Two GOPs is one too many [Commentary]

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In backingDel. Steve Schuh this month over incumbent Laura Neuman in the GOP primary for Anne Arundel County Executive, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. cited Mr. Schuh's attendance at national Republican conventions, his membership in a local Republican club, and his past volunteer activities as reasons to support him. He also faulted Ms. Neuman for having no involvement in intramural GOP politics.

Curiously, Mr. Ehrlich's message did not mention the two candidates' actual records in office. This "taking care of its own" culture within the MDGOP poses a threat to the party's already limited future prospects.


It sends a chilling message: Only candidates who bear the imprimatur of the party elite are deemed sufficiently qualified to run for office. In other words, if you haven't been part of our club before, there is nothing we can do for you now. And if you have, we may be willing to bend the rules to help you.

In 2010, then-GOP Chairwoman Audrey Scott waived the party's Rule 11 prohibiting pre-primary help to candidates to make resources available to Mr. Ehrlich (for whom I worked in Washington and Annapolis) and then-congressional candidate Andy Harris, even though both faced opposition.


If preference is always given to candidates who have paid their dues to a moribund party structure, this leaves a huge pool of talent on the bench. It deprives the party of new energy as well as candidates with valuable, real-life experience.

Republicans have long spoken of their desire to break the cycle of one-party Democratic rule in Maryland. First, however, they must reconcile the two parties that currently define the state's GOP identity.

The first party consists of the local Republican central committees and their officers, along with the paid consultants, fundraisers, vendors who earn their livelihood through politics, the emeritus leaders who still influence opinion and the current elected officials whose political ascent began through traditional activist channels.

The second party is comprised of rank and file partisans who work, pay taxes, run businesses and vote reliably for Republican candidates in elections. Citizens without a long history of traditional activism may even decide to seek office themselves. When that happens, they typically build their own organizations, do their own fundraising, recruit their own volunteers and craft messages tailored to their prospective constituencies.

It is time for MDGOP to merge these two groups and to encourage people with fresh talent and perspective to join the political pool.

One way to accomplish this objective is to rethink party governance.

The MDGOP is led by 300 activists chosen in each of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions. The members of the MDGOP central committees convene at the state level twice a year. Having attended several of these events, it has become clear that the MDGOP has migrated away from basic party building activities and toward an insular mindset and manufactured controversies — more often than not, debates over personalities and pointless resolutions.

In 2012, the party debated whether Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus should be fired long after it was clear to most observers he would be easily reelected. These intraparty squabbles seem far removed from the day-to-day interests of the GOP voters this body purports to represent.


Therefore, I propose that the central committee system be scrapped in favor of state party conventions.

Delegates would be elected at the county level and would seek reelection biennially. The state conventions would be held just once a year. One of the main responsibilities of the delegates would be to elect a chairman and an executive committee. Candidate recruitment and fundraising would be the committee's primary responsibilities. This will result in a looser, more transparent, federalized and less clannish governance structure.

An activist I talked to once likened the MDGOP to people serving onboard a submarine. They all breathe the same air, and they only talk to one another.

It's time to open the process to everyone willing to be a part of it.

Richard J. Cross III, a Baltimore resident, is a former Capitol Hill press secretary, communications director and gubernatorial speechwriter. He blogs at His email is

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