Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What Should Maryland Republicans Do About Alex Mooney?

Looking back upon recent history, it seems that chairs of the Maryland Republican Party have as much likelihood of success, or longevity, as drummers in the fictional rock group Spinal Tap.

High rollin' John Kane served as party chairman during much of Bob Ehrlich’s term as governor, when the party achieved some fundraising success and served as an extension of the Ehrlich political machine. When he left the position after Ehrlich's 2006 defeat, the party was largely bankrupt, partly due to Kane's free-spending ways, and its partisans demoralized.

Veterinarian Jim Pelura then took the party’s helm during highly unfavorable circumstances. Amid party infighting and continuing complaints about finances, he walked away, frustrated, from the job before the expiration of his term.

Then former Ehrlich Planning Secretary Audrey Scott rode in to save the day. Mrs. Scott claimed to have achieved great fundraising success during her year as chair, almost solely due to the largess of then-RNC chairman Michael Steele. But Mrs. Scott’s deficiencies – including inflated fundraising totals, a failure to recruit a candidate for Attorney General, and her insistence at directing resources at the expense of other candidates to Andy Harris (who was doing perfectly fine raising money on his own) and Bob Ehrlich (who lost to Governor O’Malley by 15 points during their 2010 rematch) – were exposed when she ran, unsuccessfully, to represent the state on the Republican National Committee, usually a gimme job for former party chairs.

Then former Senator Alex Mooney won the job in 2010. I nominally supported Mooney that year. While I saw him as a clean break from the party’s recent, Ehrlich-centric past, I also wondered if he wanted the job, or simply a platform from which to carry on his political ambitions.

Now, in light of the MDGOP’s disastrous election returns, the hanging party has ridden into town in search of Mooney.

The gentlemen at Red Maryland laid out the case for removing Mooney from office. They make some very valid points, including the MDGOP’s humiliating shut out among the three ballot questions which partisans worked so diligently to get on the ballot, yet lacked any semblance of a strategy to actually get passed (I blogged about the ballot initiative debacle here).

As I ponder Mooney’s fate, I find myself asking two questions.

First, if the party dumps Mooney, who will the next chairman be?

Hierarchically speaking, First Vice Chair Diana Waterman is next in line. I don’t know Mrs. Waterman personally, but her reputation is that of a loyal, diligent, hard-working, devoted partisan. However, she is very much an establishment figure, and is aligned with the Audrey Scott wing of the party. Elevating her will likely not produce the kind of sweeping change many partisans are demanding.

Many cite the possibility of a sizzle candidate emerging, such as 2012 Senate nominee Dan Bongino. After all, Bongino racked up some impressive fundraising totals due to the efforts of fundraiser Hillary Foster Pennington, and built a grassroots network of 3000 people across the state.

Such pondering leads me to the second question: If Mooney goes, who worth having would actually want the job, especially given the recent history of infighting and rebellion and the party’s seemingly grim future prospects?

Given these challenges, can a new chairman personally make things better, or will he/she simply follow his/her immediate predecessors onto the scaffold after another disastrous election cycle?

The case against Mooney has several different elements, but it is clear that the failure of the ballot initiatives is the tipping point in terms of people demanding his ouster.

Indeed, Chairman Mooney should have played a traffic cop function with respect to the petition drives, discouraging those that lacked the strategy or resources to succeed during the ballot phase from moving forward.

He didn’t. And, as a result, the party is in a worse position than if the questions had never appeared on the ballot.

But, in all fairness, he was not singlehandedly responsible for getting them there. Neil Parrott, Tony Campbell, and others who blithely used the MarylandPetitions.com process as some kind of silver bullet have some things to answer for, too.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, while I am open to replacing Mooney, I don’t see anyone among the current crop of party leaders who would likely do a better job, assuming they even wanted it.

Chairman Mooney stated to me that he "doesn't think" he is running in 2014 for the 6th Congressional District seat just captured by Democrat John Delaney. If accurate, that removes one of the biggest criticisms partisans have had about him during the past two years.

Absent a consensus alternative arising, the members of the state Republican Central Committee may have to resign themselves to demanding answers and accountability from Mooney, and extracting from him a plan of corrective action.

That plan of corrective action might also include examining the extent to which the MDGOP’s Executive Director, David Ferguson, needs to be held accountable, too.

Mooney is a hands-off manager, and some of Ferguson’s operational decisions – including planning and executing a Red White and Blue fundraising dinner which netted only $8,000 for the party, and his rumored alliance with controversial GOP political consultant Lawrence Scott – has drawn criticism among some central committee members.

When I talked to Chairman Mooney at the party’s spring convention he said to me, “I’m not perfect, but at least I’m trying to do the right thing.”

I believe that.

Now, it is up to him to convince partisans that he’s the right person to lead the party out of its present moment of darkness. 

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