Monday, December 9, 2013

The Curious Case of Wade Kach

Recently I had an op-ed published in the Frederick News Post which describes the so-called “walking dead” of Maryland politics – characters who continue shuffling around the state’s political landscape even though they have or retain little practical relevance.

I wanted to follow up on one of the walkers (as they call them on The Walking Dead TV show): outgoing Delegate Wade Kach (R-5B).

I have a particular interest in Delegate Kach because, being a native northern Baltimore County boy, he was one of my delegates for much of the time I lived in the area. Indeed, he was first elected to the Maryland legislature in 1974, when I was eight years old.

At one time his fellow delegates from the old Timonium-centric 10th Legislative District were Ellen Sauerbrey and Bob Ehrlich. Sauerbrey served as minority leader and was nearly elected governor; Ehrlich was elected to Congress and eventually became governor himself. Next year, Kach leaves the Maryland House of Delegates after 40 years in state government.

Genteel and affable, Kach built a reputation among those of us in Baltimore County GOP circles as something of a lone wolf who, despite his longevity, didn’t really have much to show for all his years in Annapolis. A few of us called him the “papier mache delegate” in that, while everyone agreed he was a nice guy, none of us had a clear picture of what exactly he stood for.

So why is Kach leaving the legislature after 40 years? 

Some of it might have to do with the realities of legislative redistricting in Baltimore County. But I think the main reason lies with the political realities of reversing his position on perhaps the most controversial issue to come before the Maryland General Assembly in a generation: gay marriage.

After consistently been on record as opposing gay marriage for his entire career, Delegate Kach flip-flopped just prior to the General Assembly’s vote on gay marriage legislation in 2013.

At the time, Kach issued the following statement:
Over the span of my career in the Maryland General Assembly, I have worked hard to take thoughtful, considered positions on laws that affect the rights and liberties of our friends and neighbors.
“My constituents sent me to Annapolis to represent them and use my best judgment. They did not send me to sit in judgment of the lives of others.
"As a proud member of the party of Lincoln, I believe that we as legislators should be more concerned with relieving the tax burden of families than telling them how to behave in their own homes.
"Like so many others, my thoughts on the issue of civil marriage have evolved over the course of recent months as a result of much reflection and listening to good people on both sides of this issue. Instrumental to my decision are the enhanced protections for churches, clergy, and faith leaders in my community and in communities around the state.
"While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families -- who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others.
"Tomorrow I will cast my green vote with great confidence that this bill protects religious freedom and that the issue will ultimately be decided by the voters of our state."

By the way, I just checked the still-active Wade Kach for Delegate website. The statement above is conspicuously missing from the press releases section of the site.

Anyway, at the time Kach revised his position, his former seatmate Ellen Sauerbrey told The Patch, "If his was the one vote the governor needed then he will be held accountable by a lot of people."

Now, my quarrel is not with Kach’s ultimate stand on the issue. I too ultimately came to support it (after some aggressively lobbying by a few Generation Y friends who changed my thinking), and I blogged and voted accordingly.

Rather I fault Kach for the ostrich-like manner in which he handled this issue with respect to his constituents. He materially changed his position, issued a statement which did little to explain an abrupt change in principles, and now seems content to never speak of it again.

In my view, a responsible legislator would have organized a town hall-style meeting in order to have responded proactively to the concerns of his largely conservative constituency. A teacher by profession, it surprises me that Kach neglected this obvious opportunity to educate his constituents. The fact that he failed to do so has fed various conspiracy theories as to why exactly Kach flip-flopped his position.

According to my fellow bloggers at Red Maryland, Kach changed positions after the O’Malley Administration dangled a juicy six figure state government job in front of him. To date that has not materialized, but that doesn’t mean it won’t at some point, perhaps when O’Malley’s anointed successor, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, succeeds him.

Another theory is that Kach received promises of support from Senate President Mike Miller and others should he decide to take on renegade Democratic Senate Senator Jim Brochin, a thorn in the side of the Annapolis establishment.

This scenario has not materialized either for several likely reasons. 

First, Brochin is a ferocious campaigner with a history of success attracting crossover Republican votes. Second, marriage equality failed to pass in Baltimore County, and it performed especially poorly in the areas of northern Baltimore County encompassed by Brochin’s redrawn senatorial district. Chris Cavey, a former Baltimore County GOP chairman with solid conservative credentials who has announced his candidacy, can be expected to club Kach over the head with his flip flop should he enter that primary race.

When lawyers are looking to file a lawsuit, they engage in the process of forum shopping. In other words, they look for the most favorable court in which to bring their case. That seems to be much the process in which Wade Kach and his supporters find themselves now.

Realizing that his career in state elective politics is over, Kach now seems to believe that he can reset his career by parachuting into Baltimore County politics instead.

This summer, Kach announced he was challenging first term incumbent County Councilman Todd Huff (R-3rd). While Huff has had his challenges, he has amassed a record of accomplishment, demonstrated strong fundraising prowess, and drawn bipartisan support across the Baltimore County political establishment.

While the Kach for County Council campaign team has demonstrated a white tube-socked sense of earnestness based on some of their campaign trail pictures, it also exudes a sense of confusion. Case in point:

  • There is no Wade Kach for County Council web page. Instead, visitors to the old delegate site are invited to click on a button leading them to a newly-created subpage referencing Kach’s attempted change in careers while offering few specifics.

  • On her personal Facebook page, Wade Kach’s wife Evelyn’s profile picture shows her holding up a Wade Kach for Delegate sign, and wearing a Wade Kach for Delegate tee shirt, as opposed to a photo tailored to the new campaign. 

Look, I think Kach is a decent citizen-legislator who got caught up in a very difficult issue that, politically speaking, he could have handled better. But forty years of service on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore County in Annapolis is not only a record to be proud of, it’s enough.

Rightly or wrongly, Kach’s flip-flop has given many Baltimore County residents reason to associate him with the kind of “get along to go along” they hate about Annapolis politics. Will they be willing to bring it to the Towson Courthouse?