The Republican Party's already contentious process of naming a successor to Sen. E. J. Pipkin, who recently resigned, got even messier Saturday as the chairwoman of one of four Upper Shore county central committees that would nominate a replacement declared the second-place finisher in her panel's vote the winner.
He happens to be her boss.
Andi Morony, chairwoman of the Queen Anne's County Republican Central Committee, declared that Del. Michael Smigiel had won the county party's endorsement because the original first-place finisher dropped out. Her ruling outraged some party activists who contended there should be another vote after the withdrawal of former state Republican Party chairwoman Audrey Scott.
Pipkin, the Senate minority leader, resigned this summer and moved to Texas.
Normally, when a lawmaker resigns midway through a term, the local central committees of the lawmaker's party send a nonination to the governor, who then honors that choice. But in the case of a tie, the governor gets to chose among the top contenders. So, if Morony's ruling stands and none of the other central committees in the 36th District changes its position, the choice of the next Republican senator would be up to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
The governor would get to choose between two ideological foes with vastly different personal styles -- the aggressive and voluble Smigiel and the laid-back, less confrontational Del. Steve Hershey of Queen Anne's.
Hershey has won the support of the the GOP central committees in Kent and Caroline counties. In addition to his disputed victory in Queen Anne's, Smigiel won decisively in his home county of Cecil.
The two remaining candidates had different takes on the announcement by Morony, who also is Smigiel's chief of staff in his delegate's office.
Smigiel said he saw no reason for a new vote after the Queen Anne's committee split 4-3 between Scott and himself earlier last week. He charged that one of the members who voted for Scott had been "tricked" into supporting her by allies of U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris, a bitter rival. When Scott dropped out after Hershey won Kent, Smigiel said, he became the rightful heir to the county's endorsement.
"Why would there need to be a revote?" he said. "Why would I allow Congressman Harris more time to come in and interfere with the election in the 36th District?"
Through a spokesman, Harris insisted he had remained neutral in the race.
Smigiel noted that Hershey had been shut out in Queen Anne's original vote.
"If Steve Hershey can't get one vote in his own county, why should he end up representing (the district) in the legislature?" Smigiel said.
He noted that the two counties where he's been declared the winner, Queen Anne's and Cecil, make up about 65 percent of the district's population and said he would continue to work to persuade the Kent and Caroline committees to switch.
Hershey rejected Smigiel's claim to the Queen Anne's endorsement. He said he wanted the opportunity to make the case to his home county's committee members that they should vote for him "to keep it out of the governor's hands."
"I believe the central committee would have again supported a Queen Anne's County resident for senator," Hershey said. "I spoke with many people in Queen Anne's today and they were very upset that their representatives in the central committee were not given a chance to re-vote as suggested in Audrey's withdrawal letter."
However, Mary Dietz, who cast the swing vote for Scott and was later reported to have recanted said Saturday that she left the decision to Morony as chair. She declined to comment further, saying she had just had a death in the family.
Morony did not return messages seeking her comment.
Smigiel has said he will run for the Senate in the 2014 GOP primary regardless of whether he is chosen to fill out the remaining year of Pipkin's term. Hershey said Saturday that he will run for a full term in the Senate if he is appointed but is undecided whether he would challenge the incumbent if he doesn't get the appointment.
Diana Waterman, chairwoman of the state republican party, said she disagreed with Morony's interpretation of party rules.
"The very least they can do is give those central committee members a chance to cast another vote," Waterman said.
However, Waterman said she did not think the state party had any legal standing to overrule the county party's decision.