AA GOP Central Committee: Words Can’t Even Describe It
The circus came to town in Annapolis on Wednesday night as the much ballyhooed Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee Meeting. As you would suspect if you have been paying attention, Central Committee Chairman Mike Collins was removed from his position. But how he got there and the dynamics of how we got from the start of the meeting to its conclusion are interesting to say the least.
First, let’s start with the crowd:
That’s only the left half of the room. I didn’t get a chance to take a good shot of the right hand side. There were fifty-four people there who were not part of the Central Committee. It was like a veritable all-star game of Anne Arundel County GOP politics. Tom Gardner; former Delegate Jim Rzepkowski; Dave Fischer; Dan Bowen; Greg Kline; Chuck Gast; Lynn Buhl; Bill Gillette; Dave Blanch; Mike Malone; John Pilkins; Nora Keenan; Joyce and Chuck Thomann; Ron Elfenbein; Jimmy Braswell, plus sitting Delegates Dwyer, Kipke, King and Costa. It seemed more like a bad family reunion than the reason that we will really there to attend.
And that doesn’t even take into account reporters from the Capital, Sun, and Examiner…
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Anyway, the meeting had barely been gaveled to order when the parliamentary maneuvering began. First there was a motion to special order the removal of the Chairman to the beginning of the meeting, which Collins attempted to ignore using his prerogative as Chairman. Then finally (after Gary Middlebrooks began to scream) the Parliamentarian was called in and Middlebrooks was recognized. Collins kept his cool the entire time, which was interesting.
Then the members debated the Amendment. Then there was an amendment to the amendment. This went on like this for a while, before finally it was agree upon that the removal of the Chairman could be special ordered after the pledge, the invocation, and the introduction of guests.
Then, Debbie Belcher in her infinite wisdom attempted to virtually cut off the ability for citizens to address the Committee. She wanted to take the five minutes allocated to all speakers who had signed up, plus the three minutes allocated to others who wished to speak and cut everybody down to one minute. It was completely unsurprising that Belcher, who has been upfront with her criticisms of those who criticize her for her uninspired, totalitarian tactics, attempted to shut off debate before it ever got started. Given the number of people who were in attendance, it was appalling that a Central Committee member would try to shut off comments from the public. Finally, common sense came to the forefront and all speakers were allowed three minutes.
Finally, we moved on to the pledge, the invocation, and the introduction of guests. Which, with 54 people in the room, took a while. The opportunity was also given to add speakers to the agenda. I was one of several who took the opportunity to address the Committee.
Every single person who addressed the Committee believed that what the Committee was doing was wrong. That the underhanded tactics of those who plotted this were despicable and beneath the Republican Party. Several members also raised concerns that the reasons for uprooting Collins are ideological, that certain members of the Committee (read: Belcher) want to impose ideological purity upon the party, something that is the antithesis of meaningful concepts such as the Big Red Tent. When it was my turn to speak, I started with the only words that came to mind at the time:
This is the first time that I have ever been ashamed to be a Republican.
And it is the God’s honest truth. A small cadre of Republicans acting like little Napoleons plotting a scheming like it was 1814 in Elba. People who were so afraid of the truth of what they were up to that they resisted any and all calls for reason to come clean with their accusations and come clean with what they were trying to do.
I repeat once more; Every single person who addressed the Committee believed that what the Committee was doing was wrong. That’s an important point.
Incidentally, during the entire time that citizens were speaking, Don Dwyer looked bored, disinterested, and like he could not be possibly bothered by what the people were saying.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the members moved into discussion on the question. Mike Collins took the opportunity to give some remarks and deny some of the things that he had been accused of. He also related to the fact that his original intention, ironically enough, had been to resign this month and turn the Committee over to Jerry Walker. Seriously. At least until all of this stuff started.
Then, for most of the rest of the evening, Collins was used as a pinata by some members of the Committee. Debbie Belcher launched into a semi-sensical rant about nothing in particular. Former Democrat Tom Redmond attempted to spin the situation by providing a great B.S. story about how the Committee didn’t want their discussions to become public “for the good of the party.” He also went on to state that the intent of the Committee was not to have secret meetings, but basically admitted that in the end that’s what wound up happening! It was surreal.
Robin Bissett was one of only two members, along with Eric Flamino, to come to Collins’ defense. Robin refuted a lot of the things that Redmond was saying and indicated that Redmond was not telling the truth.
Only two committee members who voted yes to remove Collins actually had the cajones to stand up and say on the record why they were voting the way they were voting. Erik Robey addressed the crowd and said that a lot of the reason he supported Collins removal was due to the fact that the Committee could not possibly continue in its current state. Alan Rzepkowski also stated, on the record, some of the grievances that he had with Collins. I didn’t necessary agreed with where they stood, but I thanked them for having the temerity to stand up.
During the entire time the Committee members gave comments, the crowd was silent for the most part. In fact, the crowd laughed at Tom Redmond on at least two occasions for some of his remarks, particularly when he stated that this was “for the good of the party.” The only audience members who seemed to agree wholeheartedly and applaud with the Committee’s actions and comments were the usual type suspects: Long-time Leopold flunky Nita Maggio, Dwyer flunkies Bryan and Louisa Baucom, and of course Les Belcher.
By the end of the comments, we basically had Central Committee members admitting on the record that they in fact had at least one secret meeting, that they wanted to accomplish all of this without anybody knowing, and that nobody (save for Messrs. Robey and Rzepkowski) wanted to go on the record with their displeasure.
The voter was pretty much what you expected:
FOR REMOVAL: Debbie Belcher, Jay Breitenbach, Tom Redmond, Erik Robey, Gary Middle Brooks, Alan Rzepkowski, Gerald Starr, Carolyn Middleton, Ashley Reed, Jerry Walker
AGAINST REMOVAL: Robin Bissett, Eric Flamino
NOT VOTING: Mike Collins
And the meeting was recessed, to do additional business after a ten-minuted break. And most of the crowd left, completely disgusted with what they had just seen. A supermajority of the Central Committee turned its back on the people who support them and support their party moments after the same supporters told them what they were doing was wrong. How far gone are we as a party when things like this are allowed to happen? People were appalled at what they had seen. Aren’t we the party of fairness and justice and all of the good stuff Debbie Belcher herself wants to add to the State Party bylaws?
A friend who was in attendance had this quote:
“By God we look like the laughingstock of the state, and maybe the nation.”
And they were right. This entire fiasco goes beyond ridiculous. It reeks of opportunism, of greed, and putting self-interests before the interests of the party. That’s why I was so ashamed of what happened tonight. And let’s also not forget this; it took a long time for the party to get where it is today. A lot of work by a lot of people who put a lot of time, energy, and money into building up this party. How much of that effort got pissed away because some members of the Central Committee wanted to play he said/she said?
As the activists bailed out, and the Committee members were returning to the rest of their meeting, Committee member Ashley Reed had the chutzpah to kvetch out loud about the fact that all of the activists had left, and who would she get to volunteer for her voter registration drive…
“You guys just ran them all out of the party,” I told her.
We had referred to all of this before as a “Crisis of Leadership.” I think the real Crisis of Leadership is just getting started.
This is a sad, sad day to be a Republican in Anne Arundel County and in the state of Maryland…