Stephen S. Hershey Jr.

Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (September 18, 2013)

Given a choice between two conservative Republican delegates to fill a vacancy in the Upper Eastern Shore's state Senate district, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley chose the less confrontational of the two.

O'Malley said Wednesday that he has appointed Del. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. of Queen Anne's County to replace former Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin, who resigned this summer and moved to Texas. Passed over was Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. of Cecil County.

The choice of which Republican would replace Pipkin was left to O'Malley after the GOP central committees of the four counties that make up the 36th District split 2-2 between the two lawmakers. Smigiel won Cecil and Queen Anne's, while Hershey took Kent and Caroline. Normally the governor is required by the state Constitution to honor the choice of the party central committee of the departing lawmaker when appointing a replacement in mid-term, but when central committees deadlock, the choice goes to the governor regardless of party.

In this case, O'Malley chose the quiet, low-key, single-term Hershey, 39, over the flamboyant, hard-charging Smigiel, one of the most outspoken opponents of the governor's agenda in the House of Delegates. Smigiel, 55, had argued that his record of accomplishment in his three terms made him better qualified for the Senate seat.

By choosing Hershey, O'Malley virtually guarantees a bitter inter-party Republican struggle for the seat next year, when Hershey will face re-election. Smigiel said before the central committees deadlocked that he planned to run in the Senate primary no matter who prevails. Hershey had not said what he would do had he been passed over.

O'Malley explained his choice in terms of political support, not philosophy.

"I am guided not by which candidate I would prefer, but rather by which candidate has demonstrated the broadest electoral support in the district," the governor said in a statement. "In both the Central Committee balloting and the last general election, Delegate Hershey has demonstrated a broader base of support, and therefore, I have decided to appoint Delegate Hershey to fill this Senate vacancy."

Smigiel disputed that explanation, saying he garnered more than 3,000 more votes than Hershey in the 2010 primary. Hershey released a conciliatory statement, thanking Smigiel for agreeing to continue to
work together on behalf of the district.

By choosing Hershey, O’Malley virtually guarantees a bitter Republican struggle for the seat next year, when Hershey will face re-election. Smigiel reaffirmed Wednesday that he  plans to compete in the Senate primary no matter who else runs.

O’Malley’s decision could be a mixed blessing for Hershey. While he will hold whatever advantages a year of incumbency brings, the association with the governor could backfire. Though both men sat for interviews with O'Malley Friday, Smigiel signaled that he will use the Democrat's blessing to tar Hershey’s Republican
credentials.

“The citizens of the 36th District are not going to be happy being represented by somebody who is the choice of Governor O’Malley,” he said.

History may be on Smigiel’s side. In a previous case in which O’Malley resolved a tie between two Republicans, the one he chose lost his seat to the candidate the governor rejected.

O’Malley could face a similar choice if the GOP central committees were to deadlock again when choosing a new delegate to replace Hershey.

"Hopefully they do a better job with the selection of the next delegate," Smigiel said. "You can't do a worse job."

Pipkin also served as Senate minority leader, a position filled by a vote of the chamber’s Republicans. They have not yet chosen his successor for that post.