Can the GOP Survive in Maryland?

Commentary by Ron Miller

Before I launch into this week's column, allow me to correct a misperception from my previous column on redistricting. In my focus on the legislators in the Calvert County delegation who don't truly represent the values and interests of the county, I neglected to salute the ones that do, or will.

Tony O'Donnell, who was reelected yesterday as the House minority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, is a tireless advocate for the taxpayers and job creators of our state, and, in the words of the late William F. Buckley, Jr., "stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."

This role doesn't get him on many Christmas card lists, but it has won him five terms and the appreciation of Marylanders who work hard to provide for their families and build their communities, and don't consider themselves the government's ATM for every well-intentioned yet half-baked social experiment that we simply cannot afford.

This time, he won't be alone. Mark Fisher, a local businessman and philanthropist, won his first election and will be representing Calvert County alongside Delegate O'Donnell. His message of economic growth through reducing the burden of government on small businesses resonated with the voters of Calvert County, and he will remind the big spenders in Annapolis that it's our money, earned with our blood, toil, tears and sweat, and is not theirs to waste as they choose.

That leads me to the future in Maryland of the political party these men represent.

This upcoming Saturday, the Maryland Republican Party will have its winter convention, during which it will select its new chairman and other senior members of the executive committee.

I was approached about running for chairman but respectfully declined. That doesn't mean it's not a desirable position; at last count, at least five people had thrown their hats into the ring. Clearly, reports of the Maryland GOP's death were greatly exaggerated.

In fact, while the GOP didn't fare well in state races, the party took control of 15 of 24 county commissions or councils. This should give the party hope for a future beyond the Ehrlich era.

Nonetheless, this is a critical time for the Maryland GOP as an opposition party. One-party rule has brought us billion-dollar annual deficits, the dubious distinction of being one of the most taxed states in the nation, and a persistent unemployment rate exacerbated by fleeing businesses and an anti-business agenda emanating from Annapolis. Maryland needs a viable GOP to protect the producers, creators and innovators in our state.

What would make the Maryland GOP a force with which to be reckoned in this, the bluest of blue states? Here are some ideas.

The party needs to commit to conservative principles and state them clearly and consistently so there is no doubt about what it means to be a Republican.

Internally, if they don't agree on principle, then they are lost. Externally, in their attempts to reach the voters, they fail because so many of their statements of principles are long-winded and overly embellished. They need to apply modern marketing and messaging tactics to the presentation of their core beliefs if they're to promote them effectively.

The line of demarcation between the internal factions within the Maryland GOP is usually centered on specific policies, and that line must be erased. There are multiple paths toward singular goals, and within those paths I'm confident they can find agreement. That will require humility, a rare trait n the political world, and the attitude of Romans 12:18, which commands us "as far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone."

The Maryland GOP must reach out to non-traditional constituencies, especially the black community, or they will always be a struggling minority party. That outreach must be multi-faceted and sustained.

They must do everything in their power to invest in and build up their team in Prince George's County, which has struggled mightily for a long time without a lot of help. They mustn't be afraid to spend money to establish a beachhead in counties were the return on our investment isn't going to be realized in one or two election cycles. In financial terms, their portfolio needs to be diversified and balanced with short-term and long-term stocks in order to grow.

They should identify issues within the black community, like parental choice in education, where they can form short-term, tactical alliances with the intent of establishing a long-term strategic relationship. They must show that they care about the issues that matter to the black community, but they must give answers that are consistent with conservative principles and that they know can work.

The Maryland GOP will not be competitive in the marketplace of ideas in the black community unless they are persistent, patient and attuned to the community's needs, yet within the boundaries of what it means to be a Republican.

The solution to our problems in Maryland is not for the Maryland GOP to revert to moderate or liberal principles. The Democrats already offer those positions to the voters of Maryland, and they don't need the Maryland GOP to mimic them. They are the opposition, and they need to be firm in their commitment to conservative principles, and do a better job of explaining how these principles will help make people's lives better.

If they do their very best to connect with as many people in Maryland as possible, and they go into neighborhoods where they've never gone before, and they still can't win over a sufficient number of voters to their cause, only then would I concede the battle is lost. They haven't done that yet, and the work must begin now. The party will benefit and the cause of good government in Maryland will benefit as well.

Ron Miller is a conservative writer and commentator, author of the book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch, and the president of Regular Folks United, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty, free markets and our nation's founding principles. The nine-year plus veteran of the U.S. Air Force and married father of three writes columns for several online sites and print publications, and his own website, Join him on Facebook and Twitter.

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