A Look Backward, Then Forward
There have been volumes written in the Republican blogosphere about Maryland’s Republicans exiting the “Ehrlich-era” and forging ahead, finding a new direction with a new leader. Change is good, it brings new ideas and new people; however, a little perspective is needed before we close out this era.
Twenty years ago Maryland had just elected Congressman Wayne Gilchrest of the 1st District, thus becoming only the third Republican in an eight person delegation. The only Republicans from Maryland were Reps. Helen Delich Bentley and Connie Morella. Roscoe Bartlett would follow two years later – in 1992.
In the 1990 version of the Maryland General Assembly there were only nine GOP senators and 25 Republican members of the House of Delegates; the House was lead by Ellen Sauerbrey. Bob Ehrlich was a young man in the middle of his second term as a delegate. We were a very small and overlooked minority.
The 1994 Contract with America revolution brought the GOP totals in the State Senate up to 14 and the House delegation to 41. The tide of change that year swept Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., into the U.S. House and placed Ellen Sauerbrey just a few votes shy of residing in Government House.
1994 also brought about a division in the party with the Sauerbrey/Bentley Civil War. Both ladies were forces within the party and opponents in a heated primary; each had plenty of friends. Baltimore County was not only their home, but the epicenter of political division. Moving very naturally into the gap of leadership was the young up-and-coming, just elected Congressman, Bob Ehrlich…and so the Era of Ehrlich began.
The GOP, especially in Baltimore County, learned a lot from this “Time of Ehrlich.” We increased party activities, appealed to cross-over voters, stirred excitement in the grassroots when we had a whiff of power for four short years and learned how to raise “real” money.
Our party activities and club building started just after the 1996 presidential election. The Maryland Republican Party at the time – and pre-motor/voter – had an active voter registration program and plan; everyone was working toward a goal of building the party. Our GOP congressional delegation of four worked to fill speakers at dinners and reached out to candidates down the ballot.
We continued to build an appeal to the cross-over voter even as the Democrats continued to out register Republicans. There was a need for the conservative Democrats to find someone with similar values.
In rural Maryland conservative Democrat voters were morphing to GOP candidates as their party veered to the left. A similar occurrence was happening in the blue-collar portions of Bob Ehrlich’s 2nd congressional district. The Glendenning legislative re-districting maps were re-drawn by the courts, opening window of opportunity.
The 2002 elections brought an appealing GOP candidate with an excellent conservative resume to challenge the Democrat lieutenant governor who lacked legislative prowess. It was the right place at the right time. After about 40 years, the GOP would gain a whiff of power and control the executive branch of Maryland’s government.
But like children trying to share a new toy, we didn’t understand or play nice, and subjugated ourselves to the back row once again. Everyone opined to how this new found authority should be used…and no one had the experience or historical knowledge of Republican governance; so many became unhappy.
One undeniable fact learned by the GOP in the Ehrlich years was how to raise money. In 1994 we were ecstatic when Sauerbrey, Inc. raised $1 million. Projecting that into 2010 dollars it would be equal to Ehrlich raising $1.5 million in 2010. He, in fact, raised $9 million – in seven months! An example of how much of a difference 20 years makes.
Over the course of three election cycles Governor Ehrlich raised approximately $40 million. In addition to that millions more were raised, by Ehrlich World, for down ballot candidates and incumbent legislators statewide. GOP candidates were taught and were helped to fund raise to competitive levels…our best lesson learned.
The Ehrlich influence on politics in Maryland, Republican politics in specific, is deep. Most players in the political arena do not remember pre-1994. Very few members of the Republican State Central Committee, who met in Annapolis two weeks ago, were active prior to 2002… so almost all were directly influenced, in some fashion, by Bob Ehrlich – like it or not.
So, what’s ahead post-Ehrlich for the Grand Old Party in Maryland? Exciting times – if we keep our heads together and do not implode over the dramas of the past.
Every candidate for MDGOP chairman publically pledged their support to build the party and to help new chairman, Alex Mooney, in that endeavor, including a gracious introduction of the new chair at the convention by runner-up Mary Kane. (I heard a unity theme…not reported in the press.)
Money drives everything. It is communication, staff, programs and training seminars. There are plenty within the ranks of MDGOP who can organize, plan and have a vision of where the party should be in the next four years. The key for growth and change will be fueling the train with dollars.
Chairman Mooney understands fundraising and is very accomplished with his skills. MDGOP’s current executive director, Kim Jorns, is a proven expert at fundraising, having honed her skills in both Wisconsin and Virginia. Many candidates learned on the campaign train how to raise money, and Bob Ehrlich proved repeatedly to everyone it is possible. MDGOP only needs to perform the task.
Changes in leadership have proven to be effective with MDGOP. Certainly the enthusiasm brought to the party by former Chair Audrey Scott is proof positive that the party is alive and financially viable. Everyone within the ranks agree Chairman Mooney will continue the positive influence to the MDGOP coffers.
Mr. Mooney starts out with a party which is debt free, looking forward, wanting to grow and to effect positive change. Combine that with his skills learned as a legislator, an ambitious new core of officers and change for Republicans in Maryland will soon be on the horizon.