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January 26, 2015

Failed Process Leads to Fractured Party

Jill King

While Del. Kathy Afzali (R., 4th) would love for this column to be about her, it isn't. Her issues run much deeper than a bi-weekly column can contain. Her actions against public officials and constituents are too egregious to document until closer to the 2018 election, although we shouldn't be shocked to see a few in the next four years.


What it is about is the processes taken by the central committees, those who are screaming for more streamlining procedural changes and definitions. As delegates and senators have been promoted to high profile jobs, not one county has performed the same process.


Even though the governor recently sent out an indication that he wants each committee to send him three names, many will cite the language used in the Maryland Constitution that states "a person."


There have been several precedents in the nominee process that have led to the request for three names. Gov. Parris Glendenning rejected a Senate applicant in Baltimore, due to previous ethics violations. Gov. Martin O'Malley went to court over his refusal to appoint an applicant from Prince George’s County’s Democratic Central Committee due to 20-year-old criminal charges.


Previous issues should have led to referendums to change the flaws in the Maryland Constitution. For that matter, why is party inferences even contained in this document?


Frederick County jumped the gun in its process to fill a seat that had not been vacated by Del. Kelly Schulz, until January 21, 2015. They chose to vote for the position January 2, 2015. The governor had not even requested nominations from the central committees of both Frederick and Carroll counties. As a matter of fact, Larry Hogan was still the governor-elect when the Frederick County Republican Central Committee offered its recommendation.


While we can understand that the Frederick County Central Committee was trying to get ahead of the game, due to the 30-day rule listed in the state’s Constitution for sending recommendations to the governor, they did not wait until a seat vacancy occurred before trying to fill it. They even invited Larry Helmeniak, a Carroll County Republican Central Committee member, to its meeting before cancelling the public meeting – deciding instead to meet in a private setting closed to the public.


Was this, then, an illegal meeting?


Another controversial process soon occurred, this time in Carroll County. Their problem right now is that the central committee there was partial to filling a Senate seat with someone they felt was slighted in the primaries – someone who ran for a District 1 County Council seat. As of today, Joe Getty, named to be Governor Hogan’s policy and legislative director, still has not turned in his resignation as a state senator.


The process they took is lazy. It would be natural to promote a delegate interested in stepping up, with a proven winning record, instead of bypassing them in righting what they perceived as a wrong. There is nothing in the rulebook against what they did, but the process they took was partial to what personal feelings the Central Committee members have or had.


The fact is that there really is no rulebook. A group of nine members, more or less depending on the county, can do whatever they want contrary to numbers from elections or what the public requests.


At any given time central committee members can vote for themselves to replace an elected person who leaves their position, when the Constitution only requires one name. Michael Hough, now a state senator representing District 4 this unsuccessfully. Washington County also sent in one name and the fact that he voted for himself was probably the reason why the seat went to Frederick County Commissioner Charles Jenkins. The abuse of power here is a sign of how the central committee members do so to further their own political careers.


On the other hand, Washington County took the high road and closed the application process and chose between two sitting delegates to promote to the Senate position. Sure there are going to be those against the one chosen, but their process followed a natural order. They will now have to seek applicants to fill the seat that will be vacant for delegate. It will be interesting how they go about this.


These problems are not new or particular to one party and how quickly people forget.


Here are some suggestions in making this process more clear, because I have never been fond of costly special elections. Nor have numbers shown that people will show up to vote, likely much worse than in primaries. They can also be affected by the same central committee members who refuse to support all of the party’s candidates in a general election, or by “king makers” who have money in the bank to fund multiple mailers.


·       Create criteria for promotions to Senate, then filling delegate seats.


·       Outline the criteria for applications. Pro-life, pro-choice is not a big tent issue. Numbers from actually running for the position are.


·       Open up the process. The central committee is composed of elected representatives and this is not a personnel position. Applications should be in public view, along with the votes as cast by the central committee members, who were elected to represent the public.


·       Provide a choice for the governor by submitting three names. The central committee doesn't perform background checks.


·       Stop allowing slates for central committee seats. They should be held individually responsible for their votes, like any other elected official. Besides, slates allow for a coattail effect.


While I am sure there are quite a few more, these would be great first steps. The fractioning of the parties by the many groups that fall under an "R" or "D" should not occur by the group that is supposed to create unity and promote all candidates.


The backroom deals need to stop. The voting public is disenfranchised by people they entrusted to do a job every time it occurs.


Retraining my brain for the future... conferring with the past.


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