Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Healing the Rift"

Based on the reaction it got, I took my “MDGOP: The Ins Versus the Outs” blog entry and expanded it into an op-ed which ran in The Sun this morning. Enjoy.
And, in related news, there are reports that interim GOP Chairman Diana Waterman has chosen a campaign manager for her effort to retain the chairmanship when the state Republican Central Committee meets in April. No surprise that she’d pick the individual at the center of her most memorable political decision to date.

Rumor has it that she’s planning to pick Louis Pope as her campaign treasurer. Apparently, his “experience” presiding over the fleecing of the coffers of the 2012 Republican National Convention continues to be a big selling point with her.

But I digress.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pants on Fire?

Interim MDGOP Chair Diana Waterman issued a statement addressing the two recent controversies which have raised questions about her leadership abilities. (Michael Swartz reprints the message in its entirety on Monoblogue and provides  his own analysis as well).

Here I’m going to focus on Waterman’s explanation of controversy #1: MDGOP Executive Director David Ferguson decision to cancel the Pathfinders candidate training session in favor of a quixotic trip to South Carolina for the purpose of spreading the news about Governor Martin O’Malley’s failings.

Unfortunately, Waterman’s late-breaking account does not align with previously established facts.

Diana Waterman says…
“On Friday, our Executive Director, David Ferguson, participated in a joint Press Conference with the South Carolina GOP concerning Gov. O’Malley’s appearance at a South Carolina Democrat Issues Conference. This was a joint effort between the Republican Governor’s Association, the RNC, the SCGOP, and the MDGOP. It has received widespread press coverage, and showed Maryland Democrats that the MDGOP is on the offensive now.”

My Take…
On Friday, while Ferguson was engaging in his walkabout tour of South Carolina, the Maryland House of Delegates voted to hike the state’s gas tax by an estimated 87 percent. Neither Ferguson nor interim chairman Waterman issued any sort of statement. So, if the MDGOP is on the offensive, it’s certainly not in Maryland.

Diana Waterman says…
“While in South Carolina, David met with staff members of the State’s leading political leaders to invite them to Maryland for future MDGOP events and for Lincoln Day Dinners.”

My Take…
With which staffers did Ferguson meet? Which Lincoln Day dinners will benefit from this cavalcade of South Carolinians expected to come rolling into our state?

Diana Waterman says…
“For the past year or so, we have been providing opposition research, media briefing kits, and support to Republican State Parties across the United States wherever MOM has travelled (sic).”

My Take…
What sets South Carolina apart to the extent that this same approach would not have worked there?  During the height of a legislative session in which the Democrats who rule Annapolis are ramming through a gas tax, $1 billion in new spending, Second Amendment limitations, a repeal of the death penalty, subsidies for windmills, and other policies anathema to state Republicans, why would David Ferguson believe his time was best spent outside of Maryland?

Clearly the purpose of Ferguson’s folly was to raise his profile in the hopes of securing a better gig in a state with a more functional state party organization, or at one of the national party entities in DC. And Diana Waterman, his friend and ally, is giving him cover.

Diana Waterman says…
“Note – we are not planning to follow O’Malley across the United States in person, however, we will make sure that everywhere he goes, his record of failed leadership will precede him so that GOP Leaders can point it out while he is there!”

My Take…
On March 19th, John Wagner of the Washington Post reported:
“As he moves around the country in coming months, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) could have an uninvited traveling companion. 
“David Ferguson, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, vowed Tuesday that he or someone else affiliated with the state GOP will show up each time O’Malley attends an out-of-state event, starting this weekend in South Carolina. 
“O’Malley, frequently mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential contender, is planning to make an appearance Saturday at an 'issues conference' in Charleston at the invitation of South Carolina state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D), a 2014 gubernatorial hopeful. 
“Ferguson said he will counter with a press conference with GOP leaders in Columbia on Friday and be at the event site Saturday in Charleston. ‘Anytime O’Malley goes and makes a stop on his presidential parade, we’re going to follow him and let people know who the real Martin O’Malley is,’ said Ferguson. 
“Ferguson said the effort — dubbed the ‘No Left Turn Tour’ — is an outgrowth of previous work to arm Republicans in other states with background material on O’Malley, the former chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, when he visits.”

