Less than a month before Maryland’s Republican party elects a new chairman, Montgomery County’s GOP leader says the party’s grassroots and established factions are at odds.
Bitter attacks between party members have flooded the blogosphere and social media, as the chairman election approaches. It will be at the party’s April 19-20 spring convention.
At the center of the quarrel are actions by the party’s leadership, Interim Chairwoman Diana Waterman and Executive Director David Ferguson.
What has drawn ire within the party includes: Ferguson’s March 22 trip to South Carolina to counter a visit by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D); the party canceling a leadership training; Waterman’s removal of Nicolee Ambrose from the Republican National Convention Standing Committee on Rules; and Waterman’s defense of these events.
Waterman was unavailable for comment.
Ferguson refused to comment.
Complicating the controversy is the race to replace Republican Party Chairman Alex X. Mooney, who resigned effective March 1.
Roll Call reported March 11 that Mooney bought land in West Virginia and is considering a run for the Mountain State’s 2nd District seat in the House of Representatives.
West Virginia’s 2nd District currently is represented by U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican planning to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Waterman, Greg Kline of Anne Arundel County and Collins Bailey of Charles County are running to replace Mooney.
Only those who support a candidate for chairman, or who support Ambrose, appear to be joining the fray, said Donald Murphy, a former Maryland district 12A delegate and more-than-casual GOP political observer.
“When we fight Democrats, it’s over politics and policy. When we fight with our own, its personal and petty,” Murphy said.
“It’s gotten out of control and ugly,” he said. “It’s embarrassing and unfortunate. These are the kinds of the fights that in the past were not hung out on the line. Now, everybody is weighing in on things that otherwise would have been part of the whisper campaign.”
For Montgomery, home of about 125,000 Republicans, the in-fighting and even the election won’t affect the county much in the grand scheme, said Mark Uncapher, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.
Montgomery will welcome the three chairman candidates at a forum next week. Uncapher said any of the candidates would do well as party leader and likened the upcoming election to a race for student council.
Murphy said he agreed, saying the campaign for party chairman is about personality, not politics.
“The Republican party apparatus does not have a carrot or a stick,” Murphy said. “Unless one of these candidates is my friend, and I want to get my friend in a position they want to be in, what does it matter to me who is chair?”
As for the controversy embroiling the candidates for chairman, Uncapher said the divergence between factions likely stems from frustration at the party’s showing in the 2012 election.
But Kline said the controversies are the reflection of a status quo that needs to change.
“The key is the way [the controversies] have been handled, not the decisions made, which I disagree with,” Kline said. “The way they were handled is what has been wrong with our party for a long time.”
Kline said the decisions by Waterman and Ferguson were made without informing members.
State party leadership is insular, like an elite country club, creating a gap between party activists and grassroots members and its leadership, he said.
“It’s caused a lot of distrust,” he said. “It’s only made some of these divisions worse. It hasn’t created an opportunity for folks to come together.”