Take your best shot at this moving target


March 18, 2001|By Mike Burns

ALL right, everybody, here's a good question.

Who has gotten the most publicity from the controversial gun raffle of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee: Betty L. Smith, the Democrats or the committee itself?

Take your time. I know it's a hard one.

The resignation of Ms. Smith from the GOP central committee a year ago was seen by the local media as a major rebuke to the party's provocative money-raising event. It got a lot of ink.

But statewide and nationally, that aspect of the story was barely worth a mention.

The Republican committee got the main statewide media attention in the rhetorical battle over the propriety of the stunt. Carroll's hard-shell Republican politics are always a prime target for the news mongers.

On the national level, there was generous media exposure given to Democratic critics, who had nothing good to say about their political opponents and about the merits of bearing arms, or at least bearing the 9 mm Beretta pistol that was offered for the winning ticket.

Their protests were of greater import in the broader national debate over gun controls and Second Amendment exegesis.

This question assumes relevance again because we have another gun raffle planned by the GOP partisans to repeat their publicity coup (and the welcome gain of nearly $17,000 from last year's event).

And Ms. Smith is again seeking political coverage, this time by announcing her change of allegiance to the Democratic Party. Might even make another run for county commissioner, she adds.

Now, I have no quarrel with Ms. Smith, or with her particular views on the gun raffle.

But I'm not alone in thinking that her political clout in the county Republican Party, or within the broader Carroll political arena, is minuscule. She's been a Republican for only five years and was appointed to the central committee in 1997. Whether she stays and protests, or leaves and protests, it won't affect the political picture. It isn't big news.

And it doesn't give a moment's pause to organizers of the upcoming firearms raffle. The gun raffle sure is a lot easier, and more lucrative, than holding pancake breakfasts or turkey shoots.

This year's stunt features a doubled-barreled drawing. Both a pistol and a semiautomatic shotgun will be raffled off.

Comparison of responses in the two years therefore will be difficult. The committee sold 3,400 tickets at $5 apiece in 2000. The committee chairman, W. David Blair, says he'll be happy to sell that many tickets this year.

While the mailing list is longer this time, the enthusiasm can't be expected to match the word-of-mouth excitement of last year, when gun-rights advocates heard about the cause celebre and mailed in their Abe Lincolns from around the country.

This time, I suspect these Second Amendment supporters will choose to put their fivers into local political campaigns or the NRA or spend it on a box of bullets.

But the Carroll gun raffle will likely do well enough in raising funds, regardless of how far-flung the ticket-buyers are.

As I noted last year, the main point of this raffle is to raise money by raising the roof. It's probably not going to sway many votes, influence any legislators or even swell the ranks of the local registered Republicans.(By raising a little more money for political campaigns, of course, the committee may win a few more votes for certain GOP candidates down the road. Fund-raising's the most important part of any political race these days.)

Some folks may well choose to switch parties (to either side) as a result of the gun raffle redux. If they do, they'll likely do it quietly, in the privacy of the voting booth, and probably won't even bother to change their official registrations.

People who make a public show of such defections are typically politicians. They may have reasons of principle, or party position, for their change of course. But there's always the overriding suspicion that they're doing it for some personal political advantage.

Shifting from Republican to Democrat certainly appears to convey no political advantage in local Carroll County races.

All things being equal, and even if they're not, the Republican invariably wins. The conversions of faith, or opportunism, in this county run in the opposite direction. But if you're looking for state office or appointment, changing to majority Democratic colors may make sense.

One notable changeover happened when the mayor of New Windsor told his constituents in mid-term that he was no longer a Republican but was now a Democrat. It was no Damascene conversion, Jack A. Gullo Jr. explained, but a gradual shift in ideological convictions that engendered the transformation in 1999.

That transformation was not completed, however, until after he had been elected state president of the Maryland Municipal League, with the chance to sweeten his relations with the Democratic governor, it should be pointed out.

New Windsor's municipal elections are nonpartisan, so Mr. Gullo's party label is formally irrelevant. The town will vote again this spring, and Mr. Gullo has yet to say if he will seek a third term.

In this respect, unlike fellow new Democrat Betty Smith, he is not off with the shot.

Mike Burns writes editorials for The Sun from Carroll County.

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