As Ferguson himself told Wagner, this was conceived as a national “tour” consisting of either himself or someone from the MDGOP “show(ing) up each time O’Malley attends an out-of-state event.” Waterman and Ferguson began backpedaling as to the specifics of the tour only after it drew an adverse reaction from activists.

Diana Waterman says…
Also, there was some concern that we rescheduled the Pathfinders Training scheduled for March 23rd so that David could go to South Carolina. This is incorrect. The training was rescheduled because Del. Ready could not be there.

My Take…
This is perhaps the biggest whopper of all.  Central Committee member Hillary Pennington reports a very different experience (this was originally posted on her Purple Elephant Politics Facebook page):
 “For what it's worth: I (Hillary) called to register 7 people for the March 23 Training in Wicomico County. When I heard it was rescheduled, I reached out to Del Ready thinking maybe they thought there just wasn't enough people. Del Ready told me flat out that he had told David weeks prior to Mar 23 that he would not be able to do the training because he had to be on the floor of the House. David then told him that he would still do it and find someone else to help out. Justin was the one who told me about David's opportunity to go to SC and the decision to reschedule. This was before everything blew up. I trust Del Ready's word and know he has no reason to lie.

Clearly Diana Waterman is feeling the heat as a result of her recent missteps. Are her pants on fire as well?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pope-A-Dope Politics

Fellow blogger Michael Swartz weighed in on recent GOP missteps on Monoblogue. You can read what he wrote here.

Swartz’s piece was especially interesting to me because of the following excerpt:

“In my original version of this post, I noted I had not yet spoken with Diana Waterman; however, I did speak to her briefly and candidly earlier tonight at the Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner. 
“In essence, Waterman told me the reasons she selected Louis Pope to be on the Rules Committee were simple: his experience in the national party on that committee and the length of tenure. It was a matter of ‘continuity,’ Diana said. From what I gathered, she wanted Nicolee to focus on other aspects in the state party.”

Now, someone is going to have to explain to me the virtue of “continuity” in a minority party whose electoral fortunes are as dismal as those of the MDGOP. Nonetheless, in light of what Waterman told Swartz, I thought it might be useful to review Louis Pope’s “experience” representing Maryland on the RNC, specifically as pertains to his biggest assignment to date.

On June 29, 2010, then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele announced that he had appointed Pope Treasurer of the Committee on Arrangements (COA), the entity charged with planning the GOP’s 2012 convention in Tampa, Florida. In the statement announcing the appointment, Steele praised Pope as, “a conscientious steward of donor money while serving as Chairman of the RNC Budget Committee,” adding that, “his exceptional qualifications will help make the Republican National Convention in Tampa a huge success.”

In hindsight, that was perhaps the high point of Pope’s brief, unhappy service as convention treasurer.

By fall 2010, multiple news sources started to report that the staff planning the convention were spending money at an alarming rate. According to the Washington Post, by September 2010, spending topped $636,800 according to FEC filings - 18 times the amount spent in a comparable period four years earlier.

The activities and hiring decisions of Belinda Cook, a former aide to Democratic Maryland State Senator Leo Green and longtime Steele crony who was serving in the newly-created position of “Convention Liaison,” drew special scrutiny. Despite having no event planning experience, Cook was earning $15,000 a month in salary on top of a $25,000 signing bonus. She had also hired relatives and friends for most of the convention staff positions, and the oceanfront mansion she rented for herself accounted for more than half the money the RNC spent on convention-related rent expenses during the third quarter of 2010.

Now, I worked on the 2000 convention in Philadelphia, so I have a unique perspective on these matters. By the time I arrived in Philadelphia in March 2000, the convention already had a manager (Chip DiPaula), a deputy convention manager (Maxene Fernstrom), and two co-chairs (RNC members Jan Larimer and Alec Poitevint) in place.

So, I was especially intrigued when I came across the following tidbit in the Post story:

“The Committee on Arrangements has neither a chairman nor broad membership. The only member is Louis M. Pope, the Republican National committeeman from Maryland, whom Steele appointed last summer as treasurer.”
So, in other words, at the time Cook and her clan were cleaning out the convention’s coffers, Louis Pope was the Committee on Arrangements.

In light of the broad criticism of the profligacy occurring in Tampa, Pope was compelled to issue a memo justifying all this spending.  According to a December 1, 2010 report in the Daily Caller:

“To show that the current spending levels are normal and, indeed, ‘less at the same stage’ as in 2008, Pope compares spending on the 2008 convention over a 10-month period to spending on the 2012 convention over a five month period. 
“Specifically, a chart lists spending from January 2007 to October 2007, 10 months, as compared to August 2010 to January 2011, five months, including two months that have not yet passed. 
“In the 10-month period in 2007, the Committee on Arrangements spent $1.8 million, while in the five-month period in 2010, the Committee on Arrangements spent $784,386. In making the case that the RNC is spending ‘less at the same stage’ in their letter, Cook, Pope and Holly Hughes, the chair of the Site Selection Committee, note that one 'area of greater expense is in legal bills, and that is because so many hotel and venue contracts have been negotiated and signed much earlier.' 
“Specifically, so far Steele’s convention managers have spent more than double on legal bills in the five-month period than over the 10-month period in 2007. The amount in 2012 is $210,000. One Republican source called TheDC unprompted early Wednesday in wonderment at that figure.
“There’s no way in hell there’s that much paperwork,” the source said. 
“The letter from Cook, Pope and Hughes says ‘The COA currently has just six people on staff, including interns.’ In FEC filings, two staff are listed receiving ‘intern stipends.’ One, Cory Sprunger, is receiving modest pay in line with typical stipend amounts for interns in political jobs. The other, Cook’s niece Pamela Kesner, was paid at a rate in September equating to a salary of $50,852. 
“The letter from Cook, Pope and Hughes notes that Republican donors should fear not, because ultimately, it will be taxpayers who foot the bill for the waterfront mansion and $50k-a-year intern niece. 
“Noting that expenses have been paid from a $1 million credit line, the letter says the Committee on Arrangements will ‘pay back that $1MM line of credit in full, next summer when the COA receives the roughly $16 million in federal funds provided to fund both the Republican and Democrat 2012 Conventions.’”

It seems to me that the “ultimately we’re only wasting taxpayers’ dollars, not RNC donor dollars” argument isn’t likely to resonate with too many Republicans.

Well, we all know what happened next.

Reince Priebus defeated Michael Steele for the RNC chairmanship on January 16, 2011. His first order of business was to clean house in Tampa. Cook and her relatives were fired that very night, and Pope was promptly replaced as COA Treasurer with RNC member Tony Parker.

Priebus announced the full membership of the COA on March 29, 2011. Pope wasn’t even allowed to remain as Maryland’s designed COA member, having been replaced by then-National Committeewoman Joyce Tehres. Interestingly, if you go to Pope’s biography on the RNC website, no mention is made of his embarrassing tenure as treasurer of the 2012 convention.

So, was this the “experience” Diana Waterman was thinking of when she decided to replace Ambrose with Pope on the RNC’s Rules Committee? If so, then she clearly lacks the substance to serve as an effective MDGOP chairman.

When it comes to the game of politics, Diana Waterman and Louis Pope are checkers players in a chess world.

Friday, March 22, 2013

MDGOP: The Ins Versus the Outs

Maryland Republican Party Executive Director David Ferguson’s decision to blow off a long-scheduled training session for candidates to shadow Governor O’Malley in South Carolina, and interim Chair Diana Waterman’s decision to remove National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose from the RNC Rules Committee, both serve to reinforce conclusions I drew about the MDGOP when I blogged about the National Committeewoman’s race a year.

The MDGOP consists of two primary factions: The “Ins” and the “Outs.”

