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House GOP divided over leadership

December 05, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Stung by election losses, Republicans in the Maryland House of Delegates are meeting today to consider a strategy for the upcoming General Assembly session.

Among those vying for leadership positions in the Republican caucus is Washington County Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank, who is seeking the post of House minority whip. He is running with current Minority Whip Tony O'Donnell, R-Calvert/St. Mary's, who is running for House minority leader. If they win, Shank would be the second-most powerful Republican in the House.

But the party's poor performance in this year's election is dividing House Republicans between O'Donnell and Shank and their challengers, Del. A. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County, and Del. Michael D. Smigiel, R-Caroline/Cecil/Kent/Queen Anne's.

Even members of Shank's own delegation were undecided Monday.

The question they're grappling with is whether O'Donnell's confrontational style or Kach's more conciliatory temperament will best serve them in a legislature where they are vastly outnumbered. At one point, the politicking led to speculation that O'Donnell might drop Shank in favor of a quieter lawmaker in order to counter Kach.

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"It amazes me the amount of rumors coming out," Shank said Monday. But while he said he was "absolutely" running with O'Donnell, he acknowledged that the vote, to be taken by secret ballot later this month, likely would be close.

While O'Donnell and Shank bring "a lot of wisdom and stamina" to the table, Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said the party's loss of several seats in the House means whoever is leading the party would have to be able to work with the Democrats.

"No way can we be haughty," Myers said.

He added that he wants to hear from both how they plan to approach the party's weakened position, and whether they will be loyal to whomever the winners turn out to be.

Del. Robert E. McKee, R-Washington, said he also is undecided. He favors Kach's style to that of O'Donnell, but prefers Shank to Smigiel in the second seat.

"I told Chris to run for (minority leader) himself," McKee said.

For his part, Shank said, "somehow I don't think either side will be backing down what will be will be."

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