This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. on May 2, 2013.
Maryland House Republicans chose a new leadership team Tuesday, electing Dels. Nicholaus Kipke (R-Dist. 31) of Pasadena and Kathy Szeliga (R-Dist. 7) of Perry Hall to be minority leader and minority whip, respectively.
The team replaces Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby, who has served as minority leader since 2007, and Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Dist. 37B) of Newcomb, who has been whip since 2011.
“I don’t think this election was any reflection on them,” Kipke told reporters after the caucus met in Annapolis. “The caucus is faced with a very tough election because of the gerrymandering that took place in the legislature recently, and we believe we have a plan that will best strengthen our caucus members into that election.”
O’Donnell said Thursday morning that the GOP caucus was narrowly divided in choosing its leadership team. He said he had no hard feelings and understands that “these leadership positions are not lifetime positions.”
Kipke said he plans greater outreach to center-right organizations throughout the state, such as Americans for Prosperity, Change Maryland and the various Republican central committees, to broaden the Republican support.
“We’re going to ask them to help us be messengers to those voters who don’t necessarily follow politics,” Kipke said.
Kipke has served in the General Assembly since 2007, Szeliga since 2011.
The state’s new legislative districts are expected to make the 2014 election difficult for Republicans, with one delegate predicting the GOP could lose as many as 10 of their 43 House seats.
Some delegates were concerned that O’Donnell wasn’t taking an active enough role in fundraising and identifying potential Republican candidates, whereas Democats seemed to be doing the opposite. Party morale also has taken a blow from a series of Democratic policy victories, including an increase in the state’s gas tax and sweeping gun-control reforms.
Kipke and Szeliga declined to discuss how close the vote was.
“It’s family business, we took care of it behind closed doors, and at the end of the day, we are 43 strong members of the minority party,” Szeliga said.
“The caucus decided that it was time to head in a different direction, and I’m OK with that,” Donnell said. “I’ve been in the elected leadership for the last 10 years,” first as minority whip, then as minority leader in the House of Delegates. “Sometimes, a change in leadership is healthy.... I’m still committed to the Republican cause. I’m proud of the work we did.”
O’Donnell said the number of Republican delegates is at a “modern-day high” of 43 seats following the 2010 election, when he was part of an effort to successfully pick up six seats.
“In the end, I’ve always tried, usually at my own expense, tried to serve the greater good, and I look forward to” continuing that, he said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to represent the citizens of Calvert and St. Mary’s counties vigorously.... I will continue to be a soldier in the fields.”
Anne Arundel County Del. Ronald A. George (R-Dist. 30) of Arnold said many caucus members were torn on whether to support the change because they didn’t want it to be perceived as a sign of anger towards O’Donnell or Haddaway-Riccio.
Ultimately, the caucus felt there was something to be gained by turning over the leadership roles, George said. “We don’t like that the other party has the same [leadership] all the time,” he said, adding Kipke is well-respected and would do a great job.
But the selection of Kipke, a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, might be a sign that the party is moving further to the right, which is likely to make GOP candidates less electable in Maryland, said Donald Norris, chair of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. If that’s the case, “it just guarantees the party’s total irrelevance in Maryland,” Norris said.
Calvert Recorder Staff Writer Meghan Russell contributed to this story