Maryland GOP reject call for Cecil official to step down

Executive-elect Tari Moore's switch to independent galls some at party convention in Ellicott City

December 01, 2012|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Republican Party rejected a resolution Saturday calling on the newly elected Cecil County executive to step down after she changed her party affiliation from the GOP to independent.

Meanwhile, a much-discussed move to call for state GOP Chairman Alex Mooney's resignation never materialized.

Holding its first statewide convention since its dismal showing in the Nov. 6 election, the party also turned down a resolution urging its representatives to the national GOP to vote against a second term for Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus. The vote on the resolution, brought by the Baltimore County Central Committee, was 223 for and 286 against.

The toughly worded resolution against Cecil Executive-elect Tari Moore, which accused her of taking party money "under false pretenses" and defrauding the people of Cecil, was tabled by a 285-230 vote, in effect killing it.

Moore's switch exposed a gaping split in party ranks between 1st District U.S. Rep. Andrew Harris and forces aligned with state Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, both of whom represent Cecil in their respective bodies. The resolution's failure is a victory for Harris.

Moore, who is scheduled to be sworn in Monday as Cecil's first executive under charter government, confirmed Friday that she made the switch — less than four weeks after winning election under the Republican banner and with financial support from the state GOP.

Moore, who won the GOP primary with the support of Harris, said she would give a full explanation of her reasons Monday. "This is a decision that's been very difficult and has been done with a great deal of thought and prayer," she said.

Moore's thoughts and prayers were hardly comforting to Pipkin. "It's deceitful. It's dishonest. She needs to step aside," he said in an interview. "She needs to pay back the money the party put out on her behalf, and she should apologize."

But Harris, the state's highest-ranking elected Republican, defended Moore Friday night, predicting that she would be an "excellent" county executive.

GOP sources said the issue is more complicated than a simple case of party-bolting over ideological issues. To some degree, Moore's switch appears to be a strategic move made for strictly local reasons. But at the GOP gathering Saturday at Turf Valley for its post-election convention, the Cecil controversy has become a proxy battle between Pipkin and Harris, longtime party rivals.

Cecil Republicans say the root of Moore's switch is the question of who will fill the Cecil council seat Moore is leaving to take the executive post. Her election, they said, will leave a 2-2 split between her supporters and critics. By becoming an independent before her swearing-in, they said, she will take the decision of who will replace her out of the hands of the county Republican Central Committee and switch that power to the County Council.

If the council were to deadlock at 2-2 over her successor, Moore would be able to cast the tie-breaking vote, party sources said. That would give her a working majority to govern the county, county sources said.

Cecil Republicans said the county central committee is dominated by supporters of Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel Sr., both Cecil Republicans.

Smigiel echoed Pipkin's call for Moore's resignation, saying there is no guarantee the vacant council seat will go to a Republican.

Moore confirmed that under her interpretation of the new county charter, the vacancy would be open to independents and Democrats as well as Republicans.

Harris, who supported Moore in a contested primary, said he had no problem with her decision to change affiliation. He said he was confident she would soon return to the party fold.

"Tari Moore is a good Republican and I think at some time she will," Harris said. "This is local Cecil County politics and, like I say, will work itself out in the end."

The motion of no-confidence in Priebus came after a lively debate over who should be held accountable for the party's loss of the presidential race and two U.S. Senate seats.

John Fiastro Jr., chairman of the Baltimore County central committee, dismissed the argument that Priebus has been a good fundraiser.

"The fact is if you're fundraising and losing it's like driving a Bentley and living in your mother's basement," he told the convention.

But Bob Sweeney, a Washington County delegate, poured scorn on the resolution.

"This looks like a Barack Obama press release: Divide and conquer the Republican Party," he said. "This is not the time for finger-pointing."

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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