Earlier this month a friend who lives in another county sent me (and several other people, I suspect) a note asking if we "ever notice that House of Delegates Republicans always seem to form their firing squads in a circle?"
This observation was prompted by a reported coup plot by Del. Nic Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, against House Minority Leader Tony O'Donnell, who represents Calvert and St. Mary's counties.
O'Donnell inherited the minority leader mantle shortly after the 2006 election, when former Minority Leader George Edwards was elected to the Maryland Senate. His right-hand man? Our own Chris Shank, the minority whip. House Republicans could have chosen Wade Kach, a more moderate delegate from Baltimore County, and his pick for whip, Mike Smigiel of Cecil County. But despite their dismal showing in the election just past, they opted to swing further right with the O'Donnell/Shank team.
Fast-forward to 2011, and suddenly Kipke's decided O'Donnell and Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, Shank's replacement as whip, are just too moderate. Kipke obviously knows O'Donnell a lot better than I do; he always impressed me as being so right-minded he could hardly stand to sit on the left side of a car. Imagine how stunned he must have been to wake up one morning and find he's not conservative enough. And the real kicker is that the proposed more-conservative whip is Mike Smigiel — the same Mike Smigiel who sought that position with Kach, the moderate, in 2006.
This little brouhaha coupled with the recent selection of uber-right Alex Mooney as state party chairman just begs somebody to ask Republican party leaders a simple and obvious question:
Are you TRYING to self-destruct?
Of the 141 members of the Maryland House of Delegates, a whopping 43 are Republicans. Do the math. They're outnumbered by more than 2 to 1 even if they're all holding hands and singing "Kumbayah." One could be forgiven for assuming the last thing they need to do is turn on each other.
Kipke has insisted he hopes to make some kind of arrangement with O'Donnell to avoid a fight. But why even contemplate it?
That, apparently, is where Neil Parrott comes in.
Kipke, it seems, credits the success of the recent Tuition Petition, spearheaded by Parrott and Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore County, with energizing the Republican base. O'Donnell's great transgression, according to Kipke, was not throwing enough party leadership support onto the petition bandwagon.
There are a couple of problems with this logic, the first of which is that the legislation the petition targets (allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates to state schools) was never a party issue in the first place. The bill was so controversial it passed by narrow margins in both the Senate and the House — which means lots of Democrats (including John Donoghue) voted against it. The petition sponsors themselves have boasted about the number of Democrats who signed up. When an issue doesn't pass the smell test with so many Marylanders, it hardly translates into an exclusively Republican sentiment.
And judging by the number of petition signers who say they just don't understand why these illegals won't "get legal," the whole campaign could lose some of its steam if word ever leaks that the legislation actually forces those students to apply for legal status (yes, really — it's right there in plain, you know, English).
Worst of all, only five votes in either house would have killed the bill before it ever got to the governor's desk. If the Republicans who want to take credit for opposing it had any real influence in the General Assembly, they might have rustled up the necessary votes to put it out of our misery a long time ago.
In short, Kipke could be dangerously overestimating his party's gravitas. But he's not the first.
Last time the Maryland GOP was so giddy, Bob Ehrlich was governor. Republicans had more seats in the General Assembly, and they believed their party was on the cusp. So they got a little cocky.
Remember how that turned out? I sure do. I happened to be in the room in 2006 when Senate President Mike Miller — arguably the most powerful Democrat in the state — famously declared that in that year's election, "we're going to bury them face down in the ground, and it'll be 10 years before they crawl out again."
Mike Miller's still there. Ehrlich and several GOP legislators are gone.
Republicans, aren't you marginalized enough in this state already? Are you bent on pushing the party so far right you plunge headlong over the Calvert Cliffs?
If Republicans don't change course — and soon — Democrats might not have to worry about "burying them" in the next election. All they'll have to do is sit back and watch while the GOP implodes.
Tamela Baker is a former reporter and editor for The Herald-Mail.