Junior GOP Delegates Make Another Attempt to Oust House Minority Leader O'Donnell

By Glynis Kazanjian, Glynis@MarylandReporter.com

ANNAPOLIS—A movement led by junior Republican delegates is underway to replace Maryland GOP House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell and Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. The move comes only days after the Maryland Republican Party voted in a new state party chairman, Diana Waterman, following a highly contentious election for the position.

Second term Del. Nicholaus Kipke, 34, Anne Arundel, and freshman Del. Kathy Szeliga, 51, Baltimore and Harford counties, have been named by party insiders as the team running to replace O’Donnell, 52, and House Whip, Eastern Shore Del. Haddaway-Riccio, 35.

A vote is scheduled to take place in a special election next Tuesday, April 30, but such meetings are generally closed to the media and the public. This is the third reported attempt to unseat O’Donnell, with Kipke leading a similar effort in 2011 that fizzled.

Fire in the belly and fundraising skills

Some Republican lawmakers supporting the change say O’Donnell doesn’t have the fire in his belly nor the fundraising skills necessary to take on the 2014 elections, when all of Maryland’s 141 House seats are up for re-election.

Other Republicans simply say that change is good.

“[Traditionally] in the Republican Party there is very little opportunity for upward mobility and leadership comes by seniority,” one Maryland lawmaker said speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We as the next generation of Republicans just don’t see it that way.”

O’Donnell is serving fifth four-year term in the House, and Haddaway-Riccio is in her third term.

Delegate calls for turnover in leadership

Anne Arundel Del. Ron George said a change in leadership would send the right message to voters, to show that the Republican Party isn’t focused on garnering power like the Democrats, who have had the same Senate president for 26 years and House speaker for 11.

“There should be term limits on most leaders [in Annapolis],” George said. “Otherwise you have the same people making the same decisions. You get too much power. We’ve had Tony in there now for seven or eight years. I love Tony … but we have a good choice in Kipke and Szeliga. Let’s keep it moving. It shows dimension.”

Vote outcome yet to be determined

The House Republican Caucus has 43 members and a quorum of 23 members will be necessary for a vote. At least one Republican said a consensus at this point is still unclear.

“It’s not clear whether the majority of the caucus wants to replace the current leadership or not,” said Howard County Del. Warren Miller. “I tend to feel that the majority right now are very comfortable having Tony and Jeannie up in front of the chamber representing us on the House floor.”

Miller said that criticisms surrounding fundraising could also be directed at the state and local parties, since candidate recruitment and raising funds for candidates is their primary responsibility. That’s one of the complaints raised against the current leaders of the state, but Diana Waterman of Queen Anne’s County was elected chairman Saturday after two ballots. Waterman had been first vice-chair and had been serving as interim chair since March after the resignation of former state Sen. Alex Mooney.

Collins Bailey, her principal rival who was favored by the Tea Party and Liberty caucus, was elected first vice-chair, so both wings of the GOP are represented in the top party posts.

Republicans hope for General Assembly gains

Under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s legislative redistricting plan based on the 2010 census, Republicans worry they’ll lose even more seats in the 2014 election.

“We could stand to lose another 10 seats,” another Republican lawmaker said who requested anonymity. “We need a change in leadership.”

In the 2010 election, Republicans gained six seats in the House, but lost two of 14 seats in the Senate.

Another delegate supporting Kipke and Szeliga said they have a plan for gaining more seats in the House in the 2014 election. The state party has also been leading a push for candidate recruitment.

Delegates O’Donnell, Haddaway-Riccio, and Szeliga did not return calls from Maryland Reporter in time for publication, and Kipke declined to comment prior to the election.

Editor Len Lazarick contributed to this story.

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