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State GOP needs message as much as money

September 26, 2009|By TIM ROWLAND

If ever there was a state in need of a viable two-party system, it is Maryland -- the very state that appears to be one of the least likely to get one.

While I don't know your own personal financial situation, it's a fair bet that you have more money in your bank account at this very moment than the Maryland Republican Party has in its state accounts -- $703.10.

That won't buy too many bumper stickers.

The number of registered Republicans in the state is slipping, too, down to just below 27 percent. Those are a couple of reasons that Republican Party Chairman James Pelura is essentially being run out of town on a rail.

But party chairs do not define parties, lawmakers do. And when lawmakers point the finger at Pelura, they have the proverbial three pointing back at themselves.

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Maryland demographics, Beltwaycentric as they are, always will be a strong disadvantage for state Republicans. Yet in the past, thoughtful Republicans have been able to sway suburban areas around Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia.

Unfortunately for all concerned, "thoughtful" isn't really a word lawmakers on the Republican fringe have in mind at the moment. For them, there is no compromise. There is no idea produced by anyone but themselves worthy of merit. Moderate Republicans are turncoats; those in favor of bipartisanism are dogs.

They will have the whole pie or none at all.

And so none they will have. At a time when the soil should be rich for Republican candidates, the GOP is struggling to find anyone for statewide races that won't get thumped by 10 percentage points.

The right can be excused for wondering if anyone is paying attention. As host to a General Assembly where any good idea -- or marginally tolerable idea, for that matter -- is worthy of passage regardless of expense, Maryland is being buried under the spending rubble of the past two decades.

In the early 1990s, major budget shortfalls forced the legislature to pay the piper in a severely painful lesson that it remembered for about all of six months.

Now, plummeting revenue has forced significant state cutbacks and a projected $2 billion shortfall next year that will force even more. Even Comptroller Peter Franchot, himself a Democrat, acknowledged "we have a significant mess on our hands."

So to dig out from this Democratic mess, why aren't Maryland voters flocking to Republicans in droves? GOP party chairman hopeful John White told The Washington Post this week that spending concerns offer "a really good opportunity" for Republicans, but the party needs more money to get its message across.

He's half right. The opportunity is there, but money isn't the issue. State Republicans have had plenty of opportunity to get the message across, but every time they grab the microphone, they are bent on attacks, hyperbole and heatedly telling us that the opposition is all wrong and probably socialist in the bargain. The "message" is this: See what the Democrats are doing and then oppose it.

Except that makes the message sound too scholarly. Howard County Republican Del. Warren E. Miller recently was photographed at a Washington, D.C., rally holding a sign that read, "Liar Liar Pants on Fire."

Believe me, a lack of funds is not the GOP's problem at the moment. In fact, it might be a blessing. Because if the best message you have to communicate to reasonable voters is "liar liar, pants on fire," the fewer people who know it, the better.

At this point, Marylanders could use a calm, rational alternative to current practice. And it needs to be delivered by calm, rational people who have not alienated those currently in power by constantly belittling them in the press.

That's why the Maryland GOP is failing -- they have the formula all backward. You don't need money to communicate your message. You need a message worthy of being communicated and candidates who can be taken seriously enough to carry that message to the voters. That's what draws people -- and money -- to your cause.

As a political philosophy, "liar liar" might score you some votes in second grade, and it perhaps wins over as much as 27 percent of the adult Maryland vote today. But 27 percent doesn't win you many elections. Most men and women of this state -- of both parties -- are hungry for something a bit more substantial.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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