The Ins consists of party regulars, especially creatures of the central committee apparatus.

The Outs are activists who first got involved through other activities, such as blogging, working on a campaign, running for office, or involvement in national political organizations.

The Ins want to preserve the primacy of the status quo.

The Outs want to change what they regard as a culture of failure.

The Ins believe in oligarchy, invariably choosing to recycle or resurrect the same individuals for various party roles and assignments. 

The Outs are receptive to attracting new faces and new energy to the party, and regard non-central committee-centric achievements as an advantage.

The Ins prioritize self promotion and helping their allies, cronies, or – in some cases – family members. 

The Outs want to focus on activities that help candidates win elections.

They’ll never admit it, but the Ins have quietly come to believe that the GOP's fortunes in Maryland will never change.

The Outs have made no such concession.

The Ins want to hold party office because they think they’re entitled to it.

The Outs want to hold party office because they want to do something with it.

The Ins are personified by people like Diana Waterman, Louis Pope, and David Ferguson – people of long service and scant accomplishments.

The Outs are represented by people like Nicolee Ambrose, Dan Bongino, and Greg Kline – people unafraid to deal with the consequences of pushing a resistant and reactionary establishment to embrace change.

If the Republican Party has a future in Maryland, it rests with the Outs, not the Ins. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Inspector Clouseau Politics

The Democrats who rule Annapolis are in the process of using the 2013 legislation session to check all the unchecked boxes on their ideological wish list. And, while many of the items being rammed through the legislature are anathema to state Republicans, for the past 24 hours one topic has dominated the conversation among the activists I have spoken to.

That would be the curious decision by MDGOP Executive Director David Ferguson to go on a national walkabout to spread the word about why Governor Martin O’Malley should not be president.

A lot of the decisions made by the MDGOP and its leaders puzzle me, and my reaction when I saw John Wagner’s story in the Washington Post was no exception.  People tend to regard Ferguson’s travel plans as stuck somewhere on the highway between silly and stupid. Fellow blogger Anthropocon’s assessment is a good representation of where the consensus seems to be.

The thought of Ferguson waging a national one-man assault against the O’Malley machine reminds me of this scene from The Pink Panther Strikes Again in which Inspector Clouseau attempts to break into a castle, with hapless yet hilarious results.

So why is Ferguson doing it? 

Maybe he sees this as a way to broaden his profile and, in the process, land a better gig in a state with a functioning Republican party or at one of the national party organizations.

Or, maybe, he sincerely believes his personal presence in states like South Carolina is the only thing that can dash O’Malley’s national ambitions. Clearly the state that gave us Strom Thurmond is, ideologically speaking, fertile ground for someone with Martin O’Malley's passion for higher taxes and spending.  It’s the domino theory used to justify the Vietnam War all over again. Without David Ferguson's man against the tank heroics, O’Malley may get a foothold in South Carolina, causing states like Idaho, Utah, and Alaska to tumble to him as well.

Behind the scenes, Ferguson and his allies have started to backpedal, questioning the accuracy of Wagner’s reporting and claiming that the South Carolina trip is a one-off event.

Still, the damage is done.

In order to make the South Carolina jaunt, Ferguson cancelled the Pathfinders candidate training session which he and Delegate Justin Ready have cohosted in the recent past. Delegate Ready can’t participate this year because his presence is required in Annapolis. Ferguson had promised activists that he would soldier on without Ready, then abruptly cancelled Pathfinders anyway because the citizens of the Palmetto State apparently need his leadership and wisdom more.

Simply put, scheduling the trip was silly, but cancelling Pathfinders has, in my opinion, left Ferguson and his political mentor, MDGOP Chairman wannabe Diana Waterman, damaged. With municipal elections coming up in Annapolis and Frederick, 2013 is an election year in Maryland, as is 2014. This national tour idea speaks loudly to the fact that the priorities of the MDGOP establishment are misguided.

As for me, I really don’t mind if Ferguson goes on tour. My only question: If he leaves, does he have to come back?