Simmering tensions among Maryland Republicans have boiled over into a public brawl with leading GOP officers and members of the General Assembly openly clashing with Chairman James Pelura over the party's future.
The disagreements - dubbed Pelurapalooza by the popular conservative blog Red Maryland - escalated this week when state party officers called for a meeting with Pelura to explain his actions, including why he sought the resignation of the party's executive director, Justin Ready, on Monday. It is unclear what prompted the firing, or why events coordinator April Rose also resigned.
The sideshow could become an unwelcome distraction as the party gears up for elections next year. Some political observers believe the GOP could capitalize on anti-incumbent sentiments that typically accompany economic recessions, and expand their numbers in the legislature and perhaps take back the governor's mansion. The coming months are critical for recruiting candidates and raising campaign cash.
"We need to remedy the situation immediately so that we can move on to the preparations for the 2010 quadrennial elections," said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Calvert County Republican. "There is not a day to waste."
Seven party officers voted to condemn Pelura's handling of personnel and party business, and want him to clear the air or resign from the volunteer position, said Chris Cavey, the party's first vice chairman. If not resolved, some party insiders predicted the tensions could culminate in an effort to oust Pelura at the annual state GOP convention in November.
"He needs to explain in detail his personnel decisions," Cavey said. "He also needs to account for why we don't have a political plan and why we don't have a finance plan. We have a responsibility to party members and elected officials to have a party that's at minimum functional."
Pelura said he would not let infighting with a "small group of detractors" distract him from election groundwork. He set a date this month for a meeting of the executive committee, which includes the officers and about two dozen other leaders, and he declined to discuss personnel decisions.
Ready and Rose could not be reached for comment.
In recent months, Pelura has convened a tax commission that is closely reviewing the state budget for waste and an environmental commission to find "scientific and rational" solutions. He also plans to form groups to study school choice and health care.
"This is not what the party has historically done, and that's why the party has been essentially irrelevant for a long time," said Pelura, who insisted he doesn't intend to run for office. "I think folks will listen to a Republican alternative, but we have to put it out there. It's not enough just to say we don't agree with Democrats."
Pelura also said the party has set a goal of recruiting a Republican to oppose every Democrat running on the state and local level, and he has collared Republican county executives John R. Leopold of Anne Arundel and David R. Craig of Harford to lead the "Fill the Boat 2010" campaign.
But Pelura's insinuations that Republican elected officials aren't offering meaningful alternatives to the Democrat-dominated agenda in Annapolis has rankled some lawmakers. In a letter to the executive committee, O'Donnell and House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, a Washington County Republican, said Pelura has been critical of them when he should be focused on party-building activities.
"I will be damned if I will ever stand for a party boss dictating how legislators should vote on any issue. That's how Tammany Hall operated," said O'Donnell, referring to the Democratic Party machine that ruled New York politics for decades.
O'Donnell and Shank said Pelura needs a statewide strategy for voter registration and raised concerns about Pelura's fundraising record.
The party remains about $10,000 in debt, according to Pelura, and some complained he could have charged more than $125 a ticket for the party's Red, White and Blue dinner last month that featured a marquee appearance by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.