Thursday, April 18, 2013

"MDGOP to Bloggers: Drop Dead"

Hey, MDGOP…was it something I said?

That’s what my first thought was when I read the party’s policy on credentialing bloggers interested in covering its spring convention this weekend (as reported by The Sun’s Michael Dresser).

The policy reminds me of that famous New York Daily News  headline regarding President Ford’s reaction to New York City’s insolvency in the 1970s: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

According to the “MDGOP to Bloggers: Drop Dead” policy, the MDGOP is only allowing “credentialed members of the media” to cover the event, and “will not allow journalists to register as ‘media’ for the purpose of writing a personal online blog.”

Bloggers can still attend the floor festivities, of course…at a cost of $75. That’s about enough gas money to get David Ferguson back to South Carolina, if not back.

If such a policy existed during the previous party chairman’s race in 2010, then it was certainly not enforced. Back then I followed the chairman’s vote via Facebook dispatches sent from the convention from Red Maryland’s Mark Newgent. I followed up with Newgent, who stated he was unaware of any such policy being in force back then.

Clearly this policy, as communicated by MDGOP Executive Director David Ferguson, is a petulant response to the steady string of criticisms the party establishment has received from me and many other members of the blogosphere.

There is much diversity of opinion among bloggers, and we certainly don’t always agree on everything. But, independently we have criticized the recent missteps of the MDGOP and its interim chairman, Diana Waterman, with a high degree of unanimity.

This campaign to reform the way MDGOP does business has an “X-Men United” feel to it. Clearly the defenders of the status quo are feeling the pressure, as evidenced by some of their questionable crisis communications maneuvers. And that must have them collectively shaking in their boots.

It should also be noted that the MDGOP’s restrictive policy against bloggers bucks the trend evident among other conservative leaning organizations.

When I worked at the 2000 Republican Convention, space was reserved for bloggers to cover the convention proceedings for the first time ever. Since then, conservative organizations hosting events such as CPAC have largely integrated bloggers and traditional media into the same space (as fellow blogger Jeff Quinton reports).

Interestingly, in response to an inquiry from another blogger, Ferguson responded that only bloggers with “sponsoring media outlet like the Washington Post, Annapolis Capital, or WBAL” can be credentialed.

Does anyone else get the irony of a state GOP official extolling members of the alleged “liberal media” as examples of legitimate journalism? I’m not sure even Ferguson himself does.

In the end, I don’t think the MDGOP’s pathetic attempt at a crackdown on bloggers will have the intended chilling effect. We’re all going to be at the convention. We’re all going write what we would have written originally without paying David Ferguson $75.

The only difference is that, while our criticisms before were born of political disagreement, David Ferguson and his ham-handed policy has now interjected personal resentment among bloggers into the situation as well. He has also signaled definitively where his personal loyalties lie. If anyone other than Diana Waterman is elected chairman on Saturday, this stunt has likely sealed David Ferguson’s fate as far as keeping his job is concerned.

My late father used to say, “People would rather you urinate on their faces than ignore them.” The fact that the MDGOP has moved away from ignoring bloggers and towards a crude attempt at stifling and exclusion is an unmistakable sign of weakness on the part of the establishment and its defenders.  

Gandhi famously said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

The MDGOP establishment can no longer afford to ignore its critics. And its clumsy foray into censorship demonstrates that it lacks the energy and ideas to defeat them.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ellen Sauerbrey: "Showing Up Counts for Something"

One of the iron laws of MDGOP politics is the fact that, other things being equal, the establishment of the past will always support the establishment of the present.

We witnessed this phenomenon last year when a variety of party elders – the mausoleum wing of the MDGOP – lined up in support of Audrey Scott’s unsuccessful bid to become national committeewoman.

At the time, one of Mrs. Scott’s most ardent backers was former GOP gubernatorial nominee, House Minority Leader, and Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey.

Well, Mrs. Sauerbrey has jumped into the fray again, this time by circulating a letter in support of interim MDGOP Chairman Diana Waterman’s bid to serve out the remainder of departed Chairman Alex Mooney’s term.

Mrs. Sauerbrey’s message follows in its entirety:

GOP Friends, 
The Maryland Republican Central Committee will make an important decision in a few weeks, selecting a new Chairman to fill out the remainder of the term to which Alex Mooney was elected. Needless to say, the coming year is a critical one, leading up to the 2014 election.  Our priority and our common mission must be to elect Republicans dedicated to our values of conservative limited government, personal responsibility and individual freedom.  We cannot afford the luxury of division and infighting. 
Congratulations on the excitement and debate surrounding the campaign for chairman.  However, instead of a spirit of unity, I hear concerns about   “the establishment” vs “the activists”…  “insiders” vs “outsiders”.   Clearly, we need both.  We need  seasoned leadership and experience and we must fully embrace new activists,  new energy, and new ideas  if we are to turn around the declining trajectory of the Maryland Republican Party... 
Diana Waterman has shown me both.    For the past few years, she has worked tirelessly on campaigns and party building activity.    Showing up counts for something and Diana seems to be everywhere.  Being State Party Chairman is hard and often thankless work. I believe  Diana is prepared to put the time and energy into the job. 
I share the concern that our party has failed to fully embrace groups like the Tea Party and Campaign for Liberty,  that are a source of highly motivated, dedicated, and often young volunteers.  Diana has committed to me her intent to establish an Advisory Committee that will welcome  and involve the vital  energy and ideas of these groups. 
She has given considerable thought to a comprehensive program to move the party forward.  I hope you will give her a chance to implement it..I support Diane’s candidacy and will do what I can to help her and the party succeed. Ellen

Let me go through Mrs. Sauerbrey’s letter line by line.

Ellen Says: “Needless to say, the coming year is a critical one, leading up to the 2014 election.  Our priority and our common mission must be to elect Republicans dedicated to our values of conservative limited government, personal responsibility and individual freedom.  We cannot afford the luxury of division and infighting.”

My Take: This is a pervasive thought among members of the MDGOP establishment: Dissent in any form constitutes “division and infighting” and is unacceptable. This same sentiment caused a Talbot County central committee official to purge from that party’s website comments that were critical of interim GOP chair Diana Waterman. How ironic that a party which stresses personal freedom would resort to Soviet-style tactics to insulate its leaders from fair criticism.

Ellen Says: “However, instead of a spirit of unity, I hear concerns about   ‘the establishment’ vs ‘the activists’…  ‘insiders’ vs ‘outsiders’”.   

My Take: For me, this was the most interesting part of Mrs. Sauerbrey’ statement in that, based on the language she uses, she seems to be responding directly to points I made in a prior blog post, and in a subsequent op-ed which recently ran in the Baltimore Sun.  I’m certainly flattered to have drawn a rebuttal from one of the MDGOP’s barons. In any event, these are organic and not contrived concerns resulting from the disconnect which exists between party regulars and grassroots activists.  Unless the MDGOP addresses them directly and honestly, they will remain.

Ellen Says: “We need seasoned leadership and experience and we must fully embrace new activists,  new energy, and new ideas  if we are to turn around the declining trajectory of the Maryland Republican Party...”

My Take: No argument from me there. Indeed, I give Ellen credit for offering a sanguine view of the MDGOP's political fortunes.

This contrasts with the fanciful account presented by Louis Pope, who in his recent letter writes: 

“After all the harsh and nasty emails and comments by some in our Party I feel terrible to have put Diana in such an awkward position, over the last three years she has been a driving force on the success of the Maryland Republican Party. She has given of her time, talented, and her own financial resources to keep our Party strong and vibrant…”

Um, let me review modern history:

2006: Bob Ehrlich loses.

2008: Andy Harris loses as John McCain carries his district by 19 points.

2010: Bob Ehrlich loses by a bigger margin than he did in 2006.

2012: The GOP loses one of its two remaining members of Congress, and is badly beaten on the ballot questions.

Exactly what “success” is Louis Pope referring to?

Ellen Says:Diana Waterman has shown me both.    For the past few years, she has worked tirelessly on campaigns and party building activity.    Showing up counts for something and Diana seems to be everywhere.  Being State Party Chairman is hard and often thankless work. I believe  Diana is prepared to put the time and energy into the job.”

My Take: Woody Allen famously said that, “Half of life is just showing up.” I’m not sure that is the primary characteristic people want in a party chairman. Vision matters as well. Based on Mrs. Waterman’s performance at the Montgomery County chairman’s debate I attended, she appears to be a caretaker for the party’s status quo. In other words, she’s an Aaron, not a Moses.

Ellen Says:I share the concern that our party has failed to fully embrace groups like the Tea Party and Campaign for Liberty,  that are a source of highly motivated, dedicated, and often young volunteers.”

My Take: The rules changes adopted at the GOP convention in Tampa last summer are a major reason the groups Ellen mentions feel alienated towards the party regulars. Diana Waterman served on the Convention Rules Committee alongside Louis Pope.  Yet she has never publicly disclosed exactly what her role was with respect to the rules changes.

Ellen Says:I support Diane’s (sic) candidacy and will do what I can to help her and the party succeed.”

My Take: If you’re taking the time to endorse someone, one would hope you’d at least get the person’s name right in the endorsement.

Anyway, reading Mrs. Sauerbrey’s missive makes me wonder when other past GOP luminaries will weigh in on the chairman's race as well.  

Rest assured that, should Bob Ehrlich, Michael Steele, Roscoe Bartlett, Charles “Mac” Mathias, or the Teds (McKeldin and Agnew) opine, I’ll letcha know. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Back to the Blogging Barnyard

So, I took a brief sabbatical from blogging, but events in the MDGOP chairman’s race have necessitated that I climb back in the arena. So here goes.

