still harbors grudges against the other District 36 lawmakers, and especially Sen. Steve Hershey, who beat out Smigiel for a gubernatorial appointment to the state Senate when former Sen. E.J. Pipkin resigned to move to Texas. The months long process was a bloody battleground of the four county GOP Central Committees, which split, 2-2, on a nominee. As a result, the governor broke the tie and picked Hershey as having garnered more total votes throughout the four counties.

Now, the all-Republican District 36 delegation operates as a team and recently received the endorsement of Gov. Larry Hogan in their re-election bids.

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2 Responses to Smigiels File Double-Play, Names-the-Same Political Contests: Dad for Judge, Son for Dad’s Old Delegate Seat

  1. M Siero on February 28, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Glad you are back!

  2. Incredulous on March 1, 2018 at 12:00 am

    When will it ever end? First Big Mike, now Mini Mike. Will Pipkin make a return? Should be interesting

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