Republicans split in Carroll County

Democrat Beard gains GOP backing

Maryland Votes 2006

10 Days Until Nov. 7

October 28, 2006|By Laura McCandlish and Mary Gail Hare | Laura McCandlish and Mary Gail Hare,sun reporters

A rebellion among Republicans in conservative Carroll County has some GOP faithful doing the unthinkable in the commissioner election this year: supporting a Democrat who aims to be the first of his party on the three-member board in more than a dozen years.

Prominent Republicans throughout the county are lending support to a ticket with Republican incumbents Julia Walsh Gouge and Dean L. Minnich and Democrat Dennis E. Beard, a retired firefighter from Sykesville. That's unusual in a county where registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats by nearly 2 to 1.

The effort could mean defeat for Michael D. Zimmer, an Eldersburg attorney who ousted incumbent Commissioner Perry L. Jones in the Republican primary.

"I've been a little surprised in the level of interest in Dennis Beard from rock-ribbed Republicans," said Frank M. Johnson, the mayor of Mount Airy and president of the West Carroll Republican Club.

"I'm hearing that this is very likely going to be a year when a Democrat does win. There does seem to be a willingness to cross party lines," Johnson said.

Many Republicans trace the rift to a series of ads that attacked the incumbent commissioners and endorsed a conservative slate of GOP candidates, including Zimmer. The ads ran in area publications days before the primary and gave incumbents little time to respond to the allegations, which included abuse of taxpayer funds, creation of nonessential jobs, increased taxes and limited access to public records.

"Zimmer has attacked his own party," said Martin A. Radinksy, chairman of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee. "That is a sign of a rift."

In South Carroll, the most populous area of the county, signs for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vanished just before the primary, when the governor endorsed an incumbent legislator over the Republican Central Committee's favored candidate. "Far-right Republicans are ticked off with Ehrlich," Radinsky said. "They probably won't vote at all for governor, and that could increase O'Malley's percentage here."

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan Herman, a Democrat, called it unfortunate that voters in the low-turnout primary were "not sophisticated enough to see past the charade put on by the Republican right.

"The sad thing is that people were not voting for the better candidate, but [for the one] who ran the most negative campaign," Herman said. "It has turned so many people off that this year could be the Democrats' best shot."

The state prosecutor's office is investigating whether the Carroll County Republican Club, a recently resurrected group that paid for the ads, violated election laws. The club, which folded about two years ago, once included prominent Republicans such as Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of the county's legislative delegation, and Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, who is running for a fourth term.

Scott Hollenbeck, a former member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, revived the club but did not register it with the state as an official political action committee.

Paid campaign ads that cannot be traced to a registered PAC could be illegal.

"If the primary purpose is campaign finance, then clearly you have to register," said Mark J. Davis, the assistant attorney general for the board of elections. "But if the club only occasionally engages in campaign finance, then no registration is required. The laws on political clubs tend to be vague and should be clarified by the General Assembly, Davis added.

Several local Republican Party officials said the prosecutor's office has contacted them about the ads. Hollenbeck, club chairman, is listed as the ads' sponsor. He has not returned repeated phone calls.

Ed Primoff, a club member, said, "I don't find anything necessarily offensive in those ads that the club printed, and not one fact was challenged. Only the messenger and not the message was challenged."

Michelle Jefferson, former chairwoman of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee who ran unsuccessfully against Haines in the primary, said Hollenbeck "resurrected the club for the sake of legitimacy" and then did not follow the rules for financial disclosure.

"If you support any one or any group of candidates you are held to the same rules of campaign finance disclosure," said Jefferson. "You have to file reports and disclose your contributors."

Failure to file a campaign finance report -- when one is required -- is a misdemeanor that can lead to a $15,000 fine or up to a one-year prison sentence, Davis said.

Since Jefferson left Carroll's Republican Central Committee, it has shifted to the right. Six out of the nine members recently contributed to Zimmer's campaign only, according to his pre-general election finance report.

Since Aug. 28, Democrat Beard has raised just over $12,000 -- far more than the other commissioner candidates.

Jefferson said she would support Beard "absolutely without any doubt. Otherwise, you leave the door open for the unbridled growth that occurred before this board was elected."

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