First, here is my latest op-ed piece in the Frederick News Post detailing another potential liability interim MDGOP Chairman Diana Waterman faces – namely, her questionable decision to name a black cow on her Queen Anne’s County farm “Oprah.” Now, this isn’t news in that the story broke more than two years ago on a Queen Anne’s County blog, and was then picked up by the Baltimore Sun shortly thereafter. But since Mrs. Waterman threw her hat into the chairman’s race, it has received new attention and new relevance.

Why do I think this story matters? Well, the media is dominated by people who are generally looking for opportunities to characterize Republicans as, at best, venal idiots or, at worst, racists. Minimally, Mrs. Waterman’s bovine misadventure, which reeks of poor judgment and insensitivity, provides the media with yet another example of GOP buffoonery. Perhaps more seriously, this episode compromises Mrs. Waterman’s ability to broaden the party’s outreach to minorities. In other words, will the African American voters who make up 30 percent of the state’s population take anything a woman who equates an African American icon with a black farm animal says seriously?

Second, I attended the MDGOP Chairman Candidate Forum organized by Dwight Patel and the Montgomery County GOP last Thursday. All in all, the forum itself was a drama-free affair typified by differences in style as much as substance. Mrs. Waterman was very much the status quo candidate; she tried to bring every answer back to initiatives in which the party was presently engaged. Collins Bailey, whom I’d never met or heard speak before, projected as the glib substitute teacher at times. He was the only candidate to stand and try to engage members of the audience through body language. During his presentation, he described himself as being a “salesman” by profession, which explains why I felt like he was speaking to a roomful of sales trainees at times. Red Maryland’s Greg Kline, an attorney, came across as thoughtful, well-prepared, and erudite.

The most memorable moment of the forum came, as you might imagine, when the issue of Nicolee Ambrose’s removal from the RNC Rules Committee was raised. Seeming nervous yet rehearsed, Mrs. Waterman (who admitted not having been politically active prior to 2005) launched in a defense of her decision to replace Ambrose with National Committeeman Louis Pope. Rather than discuss why she felt Pope was a better fit, her defense centered more on process than substance. At one point, she likened herself to a president who exercised her right to withdraw a Supreme Court nomination prior to Senate confirmation. Kline sharply rebutted her points in what was perhaps the most contentious moment of the rather polite affair.

The event wasn’t without fireworks, however, as fellow blogger Brian Griffiths engaged in a heated exchange with MDGOP official John Wafer. Wafer, who reportedly called Joe Steffen and me “character assassins” in a Facebook posting, is the self-appointed defender of the faith of the MDGOP establishment.

(With all this talk about pit bull legislation going on in Annapolis, based on his Facebook comments and behavior the other night, I see Wafer as a “Pit Yorkie” – in other words, someone who yaps a lot in defense of others, but ultimately make no substantive contribution to the debate).

Anyway, Diana Waterman and her disproportional minion left the venue before her opponents did. They stayed and mingled with a crowd which, as far as I can tell, was more inclined to be friendly to Bailey or Kline. I’m not a member of the Central Committee, but if I was I’d vote for Greg Kline based on last Thursday’s performance.

Lastly, during my post-event conversation, I happened upon the following interesting bit of information regarding Diana Waterman, Louis Pope, and the RNC Rules Committees.

Yes, that’s right, there are TWO Rules Committees. According to my well-informed source:

“The RNC Standing Committee on Rules is composed of one RNC member from each state, elected by the 3 RNC members from that state by majority vote. They are chosen after the national convention, and serve until the start of the next national convention. This is the committee that Nicolee was briefly on. Louis served on this committee for the 2004-2008 and 2008-2012 terms. 
“Prior to each national convention, the convention delegates from each state elect one man and one woman to serve on each of four committees: platform, credentials, permanent organization, and rules. In 2012, the Maryland convention delegates elected Louis Pope and Diana Waterman to serve on this committee.” 
So, in addition to his regular service on the RNC Rules Committee, Louis Pope also served on the one that convened at the convention – and supported the new party rules anathema to so many activists. And, Diana Waterman personally worked to pass them as well.

For me, this changes the tenor of the entire Pope/Ambrose Rules Committee controversy. Originally I assumed that Mrs. Waterman removed Ambrose from the Rules Committee for reasons of personal animosity (Ambrose defeated Waterman bestie Audrey Scott during last year’s national committeewoman’s race) and loyalty to fellow establishmentarian Pope. But in light of this new information, it is clear that Waterman’s choice was for philosophical as well as personal reasons.

The choice for MDGOP comes down to this: If you like the new RNC rules then support the people who passed them (Waterman and Pope). If you don’t, support those aligned with Ambrose, who is working to repeal them (Kline or Bailey).

Anyway, the RNC meets in Hollywood, California later this week. I’ll keep you posted on what happens next.