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Why I quit the Maryland GOP

ElectionsRepublican PartyU.S. CongressRobert L. Ehrlich Jr.Personal Weapon ControlJohn McCain

Breakups are awkward, uncomfortable, difficult experiences. Just recently, I experienced a breakup of sorts, as I initiated the end of a relationship dating back 25 years.

The relationship in question: myself and the Maryland Republican Party.

People have different reactions when I told them I'd switched my registration from "Republican" to "Unaffiliated." Conservatives worried I was drifting to the left, perhaps bending to the influence of my Obama-loving friends. As for liberals, some exulted that the political outlier in their lives finally seemed to be getting it.

Well, sorry folks … but I guess I still don't get it.

My switch is a non-ideological gesture of frustration by someone who has worked for and around some of the MDGOP's most notable and successful political figures — including Helen Bentley and Bob Ehrlich — over the past quarter-century.

Put simply, I came to the realization that Maryland needs a countervailing force to its ruling political establishment, and the hapless MDGOP party organization isn't cutting it and likely never will.

Emboldened by its sweep of the 2012 ballot initiatives, the progressive establishment checked off more of its wish list during the 2013 legislative session. It did so by prioritizing enactment of boutique proposals important to narrow constituencies (such as wind subsidies) and ramming through legislation (such as death penalty repeal, gas tax increases and gun control) that significant blocs of Marylanders loudly opposed.

In other words, the state's progressive establishment remotely handed citizens a bitter spoonful of medicine it thought they needed, and which many Marylanders did not want.

Meanwhile, the MDGOP — and I refer specifically to the party's elected leadership and its 300-member state GOP Central Committee — was largely a non-factor in the emotional policy debates raging in Annapolis.

It was absent again just recently as news of the O'Malley prison scandal broke.

The story was first reported Tuesday, and no MDGOP official publicly responded until an afternoon Facebook post appeared on Sunday — five days later.

In all fairness, the MDGOP party organization has long operated on the fringes of relevance. Republicans who have succeeded in Maryland have largely done so by building their own organizations. But with the party down to its last member of Congress (compared to four in 2002) and the state becoming increasingly Democratic, more people are looking to the MDGOP to serve as a catalyst for change.

Instead, what they find is an organization beset by ideological strife, poor finances, warring personalities and endless debates over arcane rules and resolutions that mean nothing to the lives of average citizens.

A recent article in the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard made mocking reference to "Maryland's sorry Republican Party," calling it "dysfunctional" and beset by "something close to nihilism."

Winning congressional or statewide office would be a herculean achievement for Republicans in Maryland. Unfortunately, the MDGOP is dominated by partisans who have given up trying to scale a mountain and are content to police an anthill.

MDGOP National Committeeman Louis Pope embraced this mindset of low expectations in recent correspondence sent to partisans. He blithely refers to "the success of the Maryland Republican Party," which he called "strong and vibrant."

Perhaps it is time to review recent history.

•2006: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. loses.

•2008: Andy Harris loses his first congressional bid as John McCain carries his district by 19 points.

•2010: Mr. Ehrlich loses by a bigger margin than he did in 2006.

•2012: The GOP loses one of its two remaining members of Congress, its U.S. Senate nominee garners only about a quarter of the vote, and it is badly beaten on the ballot questions.

One has to wonder to what "success" Mr. Pope refers.

Until he or others can compellingly answer that question, I'm content to remain in the "unaffiliated" life raft I have chosen for myself, bumping against two rival ideological currents.

For me, this has never been a purely partisan crusade. A functional opposing voice to the state's political status quo will benefit all citizens, as it will allow them to make better, more informed decisions. Engaging a broad coalition of unaffiliated, Republican and centrist Democratic voters is the necessary first step to developing that contrarian voice.

Unfortunately, it is a step that the MDGOP party apparatus has proved time and again it is unqualified to take.

Richard J. Cross III, a Baltimore resident, is a former Capitol Hill press secretary, communications director and gubernatorial speechwriter. He blogs at rjc-crosspurposes.blogspot.com. His email is rcrossiii@comcast.net.

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