Montgomery County (PA) Republican Committee endorsement night

Last night I attended the MCRC endorsement meeting for candidates running for county offices and for new and retained judges.  I serve as a Committee Member in Horsham Township (Area 11).  This was my first foray into the party endorsement process for endorsing nominees to run in a general election.  I was very interested in participating in the process and witnessing how a local party organization went about selecting endorsed candidates.

I was curious to see how open the process was; how objective the process would be; and to what extent back-room power politics might be involved.  I came away pleased in the way The Party went about this process, attempting to ensure a ticket that would win in November that would promote a management philosophy for Montgomery County reflective of Republican principles.  Endorsements do not preclude an unsuccessful party nominee from running as an independent, so the Party attempts to preserve unity behind the ticket by working to ensure a fair and impartial process.

Of course the big fight was for the head of the ticket, consisting of two Party candidates for the three seats on the county’s Board of Commissioners.  (Each party nominates two candidates.  But only the three top vote-getters are seated, ensuring one minority representative.  Please see another post on this blog for some well-publicized history on the soap opera-like relationship of the outgoing Board.)  The Montgomery County Democrats have nominated – unopposed – the up-and-coming State Representative Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, a Whitemarsh supervisor.  Given Shapiro’s pull with Democrats, this should prove to be a hotly contested race this year.  The county GOP has lost its long-held advantage in voter registration.

The candidates for the two commissioner endorsements were current Commissioner Bruce L. Castor, Jr., Lower Merion Commissioner Jenny Brown, and State Representative Kate Harper.  Candidates Marie N. Cavanaugh and Jill Govberg withdrew their nominations after poor showings in a poll of county GOP leaders.

The crowd was huge, as was witnessed by the almost impossible task of finding parking if you got there after 6:30 for the beginning of festivities at 8:00 PM at Westover Country Club in West Norriton.  Of roughly 850 committee people eligible to vote on endorsements, over 500 were present.  With 234 proxy votes (Each committee member can vote for one other signed-over committee member proxy.) the number of potential ballots exceeded 700.  A truly impressive number!

There are rules by which any candidate must receive a majority of ballots cast to obtain a party nomination.  If additional ballots are necessary, there are also rules by which candidates must receive a minimum percentage of ballots cast to move on to subsequent rounds.  There were at least two rounds of balloting last night. But only Register of Wills required the second ballot.  Voting was done by anonymous ballot, using the same voting machines we see at our local polling places every Election Day.

After the usual political pep talk, provided by recently renewed County GOP Chair, Bob Kerns, only the remaining candidates for Commissioner were permitted roughly 2 minutes to make their final case.  This was – quite frankly – wholly unnecessary, since committee members have been bombarded with mailings and phone calls seeking support.  And given the crucial nature of the endorsements being sought for Commissioner, it was unlikely that a significant number of voting members did not have their candidate homework finished or their minds made up before entering the venue. 

On the first ballot, Bruce Castor and Jenny Brown won the party endorsements for Commissioner, with Brown leading the way as top vote-getter.  The race between Castor and Kate Harper was close, but not close enough to force a second round of balloting for endorsement.

There were a number of unopposed nominations for county row offices, including District Attorney (Risa Ventri Fermin), Coroner (Dr. Gordon Clement), Prothonotary (Bill Donnelly), Recorder of Deeds (Nancy Becker), Controller (Stewart J. Greenleaf Jr.), and Clerk of Courts (Moon Ahn). In addition to the candidates for Commissioner, the positions of Sheriff (Winner – Eileen Behr), Register of Wills (Patricia Mosesso) and Treasurer (H. Charles Wilson III) were contested endorsements.  Several sitting judges, Thomas Branca and Arthur Tilson, were nominated for 10-year retentions.  And two candidates for open judgeships (Maureen Coggins and Daniel Clifford) were endorsed, with several candidates withdrawing their nominations at the meeting.  Three candidates vying for the two judicial endorsements.  (Maureen Coggins really wowed me when she addressed Area 11 committee members in January!)

As for my own preferences, I was pleased with how closely my votes reflected the will of the collective committee.  I backed winners for all but Register of Wills (I voted for Valerie Harris.) and one of the judge positions (Backing Mr Sheierson – whose name I indubitably just butchered – in lieu of Dan Clifford).  I even had the winner in the mild upset victory of Chuck Wilson for Treasurer over party leadership-backed Martin Dyas.  I was much more impressed with Mr. Wilson’s background than that of Mr. Dyas when both addressed the Area 11 committee members during a January candidates meet ‘n greet.  

In the end, I was quite impressed, not only with the superb group of candidates the committee endorsed but also with the openness of the process.  At no time was there any attempts to pressure the committee members into rubber-stamping any pre-selected slate of favorites.  (A suggestion from my local committee chairman, sure.  But I went off the reservation for several positions.  And voted for the candidates I had decided on prior to last night.)

Certainly there must have been some horse-trading in the pre-meeting nuptials between Castor and Brown; but given the critical importance of this year’s election, one can accept the candidates’ efforts to develop the pairing most likely to succeed in November.

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