- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

A Republican caucus vote set for tomorrow to pick new leaders in the House of Delegates has become a geographic showdown, pitting the party’s stronghold in Western Maryland against its bulwark in Central Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

Most of the delegates from the state’s rural western counties are expected to back the team of Delegates George C. Edwards, Western Maryland Republican, for minority leader and Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, for minority whip.

Lawmakers from suburban Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties and the rural Eastern Shore are expected to choose the team of Delegates A. Wade Kach, Baltimore County Republican, for leader and Adelaide C. Eckardt, Eastern Shore Republican, for whip.

The face-off has spurred fierce campaigning on both sides.

The Edwards camp says Mrs. Eckardt’s pro-choice stances calls into question her ability to be a conservative leader. They criticized Mr. Kach’s lack of leadership experience, despite his 28 years as a delegate.

The Kach camp has questioned Mr. Edwards’ commitment to the job, saying his home and convenience store in distant Garrett County make him an unreliable leader. They also criticized his performance on the Appropriations Committee when he backed the governor’s property-tax increase despite opposition by the entire Republican caucus.

“I don’t want to say [the campaigns] have been dirty,” Mr. Edwards, a 20-year House veteran, said yesterday. “There has just been some misrepresentation of facts and there has been some regionalism thrown into it.”

However, Delegate Herbert M. McMillan, an Anne Arundel Republican supporting Mr. Kach, said it is unlikely that the leadership battle will leave scars on the caucus.

“It’s like a fight with your brother,” he said. “When it’s over, you still love your brother. You don’t forget it, but you are family.”

By all accounts, it will be a close vote when about 40 delegates of the 42-member House Republican caucus cast secret ballots tomorrow morning.

Some longtime Maryland legislators expect the margin of victory to be as slim as two votes.

Mr. Edwards, chairman of the Western Maryland delegation to the General Assembly since 1995, said yesterday that he has lined up 20 votes.

Members of the Kach camp said they have 22 of the 40 votes, and Mr. Kach confirmed that he had more than 20 commitments.

“If they’ve counted 22 and we’ve counted 20, somebody’s wrong,” said Mr. Edwards, adding that the secret ballot made it easy for delegates to break their commitments.

Mr. Kach, the longest serving House Republican, predicted he would win by three or four votes.

“It is going to be close, but I’m confident we have the votes to put us over the top,” he said.

The leadership posts were vacated when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, appointed former House Minority Leader Alfred W. Redmer Jr., Baltimore County Republican, as state insurance commissioner and outgoing House Minority Whip Delegate Kenneth D. Schisler, Eastern Shore Republican, as chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Mr. Redmer already has left the General Assembly and will not participate in the caucus vote.

Mr. Schisler, who will preside over the caucus vote, will step down before taking over the public service commission July 1. It is not clear whether he will cast a ballot tomorrow.

Other lawmakers are expected to miss the vote as well, including Delegate Susan L.M. Auman, Baltimore County Republican, who will be in Europe. Other than Mrs. Auman, neither camp was certain who would be absent.

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kach discounted the regional division, though Mr. Edwards boasted a near lock on Western Maryland votes.

“I do have pretty [much] total support from Western Maryland, which I think says something because I’ve chaired the delegation for years,” he said. “I think that says a lot about you as an individual.”

Both men said the vote will hinge on their leadership styles, and they promised to assemble an “inclusive” leadership team to promote the caucus and the governor’s agenda for the next three years.

Mr. Kach said he represented a new brand of leadership more attune to the political landscape dramatically altered when Mr. Ehrlich became the state’s first Republican governor in more than three decades.

Though the Republicans were still a minority in the General Assembly, Mr. Kach said the party’s newfound political clout created an opportunity for more aggressive leadership.

“We have a different role,” he said. “We need to be a caucus of consensus builders, reaching out to the other side. And the caucus has to work as a family.”

Mr. Edwards said the leadership must back the Republican governor and work with the Democratic majority.

“You have to be able to pick your battles,” he said.

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