Maryland GOP seeks resignation of head of new Hispanic caucus


When Jorge Ribas spoke out about a dearth of Hispanic hiring by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., he hoped to prod the administration into action.

Instead, he may have created another vacancy.

The Republican Party of Maryland -- with Ehrlich's blessing -- is demanding that Ribas resign as chairman of the nascent Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus, a group formed this year to bring Latinos into the party fold.

Party leaders say his intemperate and divisive remarks in the media and elsewhere have cast the governor in a poor light.

"He has a hard time controlling what he says [so that he] doesn't irritate and insult people who are trying to help his own group," said John Kane, the state GOP chairman.

Ribas did not immediately resign, saying in an interview that "the MHRC relationship to the Maryland GOP is under review."

Kane arrived unannounced Monday evening at a caucus meeting at a Columbia hotel to deliver an ultimatum: either Ribas resign as head of the group, or the caucus would be disbanded at the state party's fall convention and rebuilt without Ribas.

Those at the meeting said Kane told them he was acting with the support of Ehrlich, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele -- and even President Bush.

"The lieutenant governor and I have reviewed the situation, and it's deemed best that we cut our losses with Jorge Ribas," Kane said in an interview this week. "He has poisoned the well of trust and respect that we should have with any caucus or any group."

The Hispanic caucus was recognized as an official branch of the state party in May, part of the GOP's effort to expand its influence among minority groups who have traditionally aligned themselves with Democrats.

Ribas, a native of Ecuador and a Montgomery County resident, was elected its first chairman. A veterinarian and pathologist, Ribas owns a consulting company and has been active in community affairs. He is a past president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation and ran for state Senate last year.

Weeks into his tenure, Ribas delivered a sharply worded letter to Ehrlich on caucus letterhead that called the governor's minority hiring practices "disappointing" and urged him to hire an Hispanic-American as secretary of the Maryland Commission on Higher Education.

"We are beginning to wonder if the 'opportunity team' forged in your historic partnership [with Steele] fully understood the meaning of diversity," Ribas wrote in a letter released to media outlets, noting that none of Ehrlich's Cabinet secretaries or department heads included Hispanics.

The letter, and remarks made to reporters, angered Kane and other party leaders.

"He is not the person to lead the Hispanic caucus in the direction I want it to go," said Kane, promising that the party's minority group outreach would continue. "This time next year, we will have a very strong and productive Hispanic conference. I don't know what it will be called, but it will not be chaired by the current chairman."

Ribas had some strong words for the party chairman: "Mr. Kane is using the politics of personal destruction, and the record over time will show who is telling the truth."

Ehrlich communications director Paul E. Schurick said yesterday that he spoke Monday with Kane and authorized him to let the caucus know that the governor was not pleased with Ribas' performance. Schurick said the concerns go beyond Ribas' comments about hiring, but would not provide specifics.

"This job requires us to do an awful lot of things really well. Internal sniping and bickering makes a difficult job extraordinarily difficult," he said. "There are a lot of things that have caused our frustration, some of which have played out in public, some of which have not."

Some Democrats are bemused by the internal strife of a Republican Party that is still learning how to corral the influence that comes with the governor's mansion.

"It's just so bizarre," said Josh White, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "I can't imagine why they would do such a thing. John Kane values party discipline over a big tent. Obviously, there are consequences every time you even mildly criticize the governor."

While Ribas said he received a vote of confidence from the caucus about three weeks ago, his support is not universal among prominent Hispanics.

Luis Borunda, a Baltimore sign company owner and a co-founder of the caucus, resigned from its executive board at Monday's meeting. He said the Ehrlich administration has been responsive to Latinos.

"The Republican Party and the administration is very open to our input, and has actively been seeking Hispanics for top level positions," Borunda said.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad