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Baltimore Co. GOP seeks to change how it elects leadership

ElectionsRepublican PartyJ.B. Jennings

When Baltimore County Republicans vote in primary elections every four years, they also cast ballots for the chairman of their local party. Party leaders want to change that, saying the county central committee should pick its chief.

The county GOP is the only party organization in Maryland whose chairman is elected at large. This week, state Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican, introduced a measure in Annapolis that would let the county party's central committee — rather than the general population — elect its leader.

The proposal comes after the departure of Tony Campbell, who squabbled with committee members for months before he resigned the chairmanship in June.

Jennings and county GOP Chairman Steve Kolbe say the legislation is not a reaction to Campbell's departure. They say the change would ensure that the chairman is accountable to the central committee, a group of 28 elected by the county's Republican voters every four years.

"What we're interested in here is just to be in parity with every other political party in the state of Maryland," said Kolbe, who was appointed by the central committee after Campbell left. "What this will do is increase the efficiency and the unity of the team."

Campbell, too, had supported changing the election process.

"I think J.B.'s got the right idea," Campbell said this week. "He's talked about that before. … This is not a new idea for him."

Still, Campbell added, "I think that what happened with me kind of brought this to a head, which is fine."

Campbell's tenure, which lasted less than a year, was rocky from the start.

"Although I was elected by the people of Baltimore County, the Republican voters, a lot of the committee wasn't happy with my election," Campbell said. "In a committee setting, you ultimately have to work with the other folks who are elected, and if they don't [agree with] what you're trying to do, it can be problematic. I learned that lesson the hard way."

Jennings said the change would put the county in line with other political bodies, such as Congress and the state legislature.

"If you look at all different legislative branches, everybody gets elected by the general population, but when you get to leadership, it's all elected from within," Jennings said.

Campaigning for the unpaid job takes a lot of time and energy, said Al Mendelsohn, first vice chairman of the central committee.

"Baltimore County's a big place," said Mendelsohn, who has sought the post before. "It doesn't matter how solid a job you do campaigning, you're never going to be able to knock on that many doors."

He added, "If I knock on a door and I tell people that my views are exactly like their views, that's terrific," he said. "But what's more important is the actual management of the committee."

The day-to-day workings of the central committee are not on most ordinary voters' radar, said Woody Wood, who serves on the committee's executive board.

"To be quite honest, a huge percentage of the Republicans in Baltimore County don't know what the central committee is," Wood said. "And I think that's true whether it's the Republican central committee or the Democratic central committee."

alisonk@baltsun.com

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ElectionsRepublican PartyJ.B. Jennings
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