We Get Letters

Anne Arundel County Central Committee Vice-Chairman and friend of the network Scott Shaffer sent this piece to us, to Michael Swartz and to Richard Cross in response to our various pieces on the Alex Mooney situation. We reprint in its entirety…

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We were all disappointed in the election results in Maryland, and as would be the case with any such thorough defeat, the buck stops with the person at the top – MDGOP Chairman Alex Mooney.  However, while I find the calls for his resignation to be an understandable knee-jerk reaction, I don’t believe our party will get to where it needs to be by following knee-jerk reactions.  This one in particular seems to raise more questions than it answers.
First and foremost, consider this:  if Mooney resigns, who will replace him?  Who would both want the job, and be able to perform it better?
In 2009, Chairman Jim Pelura stepped down in the wake of similar calls for his resignation.  The outcome of that event was the rise of Audrey Scott and a completely mismanaged 2010 election cycle.  The last thing our party needs is to allow Ms. Scott (or one of her disciples) back into the fold.  While I’m sure she’ll view her “victory” on Question 7 as proof – in her mind at least – that her political influence is as high as ever, we’ve been down that road before.  I’ve said before that we need to stop repeating ourselves over and over if we hope to gain any ground in this state.  Throwing out the Chairman, without thinking through the consequences, is a high-risk, low-reward gamble.  In my opinion, Mooney’s laissez-faire approach is still much preferable to the autocratic attitude of his predecessor.
Second, while Alex Mooney’s tenure has certainly had its faults and deserves its share of criticism, his actions (or inaction – from the complaints I’ve heard) are far less responsible for the election losses than the actions of others.
For example, consider Delegate Neil Parrott, Tony Campbell, and the MDPetitions.com group.  On the one hand, they did a brilliant job streamlining the petition process and getting the signatures needed to put these issues on the ballot.  They deserve the credit for that success.  But they are also the ones solely responsible for the ultimate failure of those initiatives on Election Day.  The problem was they could not distinguish between the strategy needed for a petition drive, and the strategy needed to win votes on the merits of the issues in a general election.  By sticking with the same strategy throughout both campaigns, they essentially sank the ship they had built.
For a petition drive, the most effective strategy for collecting signatures is to appeal to the most vocal, most outraged opponents of an issue, and play up any driving force behind that opposition – whether it’s opposition to the issue itself, opposition to the proponents of that issue, etc.  People need to be fired up to sign a petition, or to go around collecting signatures, and it pays off to give them as many reasons as possible to do so.
A general election, however, is an entirely different animal, particularly in majority-Democratic Maryland.  These issues couldn’t pass with Republican and pro-liberty independent votes alone, even in the best turnout scenario.  They needed Democratic votes as well, and this is where the MD Petitions group failed miserably.  Many Democrats were sympathetic to the ballot initiatives, and could have been persuaded to vote against Questions 4-6 based simply on the merits of each issue.  But they’re still Democrats and they still strongly support Governor O’Malley.  Branding the effort as “Repeal O’Malley’s Laws” only antagonized them and pushed them to side with him over any personal reservations they may have had on the issues.  All politics is personal, and if we’ve learned anything from this election, nationally and in Maryland, it’s that insulting someone is the quickest way to lose their vote.  Even if it means voting against their own ideology.
Marketing the issues as a slate was another flawed approach – it’s simple math that the number of people willing to vote against all three questions was smaller than the number willing to vote against only one or two of them.  This particularly hurt us on Question 5.  Prominent Democrats opposed the redistricting plan, and yet it still passed by a wide margin.  Democratic voters knew (or could easily be convinced) that the map was bad.  But when Marylanders for Coherent and Fair Representation, led by Mr. Campbell, insisted on linking the issue to Questions 4 and 6, these Democrats decided it was better to vote for a bad map than side with the people opposing their beloved Dream Act and same-sex marriage.
The ballot initiatives would have had a higher chance of success had they been marketed in a more non-partisan way, rather than drawing the typical R vs. D line in the sand.  It would have allowed Democrats to vote against the ballot questions without feeling like they were in league with the Republican Party.  I don’t know whether he understood this or not, but Alex Mooney in fact did the best thing he could for these initiatives:  he quietly whipped support among the party’s base, while not becoming a figurehead on the issues that the Democrats could rally against.  Had he been more vocal on them publicly, it would have only driven away more non-Republican votes.
Then there were the candidate races.  While the Party Chairman can and should provide support to our candidates in a general election, the critical decisions are made by the campaigns themselves.  Maryland for Romney, led by our National Committeeman Louis Pope, too often seemed like a campaign merely going through the motions.  They had next to no support from the national campaign, and actually relied on the state and county parties to provide basics like yard signs and bumper stickers.  I’m not suggesting that they should have been expected to win Maryland outright.  However there was no movement along the learning curve from McCain ‘08 or earlier campaigns.  No new ideas or creative tactics.  Nothing to build upon in 2016.  Even worse, there are serious questions regarding conflicts of interest.  One of the key members of the Maryland for Romney steering committee, Kevin Igoe, also advised Rob Sobhani’s campaign.  Put aside the fact that Sobhani was running against Dan Bongino – Sobhani also endorsed President Obama, Romney’s opponent.  So while on one hand Igoe was campaigning for Romney, he was also supporting a campaign which advocated for Obama.  Problems like this persist in our state party, and as long as we ignore them, it matters little who occupies the Chairman’s seat.
Finally, once they’d crossed off everything on their routine checklist, the Maryland for Romney campaign and local Republican leaders like David Craig decided to abandon Maryland and send volunteers to campaign in other states, rather than help support down-ticket candidates like Dan Bongino.  Thankfully not everyone agreed with this approach.  Our new National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose countered by organizing the MDGOP “Strike Force” events throughout our state.  The Maryland Young Republicans’ innovative reciprocal approach – sending volunteers to out-of-state events in exchange for bringing in volunteers from other states to campaign here – actually provided a net gain to Maryland and deserves recognition.  On this issue, I do find fault with Chairman Mooney for not speaking up for the unprecedented number of grassroots activists who put their time and sweat equity into Republican efforts within Maryland.  I believe it’s a topic which should be discussed at our upcoming convention, and I hope the State Central Committee can take a formal position to guide the Party Chairman in future elections.
The recent blog posts on Red Maryland, Monoblogue, and Cross Purposes concerning Alex Mooney’s status as Chairman have all made excellent points.  I don’t disagree that the criticisms are valid.  However there is no shortage of blame to go around at the moment, and replacing the Chairman at this time will not solve the larger problems of our party – it just kicks the can down the road for someone else to deal with.  For that reason, I’m inclined to try to work with Chairman Mooney rather than replace him – assuming of course that he still wants the job.
Scott Shaffer
Vice Chairman
Republican State Central Committee of Anne Arundel County

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