Upset by her party's decision to raffle off guns to raise money for the local GOP, Betty L. Smith, former vice chairwoman of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, announced yesterday that she will switch parties tomorrow and become a Democrat.
"I think the [Republican] party is out of step with the people of this county," Smith said. "Instead of bringing money back to Carroll for roads and schools, our state leaders are trying to figure out how they're going to raise money to print raffle tickets."
Every member of the Carroll delegation in Annapolis supports the central committee's decision to hold a gun raffle this year, and several are co-sponsoring the fund-raiser. W. David Blair, vice chairman of the central committee, announced details of the raffle yesterday during the group's annual legislative breakfast.
"Either they think we didn't get the message last year, or they're doing it for sheer profit," said Smith, 52, who resigned from the central committee last year to protest the group's first gun raffle. "Either way, I can't stomach it. It sends a terrible message to our youth. Children see adults, politicians who are leaders, making money off of selling guns, and they might think it's all right to use them."
Smith, who runs a picture-framing business with her husband, has been a Republican for five years. An independent for many years, the Uniontown resident joined the party while working as a legal assistant for former Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman.
She was appointed to the central committee to fill a vacancy in 1997. She was elected to the panel a year later. She had failed in a run for county commissioner the same year.
Smith said she's not sure whether she'll run for office again, but acknowledged that she would want the support of a major political party if she chose to do so. "To make a difference, you need to have a party behind you, so I'm going to be a conservative Democrat," she said. "I just feel that right now, they represent my interests better than the Republicans." She praised the Democrats for calling for a halt to residential development in South Carroll, the county's most populous area, where growth is putting pressure on schools and roads.
"I feel very sorry for the Republicans," said Smith. "I think they need to ask themselves what the party is doing for them. The Republicans have had control of this county for 10 years and what do we have to show for it?"
Smith is the second prominent Carroll County Republican to resign from the party in recent years. New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., a self-employed attorney with a practice in his hometown, became a Democrat in 1999.
He said Smith's decision shows "she is disillusioned with Republican values. It probably has a lot to do with Republican ideology and the lock-step mentality." Gullo said that his switch to the Democratic Party has been great for him and for New Windsor - the town is set to receive state funding for its Main Street revitalization efforts under Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiative, a program that Carroll Republican leaders deplore.
Difference of opinion
Republicans said Smith's defection would not affect the local GOP.
"Everybody's entitled to their own beliefs, but I don't think [she] was a very good Republican if she uses one issue to leave the party," said Helen Roop, 67, who won a 9 mm Beretta handgun in last year's raffle and purchased the first ticket for this year's contest. She said she hasn't fired the gun. Instead, she is keeping it in a "safe place," hoping it will gain in value. "People need to remember that it's not the gun that causes the problems; it's the person."
The raffle will be held July 4 at VFW Post 467 in Westminster.
Blair said, "It seems appropriate to celebrate the day of our nation's independence by making a statement that we believe in the Second Amendment - a freedom that is guaranteed to us by the Constitution."