What’s Really Going On In Cecil County?

Is one man responsible for the sins of another? Can one politician be held accountable when another acts outside the scope of that politician’s control?

This certainly wasn’t the case when Jack Johnson, the Democrat County Executive of Prince George’s County, was arrested for bribery. Maryland Republicans didn’t hold the Maryland Democratic Party responsible for his crimes, only for how they dealt with it afterwards. When Paul Schurick, the Bob Ehrlich campaign aide who engaged in phony phone calling on Election Day, was arrested and tried for his activities, we didn’t hold then-Maryland State GOP chair Audrey Scott responsible. Ditto when the Anne Arundel County executive was accused for a variety of transgressions.

So why are the accusations coming hot-and-heavy that current GOP Chair Alex Mooney is responsible for newly-elected Cecil County Executive Tari Moore’s apparently sudden decision to revisit her party affiliation? Mooney doesn’t, shouldn’t, and has never taken personal credit for every Marylander’s switch from Democrat to Republican (he has, in the tradition of the MDGOP, rightly given credit to the local party organizations for such achievements). And if the local parties are responsible for registration gains, then perhaps the local parties should also be held responsible for registration losses.

But this still doesn’t answer the why. And in that, you have to look at the twin central problems that plague the Maryland Republican Party: the ego-driven quest for power, and the jealousies that such a quest brings. Everyone loves a winner, except in Maryland, where the mandarins look upon any achievement as a threat—especially when that achievement is based upon true principle instead of political maneuvering.

Anyone who has spent any time in Cecil County in the last four years knows that there are serious political divisions within the Republican Party there. There are two warring factions, essentially lining up along so-called establishment and anti-establishment lines. Moore was a long-standing, anti-establishment activist, well-connected to Cecil’s vibrant Tea Party movement, centralized around the Cecil County Patriots. The establishment opposed Moore’s nomination, and when she was nominated, reportedly did little, if anything, to help her in her election.

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The “Establishment” controls Cecil County’s Republican Central Committee, so they would be responsible… well, more on that in a moment.

The question is, who is behind the “Establishment” in Cecil? None other than State Senator E.J. Pipkin, the multi-millionaire politician who has run two unsuccessful races for federal office: his failed US Senate bid in 2004 and his failed congressional bid in 2008. Sen. Pipkin has put a lot of his own money and resources into trying to change the face of Cecil County politics, and if the local blogs are to be believed, he has left a lot of destruction in his wake. After all, it says a great deal about the local climate when local conservative (and Republican activisits) actually go and protest at a sitting Republican official’s home.

Pipkin’s money and resources have elected his supporters to both the Central Committee and the County Commission, and their records have not been particularly conservative. This is not surprising, considering that Pipkin has long been viewed as more of a populist or pragmatist than as a philosophical conservative, and the record of his acolytes demonstrates that.

Pipkin (and his camp), it is to be recalled, were behind the submarining in the primary of Delegate Richard Sossi. Sossi, a ubiquitous presence on the upper and middle shore, was the victim of a vicious smear campaign through a blunt-force combination of mailers and robo-calls in the week between the end of early voting and Election Day itself, which flipped the election 180-degrees in the space of a week. Pipkin, his team, and the neophyte he got elected, Steve Hershey, have been unapologetic in their behavior during the 2010 primary. It remains unclear whether switching out Hershey for Sossi has benefited the 36th district in any appreciable way, despite the claim that “new blood” would serve this constituency better.

Which brings us to the issue of trying to blame Alex Mooney for Tari Moore’s decision. Besides the general logical disconnect in blaming someone who had nothing to do with the switch, the people pushing this interpretation cannot be seen as honest brokers. Their interpretation has to be taken into context.

Taking advantage of the discontent with Chairman Mooney that crystallized following the election, Moore’s opponents immediately started reaching out to the media with their talking points, attempting to pull Mooney into what they perceive as an embarrassment for the GOP. Now, I don’t agree on everything that Chairman Mooney has done, have been vocal in my criticism of his fundraising for his own potential congressional run while he was party chair, and agree with those who say that the state party should have done more to keep activists here in Maryland during the 2012 cycle, as well as dedicating greater resources to focusing on the redistricting referendum.

But as I initially stated, to blame Mooney for Moore’s decision calls into question why these same people haven’t held other party chairmen culpable for the transgressions of other officials, both Democrat and Republican. The answer is, it has nothing to do with what Mooney did or didn’t do, but everything to do with the narrative they are promoting.

As you will remember, Mooney was elected as the anti-establishment chairman, in a race which was perceived to be between the Ehrlich-ites and the Murphy-ites, and, as Mary Kane was Bob Ehrlich’s running mate, this made her candidacy suspect (despite the fact that Kane had put together a good plan, a plan that I supported, and it was questionable whether Kane was any more establishment than Alex Mooney). Nevertheless, Mooney was initially seen as a welcome change from outgoing chair, Audrey Scott—Scott, who has deep ties to the Pipkin camp (including her family’s decades-long relationship with Steve Hershey, whose campaign, again, underhandedly mudsucked a sitting Republican delegate while she was chairing the state party. There were no cries for her head in all of this, you might recall, despite her close relationship to all involved in the Hershey campaign).

Mooney’s sin as far as Pipkin is concerned? He has been a steadfast friend to incumbent member of Congress Andy Harris. Harris, who defeated Pipkin in the nasty 2008 campaign that essentially started this mess. Mooney gave of his time and energy to come to the Eastern Shore in 2008 and work for Harris, and would have done it again in 2010 had he not been fighting his own battle in western Maryland.

