Is Pelura's Ouster Part Of Gop Leaders' Plan?

July 21, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

The Maryland Republican Party remains in upheaval after party leaders voted to express "no confidence" in James Pelura, the beleaguered chairman who has ignored calls for his resignation.

Republicans are mulling the ramifications of the vote that took place at a meeting of the party's executive committee over the weekend, including whether a separate vote to call a special convention to oust Pelura is needed. Two-thirds of the committee, made up of 30 statewide and county officers, sided against the chairman.

"Why would you want to preside over a party where you don't have the cooperation of the party elders unless you're only interested in preserving your own agenda rather than what's best for the party?" said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority leader and a chief critic of Pelura's. "This is not done by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn't stop here."

Pelura did not return phone calls, and several committee members said they agreed not to publicly discuss the meeting. Cathy Watts, acting executive director, said that the party is in a "wait-and-see" mode and that party officials will make an announcement "when they make a decision about whatever direction it is they're going."

Pelura, a veterinarian, has served in the volunteer post since December 2006, the month after Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lost re-election to Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. Critics have cited Pelura's record and recent decisions in calling for him to step down.

Among the grievances was Pelura's decision to seek the resignation of Justin Ready as executive director earlier this month. Ready's firing prompted another party worker to resign. Pelura has declined to publicly explain the situation, calling it a personnel matter. Ready is the second director to leave under Pelura; John Flynn resigned last year to take another job.

Legislative leaders also have complained that Pelura has been openly critical of elected Republicans. They have accused him of meddling in policy matters while falling short on traditional chairman activities, such as voter registration and fundraising. The party, which lags heavily behind Democrats in voter registration and seats in the General Assembly, has been paying down a line of credit but remains in debt.

Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman, who called on Pelura to resign earlier this month, said that he trusts party officials will handle the situation. "Right now, unfortunately, the party isn't focused on getting ready for the 2010 election," he said. "They are focused on other things."

Pelura has said he's been working to fire up the Republican base by promoting GOP ideas, which he insists the party must do to remain viable. He has said it's not enough for Republicans to disagree with Democrats, who hold most major elected offices in the state. Pelura has convened commissions that include citizens and legislators to look at tax and environmental issues.

The executive committee cannot remove a chairman. That must be done by a two-thirds vote of a state convention. The committee could call a special convention before the one scheduled for November.

The infighting comes as the Maryland State Board of Elections has ordered the party to repay $77,500 in contributions from Michael S. Steele, former lieutenant governor and now national GOP chairman. Elections officials said the contributions from Steele's campaign account exceeded the legal limit or were improperly recorded.

Another recent flap involving Maryland Republicans drew national attention. Joyce E. Thomann, president of the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County, created a stir in June with a Web posting comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler as part of a critique of the president's health care plan. She later apologized.

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