Identity Crisis

By Katherine Heerbrandt | Posted on 03.07.14 – Last Turn, People & Places

Dueling Republican ideologies played out on the national level last fall when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz led the charge to shut down the government on principle, ticking off moderate colleagues and much of the voting public in general.

We saw the GOP’s identity crisis play out locally in the aftermath of a sleazy robocall in the Frederick city election. The Republican Central Committee and the Maryland Republican Party couldn’t run far or fast enough to distance themselves from candidate Phil Dacey, whose younger brother Ted masterminded the tactic to discredit Democrat Donna Kuzemchak on the eve of the election.

The move backfired, garnering sympathy votes for Kuzemchak, and likely costing Republican Katie Nash a seat on the Board of Aldermen. Nash countered—and drew barbs from many fellow Republicans—by writing a letter to the editor in The Frederick-News Post, rebuking “attack” politics, and praying for a more principled Republican party.

With that backdrop, brace yourselves for another divisive showdown when ultra-conservative state Del. Michael Hough in District 3B goes for the jugular of 20-year legislative veteran David Brinkley in the race for Brinkley’s Senate seat in District 4. To hear Hough, Brinkley’s been soaking in the sluice of the Democrats’ tax-and-spend policies so long, it’s hard to detect a conservative cell in his body. “District 4 is strongly conservative and they deserve a conservative state senator. David’s not that,” Hough said.

While Hough’s willing to stand on principle and vote against every Demo-cratic initiative, Brinkley’s distinguished himself by offering alternate solutions to budget and healthcare plans, and is respected by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. For him, being a Republican means more than voting “no” to everything backed by someone with a “D” behind his or her name.

But, he figures Hough will twist and turn his record until he’s George Soros, Barack Obama and Martin O’Malley rolled into one. That’s the kind of stuff that Alex Mooney, Hough’s former mentor and Brinkley’s former nemesis, was infamous for. “He’ll throw some poisonous, rabid stuff to see what sticks, and attack me for every vote as far back as 1996,” Brinkley said.

The two bumped into each other at a local Food Lion soon after Hough’s campaign conducted a “push poll” to test anti-Brinkley messages. Oh, to have been an eavesdropping shopper for that tête-à-tête. The discussion didn’t start or end well. Hough admitted he was angry that Brinkley recruited Wendy Peters from Mount Airy to run for delegate in his district. Brinkley denied it, saying he’d help any fellow Republican. With that, they clacked off in opposite directions.

Hough’s serious about getting rid of Brinkley, even going so far as filing a bill calling for term limits. After all, Hough was just a young lad of 14 when Brinkley was first elected state delegate. That’s too long, he says. Of course, he wasn’t saying that when he supported Roscoe Bartlett’s congressional career or his buddy Mooney’s failed run at a third Senate term, but that’s politics.

Hough worked for Mooney, but came into his own after being elected to represent District 3B in 2010. He’s known for his savvy and hard work, not just as a campaigner but as a legislator. “I am my own man and people should be able to separate us,” he said. But Hough cannot deny his roots, nor his current connections. Ted Dacey, of robocall fame, worked for Mooney and Bartlett, and now for Hough. Come June, voters in District 4 shouldn’t be surprised to receive a robocall or two on the eve of the primary election dishing dirt on Brinkley and his record. It’s in the Dacey/Mooney/Bartlett playbook, after all.

Brinkley, who has won elections handily over the years, will have to sharpen his campaigning tools and he knows it. Hough started knocking on doors last summer, and has proven to be a tireless campaigner. Although the race won’t be an easy win for either candidate, it does promise one thing: it will get ugly, and that will only serve to fracture the already-shaky identity of the local GOP.