Our piece reporting that ballots for the Republican primary had to be rushed back to the printer has been at the center of a growing blogsworm for a couple of weeks. Somehow it evolved from an exchange about that error to the place to go to question whether a slate of local Republican candidates could claim they support Tea Party principles. As the often confusing debate, with claims and counter-claims churned over that big question, one reader wrote in about the confusion and we’re sure many more have the same reaction. These sorts of confusing tangles often happen in Cecil County politics and there’s not much help in sorting out the real nature of the matter. But you can bet it involves a great deal of hidden Republican politics in this back and forth arguing that has the web spinning as each side posts challenging points of view.
The Cecil Whig gave it some coverage Thursday, reporting that the Cecil County Patriots were angered because the slate headed by Senator Pipkin and Del Smigiel advertised that they were “Tea Party Tested and Tea Party Approved.” That component of a political advertisement caused the Cecil County Patriot’s to say this faction had “hijacked the group’s name and cause” as they weren’t endorsing candidates. The paper printed Delegate Smigiel reaction: “I think it is quite arrogant of the Patriots to think that they are arbiters of the entire Tea Party Movement.” J. P. Weber, an organizer of the Annapolis Tea Party added that “Smigiel has been with the Tea Party since its inception. The reporter observed that “Delegate Smigiel and Senator E. J. Pipkin have been at the forefront of the Tea Party movement for several years in Cecil County. That largely sums up the way the newspaper handled the story but you may read the entire piece in the Sept. 9th issue of the newspaper.
Here’s our take as non-involved people make some attempt at sorting it out. The Whig had it right when it reported that Delegate Smigiel was in the forefront of the movement advocating Tea Party like principles, long before the county had a group that identified itself as the Cecil County Tea Party. We covered several intense county budget sessions when there was no such organization, but the Delegate and Senator were there arguing in support of everyday citizens that simply wanted taxes lowered. The Charlestown meeting in that pre-tea party era was particularly intense. Over a few years the political and public pressure increased until this year the county for the first time in a long, long time held the line on a tax increase.
That fight over an increased levy caused political infighting since Republicans held a majority on the county board. At the time we reported that for as long as we could remember, the county commissioners quietly raised taxes, but in recent years the board has been under sharp criticism for approving increases. As the board inched toward a decision on the 2011 rate, candidates involved in this latest fray, such as the Young Republicans and Cecil Citizens Against Taxation, took strong stands against levying a larger financial burden, especially after some candidates campaigned on not raising taxes. That brought them up against some of the older party establishment.
Sometime after those early confrontations started the Cecil County Tea Party came along and the Delegate and Senator were there with them as they formed the movement and held rallies. Whatever happened to that initial group or if there are two groups competing, we don’t know. Nor are we familiar with the internal politics of these Tea Party or Patriot Groups in the county so we’re not of many help from that aspect.
But we were surprised to see this argument about who supports tea party principles because we never had any question about that as leaders at the center of this storm always met the test of promoting those principles from our standpoint of reporting the news. They were doing that long before the movement took shape nationally and locally. Certainly these sorts of disruptions can’t be helpful, if they have a common goal of arguing for lower taxes and smaller government.
We suspect that this has lots more to do with old fashioned Cecil County Republican politics and informal behind the scenes control by older established members of the local party. Part of it originates during the internal fights following the Republican controlled boards vote to raise taxes, after some campaigned on not raising taxes. We also suspect it has lots to do with the FOP labor contract argument that just kept the county swirling around as Senator Pipkin and Del Smigiel stood with the rank and file deputies, proposing to let the citizens’ vote on the public policy matter since the issue was deadlocked at the county level. That too put them at odds with other Republicans. Again we’re not sure about the internal Patriot politics that drives this, but this larger fight as members of the Republican Party’s central committee and other elected officials jump into the fight.