But it is clear that Pipkin has never gotten over the sting of losing in 2008. He was shut out of running in 2010, and Harris handily beat Frank Kratovil. But Pipkin (and his allies) have always been less than enthusiastic about supporting Harris, despite his status as the nominee (and now the senior-most Republican official in Maryland).

Mooney’s close relationship with Harris has only benefited the Maryland Republican Party, just as Harris’ representation of the 1st Congressional District has proven his supporters were right in selecting him as their nominee in both 2008 and 2010. Harris is a principled conservative legislator, and his record amply demonstrates that, so it is no great surprise that Harris would support a conservative candidate like Tari Moore, and that Alex Mooney, as Party Chairman, would listen to his friend and colleague and support her as well.

Of course, Pipkin and his camp supported Moore’s opponent in the primary, just as they supported her opponent in her 2010 bid for the Cecil County Commissioners. Moore won that race, and her opponent became one of those Pipkinites on the Republican Central Committee. Of course, it is no surprise to anyone that he is the most publicly vocal critic of Moore, and introduced an anti-Moore resolution at this weekend’s Maryland Republican Convention –an effort that was stymied when cooler heads prevailed and the resolution was tabled.

Pipkin then got involved in her 2012 bid for County Executive, again supporting Moore’s opponent. And not just tacit support, either. Taking a page from the playbook from the Sossi-Hershey race (and the Pipkin-Harris race in 2008), Pipkin again dropped scads of money in this primary, with robocalls and mailers eerily reminiscent of those two earlier races.

Who sits at the intersection of all this? A woman named Andi Morony. Andi Morony is Chief of Staff to Delegate Mike Smigiel, a long-time activist for Sen. Pipkin, and herself close to former State Party Chair Audrey Scott, having played a prominent role in her initial bid for chair, and subsequent (and, again, unsuccessful) bid for National Committeewoman.

What is less known is her role in the Sossi-Hershey affair. You might recall that one of the previously mentioned mailers sent out between the end of Early Voting and Election Day 2010 featured a number of pictures purporting to show Del. Sossi sleeping, as a way of showing, I suppose, that the delegate was old and tired (since their thrust was that Steve Hershey was “young and energetic”).

Who was responsible for the pictures? Andi Morony. Most likely under orders from Sen. Pipkin or Del. Smigiel. A number of people recalled seeing the pictures on Morony’s laptop both before and after the mailers were made. But assisting in the preparation of a mailer isn’t quite as important as is the question of the propriety of a sitting Republican Central Committee member gathering pictures of the sitting Republican elected official her Committee is supposed to be working to support (people can support whomever they want in a primary, but to spend months, perhaps years, collecting damaging photographs of an elected official you yourself were elected to support is another thing entirely). For her efforts, Morony was not criticized—far from it. She was rewarded first by becoming Vice-Chair of her Central Committee, and is now Chairman.

And, surprisingly enough, she was chairing the very Resolutions Committee through which her-fellow Pipkinite was pushing through his anti-Moore resolution

So conveniently we have one member of the Pipkin camp chairing the committee reviewing a resolution of dubious merit. It should surprise no one, then, that this resolution was hurredly passed, only to be tabled on the convention floor.

What happened when that resolution was tabled? Why we then have Andi Morony’s husband, John, himself a sitting member of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee, going on the offensive against Moore… and Mooney, and… wait for it, Congressman Andy Harris (in whose district both Morony’s live, they’re Central Committee is supposed to be working to support Republican elected officials, etc). Less than 24-hours after the anti-Moore resolution was tabled by the MDGOP, Mr. Morony was here on RedMaryland, firing a missive off against Moore, Mooney, and Harris.

But none of this gets to the heart of why Pipkin and company are so aggressive in their pursuit of Moore.

They were counting on, at the very least, with Moore as a Republican County Executive, then Pipkin and company could appoint her successor. It is, after all, why Pipkin and his supporters have been diligently working to stack Central Committees—Central Committees appoint the replacements for many partisan offices.

For instance, if a State Senator were elected to Congress, if he controlled the Central Committees he could make sure that one of his faithful delegates would get rewarded for their loyalty. Or if a delegate were elected to a judgeship, his faithful staffer, who had done loyal service in sinking the competition, could become a delegate.

Moore, again a committed conservative, needs conservative allies on the County Commission. But because Pipkin & company opposed her candidacy (twice!), Moore has no guarantee that a Pipkin-controlled Republican Central Committee would appoint a replacement whose views were remotely close to her own.

The only way that she could avoid that possibility is to do something that more and more Americans are doing: eschew partisan labeling, and change her status to unaffiliated. So this is what she did—as a way of discharging her public obligations in as faithful a manner to her electorate as possible.

Now, I have no idea when Moore made this decision. I don’t know if she ought to return the money that was given to her.

But what I do know is this: Alex Mooney and Andy Harris aren’t responsible for her decision. I also know that the people screaming the loudest about this are the people who have lost a small slice of political power. It is these people who are, in fact, responsible.

As a movement, we have made it clear that philosophy and substance are far more important than party identification. If we truly believe that, then we need to support Moore in her decision. It’s not that she’s no longer conservative, it’s just that she’s no longer a registered Republican.

Andrew Langer is a former member of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee, and a political analyst and strategist with nearly two decades of experience. On Monday nights, he co-hosts the Broadside with fellow RedMaryland blogger Mark Newgent on the Red Maryland Radio Network.

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