- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Republican Party is expected within days to announce a new executive director, as the organization attempts to recover from a six-figure debt and a six-year low in contributions.

Party Chairman James Pelura III said he is choosing from 14 candidates and by Monday expects to name a new director.

Mr. Pelura also said the group is making progress in cutting its debt.

“Money is coming in,” he said yesterday. “We’re paying down our debts that were left to me. They should be paid off in a couple of months. I think the challenges we had a year ago, in January 2007 — the financial aspect of the party — is on the way to a healthy recovery.”

The party’s financial problems began largely after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lost the governorship to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, in 2006.

The party raised $460,889 last year, its worst fundraising performance since 2001.

The party is also more than $106,000 in debt, according to campaign finance reports, with more than $58,000 still outstanding on a loan from BB&T; bank and nearly $48,000 in unpaid bills for consultants and telemarketers, according to the most recent state finance reports.

Officials were forced to slash salaries — including the executive director’s from $85,000 to about $60,000 — and eliminate one staff position last year.

Party officials also took out a $100,000 line of credit to pay for daily operations, and used $69,000 of the money. Officials have repaid $11,000 of the loan, according to the most recent state campaign finance report.

The candidates for executive director include: Chris Carroll, a former staffer for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.; Chris Meekins, state Sen. Andrew P. Harris’ campaign manager; and Corey Stottlemyer, a staffer for the House Republican Caucus and former political director for the state party.

Maryland Republicans in local offices say they are confident Mr. Pelura and his choice for new executive director can capitalize on what they see as failures by Mr. O’Malley, including his decision to raise $1.4 billion in taxes during a special General Assembly session in November.

“I’m optimistic to see what’s next,” said Brandon Butler, chairman of the Garrett County Republican Central Committee. “We have a golden opportunity, as the Republican Party in Maryland, to communicate with the people what exactly is going on in Annapolis — and now is the time to do it.”

However, members of the Republican State Central Committee wanted Mr. Pelura to form a search committee to find national candidates. Mr. Pelura said in response that the party needs a new executive director in place before the state Republican convention next month.

The new executive director will replace John Flynn, whose work at the party was occasionally controversial and divisive among Republicans, especially in the General Assembly.

“I think I would like to see the next executive director have a little closer working relationship with our legislators and elected officials,” said Chris Cavey, first vice chairman of the state party and chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee.

Republican leaders across the state have quietly grumbled about Mr. Flynn and Mr. Pelura’s management of the party since Mr. Ehrlich left office, but have not openly criticized their leadership.

When Mr. Ehrlich held the governor’s office, the state party collected more than $1 million two years in a row.

The party also has inherited longtime disadvantages, including having roughly half as many registered voters as Democrats. They also are badly outnumbered in the General Assembly, where they have failed to oust Democrats in moderate and conservative districts throughout the state.

They lost six seats in the House in the 2006 elections, dropping to 37 of 141 seats, and control only 14 Senate seats out of 47.

Moderate and conservative Republicans have struggled to shape the party since Mr. Ehrlich’s departure, with the more conservative wing of the party apparently gaining the upper hand.

“I think that there is a distinct danger of [Maryland Republicans] painting themselves into such an extremist corner politically,” said Tony Caligiuri, chief of staff to Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, Eastern Shore Republican. “As a Republican, I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.”

Mr. Gilchrest lost to Mr. Harris, who has enjoyed broad support from the state party and more conservative Republicans.

MONEY PROBLEMS

Maryland’s Republican State Central Committee last year recorded the smallest fundraising total in its state account since 2001.

2007: $460,889

2006: $848,321

2005: $1,289,705

2004: $1,026,783

2003: $896,789

2002: $883,085

2001: $411,526

2000: $336,739

SOURCE: Maryland State Board of Elections


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