Maryland Republican Party must heal its rift

March has been a rough month for Maryland Republicans.

In Annapolis, they watched helplessly as Democrats worked their way through an ambitious ideological wish list that includes new taxes and spending, death penalty repeal, Second Amendment limitations, wind power subsidies, and other proposals anathema to Republicans.


Seven of 12 GOP senators — apparent victims of "Stockholm syndrome" —– supported Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget, which includes $1 billion in new spending.

And just as state Democrats rammed through an 87 percent hike in state gas taxes, David Ferguson, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, canceled a planned training session for candidates to embark on a quixotic national "tour" to preach the evils of a possible Martin O'Malley presidency.

Clearly, the state GOP has reached new levels of dysfunction.

That dysfunction was evident last year when two former state party chairs hired by gaming interests sent out a "Republican Voter Guide" to encourage the false impression that expanded gambling carried the imprimatur of all GOP leaders — even though a majority of the party's legislators opposed it.

It was evident again when interim MDGOP chair Diana Waterman, perhaps best known in political circles for owning a black cow named "Oprah," abruptly removed Republican National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose from the RNC's influential Rules Committee. Ms. Ambrose, an outsider, had defeated Waterman ally Audrey Scott in last year's contentious national committeewoman race.

Ms. Waterman's Rules Committee pick, establishment favorite Louis Pope, briefly served as treasurer of the committee responsible for planning the party's 2012 convention in Tampa, Fla., but was dismissed by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus amid reports of high salaries, profligate spending and cronyism among convention staff.

Much of the dysfunction stems from the fact that the MDGOP seems to have bifurcated into two factions that might be called the "Ins" and the "Outs."

The Ins consists of party regulars, especially products of the Republican State Central Committee apparatus.

The Outs are activists who got engaged through activities such as blogging, working on a campaign, running for office or involvement in national political organizations.

The Ins are vested in the status quo. The Outs want to change what they regard as a culture of failure.

The Ins believe in oligarchy, choosing to recycle or resurrect the same individuals for various party roles and assignments. The Outs are receptive to attracting new faces and new energy to the party, and regard non-central-committee-centric achievements as strengths, not liabilities.

The Ins value helping their allies, cronies, or — in some cases — family members. More often than not, the Outs are frustrated citizen-activists who just want to win elections.

Doubtful that the GOP's fortunes in Maryland will ever change, the Ins often seek party office out of a sense of entitlement, or as a reward for past service, whereas the Outs seek party office because they want to do something with it.

The Ins are people of long service and, in some cases, scant accomplishments. The Outs are often raucous, inexperienced newcomers to politics who are unafraid to deal with the consequences of pushing a resistant and reactionary establishment to embrace change.


If the Republican Party is ever to brighten its prospects in Maryland, mitigating the intramural rivalries between the party's Ins and Outs would be a good starting point. Unfortunately, the current central committee system encourages such divisions. Dr. Seuss famously wrote about the rivalry between Sneetches with green stars on their bellies versus those without them. Among Republicans, the same dynamic often exists between elected central committee members versus unelected activists.

Meanwhile, the structure of the central committee itself causes time to be wasted on personalities, petty rivalries, meaningless resolutions, arcane rules disputes, and other activities that, at the end of the day, leave the party's fortunes unchanged.

The MDGOP needs to move past the elitism of the central committee system and toward a new model that encourages integration of all factions.

The party could accomplish this by impaneling a diverse group of activists to work on a five-year strategic plan, forming a fundraising roundtable to encourage cooperation and information sharing, creating a kitchen cabinet of party elders to advise the current crop of party leaders, and changing party rules to allow elected officials to hold party office.

With so few Republicans in Maryland, the party can't afford to live in a house divided. Forget about the disputes and petty rivalries. Let's just find a way to win.

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