Screwing the Pooch

Three Republicans on the Wicomico County Council Made the Wrong Call

History repeated itself last night in Salisbury.

In 2013, the Anne Arundel County Council needed to fill a vacancy in the office of County Executive after the resignation of the disgraced John Leopold. While there were many candidates for the position, it was widely expected that Delegate Steve Schuh would be selected to fill the vacancy.

Instead, the County Council went another direction. One Republican member of the County Council sided with three Democrats to instead select Laura Neuman, a business executive with no political experience. This setup one of the most brutal primary elections Anne Arundel County has ever seen, with Schuh defeating Neuman by nine percent.

What Wicomico County did last night was worse.

Del. Carl L. Anderton Jr. (R) Thursday unexpectedly fell short of winning appointment as the next Wicomico County executive — losing out to Rene Desmarais, a Salisbury-based cardiologist with little political experience outside of a losing bid for the House of Delegates in 2014.

That’s right. A County Council passed over the expected choice in order to hand the job to a virtual political unknown with no government experience.

So what makes this selection worse? The absolute outrage that was generated by the Wicomico County residents in the crowd that night.

The reaction from the audience gathered at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center to watch the council interview three county executive aspirants ranged from astonishment to anger. Speakers ranging from the chair of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee to Randy Day, CEO of the county’s most prominent business — Perdue Farms — rose to criticize the council’s decision.

“You really missed an opportunity. You missed an opportunity to get a warrior for agriculture,” Day told the council during a public comment period following the vote.

Nothing like managing to outrage both the Chairman of the local Republican Party and Wicomico County’s largest employer with the same decision.

The Wicomico County Council has a similar 4-3 Republican to Democrat split that the Anne Arundel County Council had in 2013. Except this time it was three Republicans joining with a Democrat to make the unexpected (and in this case) unpopular decision.

When the Anne Arundel County Council made the decision, the Republican joining with the Democrats to select the political unknown was interested in the job himself and made a calculated political decision based on keeping his options open.

In Wicomico County last night the decision partially because of (what else) Trump.

Privately, sources in both parties said Anderton had fallen short largely because of tensions within the local GOP between the more moderate and pragmatic wing of the party and the ideological “Trump” wing — which has viewed Anderton’s frequent efforts to work across the political aisle in Annapolis and at home with suspicion.

What a stupid way to run a rodeo. It’s also an unusual choice. If the conservative, “ideological” wing of the party wanted to pick somebody, why did they Desmarais when he publicly supports an unconstitutional national mask mandate?

It’s also incredibly shortsighted to pass on Anderton for a few reasons. The most obvious, political answer is that there’s no reason Anderton won’t challenge Desmarais in the 2022 primary. Yes, he was very cordial and supportive after the vote last night. But it was also very clear that Anderton had put a lot of thought into being county executive and had a support of a huge portion of those attending last night’s meeting. If Carl Anderton runs, Carl Anderton wins.

But it’s also shortsighted for the gains Wicomico County have made with Anderton in the role. Has he made some votes I don’t agree with in Annapolis? Yes. Is he not Trumpy enough for the Trumpies? Maybe. But nobody is a bigger cheerleader for the Eastern Shore in general and Wicomico County in particular than Carl Anderton. His executive experience as Mayor of Delmar and his experience and relationships established as a Delegate would pay immediate and substantial dividends for Wicomico County and its future. To ignore that because of some internecine party is absurd and shows certain Wicomico County Councilmembers, to wit Nicole Acle, Larry Dodd and Joseph Holloway, don’t have their priorities in order.

The Wicomico County Council screwed the pooch last night. They made a mistake. One that Wicomico County government and Wicomico County politics will have to deal with the next two years.