A Process We Can Be Proud Of?

There have been few greater public debacles for Maryland Republicans in recent years than the ongoing soap opera surrounding who will replace E.J. Pipkin in the Maryland State Senate.  The ongoing machinations of four local central committees, fourteen applicants vying for the post and partisans from every corner within and beyond the district, have made a public display of much of the worst about our state party. Specifically, the perpetual problems of a lack of transparency, backroom deals and the sublimation of the greater good for varying allied petty ambitions of those making this decision, has led more than a few observers to think that there has to be a better way to do this. (including Brian Griffiths’ suggestion that we move toward special elections.)

I spoke with a GOP elected official this week who expressed his dismay that there has been a lack of leadership from the Maryland Republican Party and its Chairman Diana Waterman in calling out the bad behavior of local central committees and using her bully pulpit as leader of the state’s Republicans to avoid what is increasingly viewed as a shameful display by our party’s leaders in the upper shore.

Unfortunately, Chairman Waterman has secretly inserted herself into the process. Rather than helping make the process one we can be proud of, her actions have been some of the most disgraceful in this entire debacle.  As detailed below and despite public statements to the contrary, Maryland Republican Party Chairman Diana Waterman intervened in this process and lobbied on behalf of Audrey Scott.  

Publicly the state party has made statements consistent with making this process a positive one.  In answers to questions with new media, Chairman Waterman has insisted that the process should be open and transparent.  She even sent the following email to central committee members:

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“I just wanted to drop you a line and wish you well in the replacement process. Thus far, you seem to have it well under control. I have tried to stay out of it as I am no longer a member of any committee (although I still feel like I am). But I did want to mention a couple things, as your Chairman. 

All eyes are on you guys, as I’m sure you know. And while no matter what you do, someone will complain, I still want to make sure that you are doing everything in your power to mitigate the possibilities of potential issues. To that end, I would like to suggest the following:  

After the application period has ended, please release a statement listing the names of the individuals who have applied (and maybe the county they are from) and the process that will be employed to make the selection. It would be best if all four counties do the same thing. 

Treat all of the candidates the same – I heartily suggest that you interview all of them (be it in person or over the phone). Think about how you would like to be treated if you had applied. If you don’t treat them all the same, there will be accusations of back room deals, insider politics, and the like. Why give “them” anything to work with? You have a responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation of all applicants – not just pick someone you know well (you may end up selecting  someone you know well, but make sure that everyone felt they were on as level a playing field as possible). I know that that will be time-consuming but the applicants deserve no less. 

 Make sure you thank each of them for applying and ask them to volunteer to help in your County (if they’re interested in applying for this position, they should be interested enough to help get Republicans elected) 

You are not required to do anything I suggest, as the power and responsibility to make this decision rests entirely with you all. But it is my job to try to make the Party look as good as it possibly can. And making this as transparent and “fair” as possible is important to that end. I appreciate your hard work towards this selection, and all of your hard work for the Party. 

[emphasis added]. This email sets the right tone, emphasizes the need to avoid, at least the appearance of, impropriety and acknowledges that there are consequences of a bad process.  Pretty good advice, which in too many cases was completely ignored.

But here is the rub.  Multiple sources with personal knowledge of the process have informed me that Chairman Waterman has failed to “stay out of this” and, in fact. has personally lobbied members of the Queen Anne’s Central Committee to vote for Audrey Scott.  Specifically, these sources inform me that Chairman Waterman aggressively lobbied the “swing vote” (identified by Maryland Reporter as Mary Dietz) and convinced her to vote for Audrey Scott.  Ms. Dietz, as reported, has recanted her vote stating that she was intentionally misled about Audrey Scott’s views on the issues and her position on running for reelection in 2014.  After Ms. Dietz’s recantation became known, my sources indicate that Diana Waterman called Ms. Dietz a dozen times the next day to change her mind. (Update: Chairman Waterman also denies this.) My sources indicate that Ms. Dietz recently had a death in the family and has been traumatized by this entire incident.

This isn’t the first time that the Waterman camp has bullied emotionally vulnerable central committee members.  At the most recent state party convention, the Charles County central committee challenged the proxy given to the son of fellow central committee member Joe Crawford.  The member who gave Mr. Crawford the proxy was mourning the death of her husband and, despite that, was cajoled via telephone to relinquish her proxy.  It was a shameful act but it appears part of the playbook for those in control of our state party.

Now, Chairman Waterman has expressly denied lobbying any central committee members on behalf of any candidate (despite still feeling like she is a member of the committee). In response to my request for an on the record answer to my question: Have you personally lobbied any central committee members on behalf of any candidate? she stated:

No, I haven’t. Thanks for asking. I have spoken with some of them (I’m friends with a bunch of them) about some of the candidates but I have not told anyone who they should vote for and asked anyone to vote for any particular candidate.

In response to this denial, my sources stated bluntly that this denial was patently false.  Ms. Dietz reported to sources that she was “betrayed” and “lied to” about Audrey Scott’s positions on abortion and the gas-tax.  She also stated to my sources that she was coerced to vote for Audrey Scott by Diana Waterman. 

Ms. Dietz’s reported recantation explains why not only Audrey Scott suddenly withdrew but why Chairman Waterman was allegedly so desperate to speak with her, especially given that the Executive Director of the State Party left suddenly days earlier, for reasons that are still not fully disclosed or public.  The potential for a connection between these issues is entirely likely.

It has been widely reported that Delegate Steve Hershey has a close relationship with Audrey Scott.  It appears obvious that Delegate Hershey is now the standard bearer for those who supported Ms. Scott.  Chairman Waterman’s reaction to the Queen Annes’ Central Committee’s announcement to avoid a revote and declare Delegate Mike Smiegel their selection belies her true sympathies:

“On the record, I disagree with [QA Central Committee Chair] Andi [Morony]’s interpretation. Audrey’s withdrawal from consideration does not negate the vote. She was a valid candidate when they cast their votes. Until they vote differently, she is their nominee, regardless of her candidacy status. Furthermore, the committee had already scheduled a meeting to vote again (completely unrelated to Audrey’s withdrawal), there was no reason to do what she did. She does not have the authority to void the vote of the members that voted for Audrey – at the very least, they deserve the opportunity to cast another vote. And I’m sure they will challenge Andi on this action. The chairman of the committee does not have the authority to make a decision like this unilaterally.”

The personal involvement of the state party chair intervening on behalf of a candidate in a process that she herself acknowledged was being “closely watched” shows a lack of judgment that is difficult to understand.  Even worse, the telephonic bullying of a central committee member, while not a new phenomenon, is a disgusting act beyond the pale of any definition of acceptable conduct.

These transgressions now make it impossible that the state party or its chairman could serve as a neutral arbiter in the impasse as to who will fill this seat.  It paves the way for division and discord within the party that could rapidly spin out of control and it serves no good purpose.  No State Senate seat is worth deceiving someone considered a friend. The petty ambitions of Audrey Scott are not worth mortgaging the credibility of the Maryland Republican Party or its chairman.

As this process unfolds, there will be no winners.  Despite who is appointed, Republicans in District 36 will be left a legacy of dissension and bad blood.  Maryland Republicans will have a state party, already challenged, led by a chairman compromised by her indefensible actions.  This is not a process that we can be proud of and one we are weaker for having gone through.

No doubt, like my colleagues, I and this blog will be attacked for exposing these facts and speaking the truth.  We here at Red Maryland, however, live by the maxim that sunlight is the best disinfectant.  The petty personal politics, backroom dealing and unconscionable conduct that are the coin of the realm for those controlling our party will never be eradicated unless and until they are exposed and condemned.

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