Laura Price has earned the position of President of the Talbot County Council, and the Republican Central Committee must clean house after its shameful behavior in the election. I write this as a firm believer in Republican principles who is concerned about the future of our party in Talbot County. The Central Committee and leading Republicans disgraced themselves during the election, and the top two vote-getters in the election were candidates they opposed. They must make amends if voters of Talbot County are to regain any respect for the local Republican Party leadership.
The Republican Central Committee and its proxies made what should have been a nonpartisan election into a test of party loyalty AND LOST. With this kind of disaster on a local level, cleaning house is the order of the day. Those members of the Central Committee who led the underhanded and unsuccessful attacks on the Coalition and Ms. Price should resign or be removed. That is not only what they deserve, it is something they should do for the good of the party.
The other Republican members of the County Council now have a duty: to elect Laura Price to be Council President and restore a unified party. Her election demonstrates voters’ opposition to policies those other Republicans have supported as well as the failure of their tactics. Messrs. Callahan, Divilio and Pack should immediately renounce any intention of continuing to push measures through with a 3 – 2 majority as was done under ex-President Williams. If nothing changes, I and many others predict that this will be the last “Republican” majority on the County Council for a long time.
A little background: the 2018 election for the County Council produced bitter divisions among Republicans. A bipartisan coalition of neighborhood, environmental, and other organizations mounted what was essentially a recall campaign against the President of the Council, Ms. Jennifer Williams. They produced a lengthy dossier of actions taken under her leadership that weakened noise ordinances, encouraged short-term rentals and subverted both the legally required planning process and the will of the people.
The initial thrust of the bipartisan coalition was to remove all three of the Council members who supported these actions – Williams, Pack and Callahan – but it later and later focused entirely on Council President Williams.
From the first hint of such opposition, Councilwoman Laura Price, a longtime Republican, was made a scapegoat, even though she had nothing to do with the formation or conduct of the “recall” campaign. The attacks on Ms. Price included dirty tricks, character assassination, false claims about her behavior, and letters to the editor under false names. Council President Williams and Connie Sheer, a member of the Republican Central Committee, hid behind vicious and personal attacks on Price written by their husbands. The Republican Central Committee unfairly and inaccurately condemned Price as “disloyal” and made the preposterous claim that opposition to one candidate “makes a mockery out of our local political process.”
It is hard to criticize Democrats for their treatment of Justice Kavanaugh when Republicans treat one of our own in the same way.
The voters ignored the attacks on Price and the position of the Republican Central Committee. The outcome was that Ms. Price came in first, a Democrat Pete Lesher came in second, then Chuck Callahan and Corey Pack. Republican Frank Divilio, who had linked himself to Williams, fell in the standings and barely beat out Democrat Keasha Haythe for the last seat. Jennifer Williams moved down from third in the primary to eighth out of ten in the general election, and Pete Lesher moved up from eighth to second.
No personal attacks on Ms. Williams were made by the Coalition, in stark contrast to the behavior of her supporters and the Republican Central Committee. The Coalition’s signs and advertisements pointed voters to the documentary evidence of how actions taken under her leadership would harm the quality of life in Talbot County.
As I mentioned in my column reflecting on the election, Talbot County voters showed that they do respond to facts and care about County more than party. Where Andy Harris, Johnny Mautz, Addie Eckardt, and Larry Hogan won with huge majorities, the candidate for County Council pushed by the Republican leadership went down in flames.
It is clear that the strategy of the Republican Central Committee to attack one of its own candidates and politicize the election failed, and spectacularly. But the threat posed by the previous majority to the quality of life in Talbot County has not entirely passed.
At its meeting on December 3, the County Council will elect a new President. Ms. Williams and Mr. Pack passed the position back and forth between themselves, excluding Ms. Price. Although two members of Ms. Williams’ majority, Pack and Callahan, were re-elected along with her protégé Divilio, there is now no valid excuse for passing over Ms. Price again. She had the most votes, and except for Mr. Pack has the most seniority in the Council.
The Council will also pick new members for the Planning Commission and the Short Term Rental Board.
Whether Divilio, Pack and Callahan will try to continue the damaging course on which they were led by the defeated Council President will be revealed by their choices in electing the Council President and filling those Planning Commission vacancies. Electing Laura Price to be Council President and filling the Planning Commission and STR Board with members who want to preserve the character and quality of life in Talbot County will show that they got the message. Any other action will constitute defiance of the clear preference of the voters with consequences for the local Republican Party in general and the local Republican Central Committee in particular.
It is my hope, and the hope of many other Republicans, that at least one of the other three Republicans will realize that not only their political future but the good of the County and the future of the Republican Party in Talbot County depend on their making choices consistent with the obvious will of the voters who “recalled” Ms. Williams and elected Mr. Lesher. They have no mandate to continue the disruptive policies they voted for under President Williams’ leadership – she was thrown out.
If Messrs. Callahan, Divilio and Pack decide to hunker down to push decisions through by a 3 – 2 vote and are supported in these actions by the Republican Central Committee, I predict that this will be their last term on the Council. Such perverse failure to perceive the policy preferences of the majority of voters is also likely to harm statewide and national candidates in the County, as it changes the entire Republican brand into one of old-fashioned machine politics.
The next Congressional election is likely to be much tighter than the last. Recent Court decisions require a re-do of the gerrymandering that made the 1st District a safe Republican seat and the 6th a safe Democrat seat, in order to create two competitive districts. The last thing Andy Harris needs is a fractured and disgraced Republican party in Talbot County. Thus I hope that our elected representatives Johnny Mautz, Addie Eckardt, and Andy Harris will also let the Central Committee know of their displeasure and push for visible change.
David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America, David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.