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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Holding two offices not particularly fashionable in American politics [Editorial]

It's the kind of power play that crops up when voters aren't paying close attention.

The Republicans Harford County elected to the Maryland House of Delegates have introduced a legislative measure that would give them standing in certain matters that are decided by the county's Republican Central Committee.

Ordinarily, it's the kind of move that has all the significance of re-arranging the deck furniture on a ship that isn't in any danger whatsoever. The reality of local politics is that the county central committees have rather limited roles in matters of public policy.

They are entrusted with certain party organizational functions, but the overall level of influence over those who run for other offices is very limited. Anyone can register with any party in Maryland, and subsequently run for office, regardless of whether they agree with whatever party line comes down from within the official organization. Given this state of affairs, it seems a bit curious that people who already have managed to be elected to office in one or another party would want to then manage an organization whose role is to get people elected.

The central committees, however, do have a role to play on the fringe of public policy. Specifically, they are responsible for naming candidates to run in the general election in the event that no one is representing the party in a particular race in the county. The central committees also are responsible for making recommendations to fill seats vacated by party members by, for example, resignation or death.

The first role, however, is the one that's likely behind the sudden interest of the local GOP delegates in becoming ex-officio members of the county Republican Central Committee. This, after all, is an election year, and should a vacancy arise on the ballot there are plenty of reasons in politics to want to be part of the process of naming replacements.

As a practical matter, it really is an issue of pure politics. The ultimate arbiters of whatever actions end up being taken will be the voters, as any Republican candidates who end up being chosen by the central committee are likely to face at least some opposition from another party.

(It would be very unlikely for the Democrats to make the mistake they did last election cycle in allowing some county council seats to go to the GOP uncontested, only to then lose standing when the time came to reconfigure election district borders, but that's a different matter of party organization.)

From the outside looking in, it appears the Republicans in the legislature have taken a page out of the Huey P. "Kingfish" Long playbook. Long, a 1920s and '30s power broker in Louisiana, was notorious for having tried to hold on to the office of governor after having been elected to the U.S. Senate.

While there may be nothing specifically precluding Maryland's delegates from also becoming members of their parties' county central committees, there's something a bit off-putting to most people about elected officials who would try to hold two civic offices at the same time.

In Long's case, he was precluded from being both governor and senator, but such was his political pull that he was able to have a political yes man (aptly named O.K. Allen) appointed to fill his vacated governor's seat.

In the case of delegates also trying to become central committee members, the stakes are rather low, and none of the current cohort of elected officials in Harford County rises to the level of political arrogance exhibited by the Kingfish, but the effort still seems more than a bit untoward, even if it is perfectly legal.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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