Reader Opinion

July 30, 2005|By Dee Mayberry

A home for local Republican women

It was a bed and breakfast weekend in a beautiful autumn season when the Republican family stumbled onto a wonderful old house off the Sharpsburg Pike. Roomy, but looking a little tired, its high ceilings and plaster walls beckoned. It seemed a "people" house, now lonely and unused.

Windows looked out on a rural, pastoral landscape. Its big front porch spoke to the woman of childhood games at her grandmother's house in the Midwest. The man said he thought it would be an ideal place to retire in later years. To both it looked like a handsome woman who had aged gracefully but needed her face washed and an updated dress.

After local craftsmen, computer experts and fireplace fixers finished work, the family moved in. An early visitor was a woman whose husband's family had built the house and she told of its history, surprising the new owners.


The visitor had a name once well known in Washington County. She was the widow of state Sen. Stuart Bushong. The senator was the law partner of Democrat Gov. Preston Lane, responsible for the building of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Like her husband and the Western Maryland governor, the delightful Fritzi Bushong was a determined, dedicated, lifetime, no-room-to-negotiate Democrat. Imagining party strategy sessions, smoke-filled rooms, Democrat fund-raisers, the Republican family understood why it felt like a "people" house. They wondered what those plaster walls could speak about. GOP friends joked that surely the house would arise to haunt them.

It did not. Like the friendly people of Washington County, Fritzi's house welcomed them and they felt immediately at home. Years passed and the county changed. Lines between Republicans and Democrats grew dim. As in southern states, long-time Democrat voters began to switch parties. Conservative, always an important word in Washington County, rose up to drown out liberal promise-making.

The house and its county turned from political blue to red. Some Democrats held onto the familiar old label because they saw no reason to change. They would vote for Republican candidates in general elections, so why bother?

However they learned a hard and fearsome lesson with the defeat of a popular Democrat legislator, Beverly Byron. Possibly finding her too conservative, noisy people from her own party tossed her out in a primary. The choice of a weak general election candidate taught how important primary races really are. Often scorned as a lower-level voting opportunity, thoughtful people discovered that the primary is the single chance to qualify for a place on the political Olympic team.

A Frederick Republican named Roscoe Bartlett defeated Democrat primary winner Tom Hattery and has been re-elected ever since.

As time went on, women in the county began to take a closer look at political activities. Statewide and national organizations began to move in on them. Chapters of the League of Women Voters and the Business and Professional Women spouted words sent up from their distant headquarters.

Calling themselves "non-partisan," these groups are persuasive and active. Today, however, they never seem to look fondly on a Republican or conservative candidate. GOP women who originally signed up began to drift away, leaving themselves with no "women's place" to go.

Yet local ladies came to Bush for President headquarters in volunteer droves during the last national election. They put up yard signs - so many that the GOP office ran out. After the president was re-elected, they went back home possibly wondering what to do with all their inspired energy. The Maryland Federation of Republican Women took notice of their homelessness and stepped in.

One of the oldest women's political organizations in the country, the federation is proud to say exactly what it is - Republican. Known as the MFRW, its membership involves thousands of women in counties all across Maryland. Unashamably, it supports GOP candidates of various persuasions.

Its chapters tend to reflect interests of the women making them up. One group may attract business owners. Another may be made up of mothers with school concerns, while older women may look to a chapter that follows Social Security issues. Some, but not all, choose to be "action groups." It has taken a shot at lobbying the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly, politely asking for attention to local constituent concerns.

Maybe the current MFRW effort will succeed in gathering together Washington County GOP women and maybe it will succeed in providing a place for their thinking. But maybe it will not.

Like the one-time Democrat house off Sharpsburg Pike, maybe Washington County women will embrace a Republican political home. Time will tell.

Dee Mayberry is a Boonsboro resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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