It will be a battle between a man of few words and a man whose words never end when former Cecil County Commissioners Board President William (Bill) Manlove, of Earleville, files as a Democrat to run against incumbent Republican Michael Smigiel for the 36th District Delegate seat. Manlove will file his candidate and campaign finance committee papers in Annapolis on Friday, April 9.
Manlove is scheduled to meet with influential state Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Michael Busch, in Annapolis. Speaker Busch is no fan of Smigiel and even contemplated throwing Smigiel, who is an attorney, off the House Judiciary Committee in 2009. (That gambit failed when another delegate, a Baltimore City Democrat, was also targeted for ouster but the powerful city Democrats protested, with the result that both committee members were allowed to keep their seats.) Busch has a Democratic House slate fundraising organization that could help Manlove, who in the past has run low-budget local campaigns but will need to step up the fundraising to challenge Smigiel.
The 36th District covers part of Cecil County, all of Kent and Queen Anne’s counties, plus part of Caroline County. Residents of those counties vote for a total of three delegates, one from each of the three larger counties. So candidates have to appeal to voters outside their own home county.
Manlove, who grew up and worked on his family’s dairy farm in Earleville for many years, has enjoyed strong political support in the southern end of Cecil County that he represented as a Commissioner. He stands to benefit from strong name recognition and contacts honed over many years in his base area, which is the northernmost section of the 36th House district.
Smigiel, of Chesapeake City, is particularly vulnerable in his home county. In his last re-election bid in 2006, he lost Cecil County to Democrat Mark Guns by more than 600 votes. But Smigiel won his last race with a strong showing in Queen Anne’s County, no doubt helped by the then-residency in Queen Anne’s of his Republican political ally, Sen. E.J. Pipkin. But Pipkin now resides in Elkton and it is unclear how much influence his alliance with Smigiel will hold in Queen Anne’s.
As a former farmer, Manlove is well known in the influential, but dwindling, agricultural community in the 36th District. Manlove also has strong ties to the burgeoning land preservation and environmental groups, stemming from his opposition to development in rural areas and his support of Transfer of Development Rights legislation to preserve farmland while a county Commissioner. Those credentials should serve him well in Queen Anne’s County, where a past county Board of Commissioners was thrown out of office a few years ago and replaced by slow-to-no growth politicians.
Smigiel received a zero positive rating last year from the influential Maryland League of Conservation Voters. He responded by launching a blistering attack on the group and challenging its policies and priorities.
Manlove has always been a low key leader, in contrast to the high volatility quotient of Smigiel. In his announcement, Manlove emphasizes his determination to avoid a “waste [of] time and energy on confrontation and political bickering.” He promised to “roll up my sleeves and work with the counties in the district to make sure their residents’ voices are heard in Annapolis” and to “work to solve problems before they become a crisis.”
Smigiel and Pipkin have a long track record of seeking to micro-manage the Cecil County Board of Comissioners, which escalated this year with their advocacy of state legislation to mandate the local property tax rate and to set a referendum on binding arbitration and collective bargaining for Sheriff’s Deputies. The tax rate proposal was killed in committee and the Deputies’ bill was watered down in the Senate to reflect most of what the county comissioners had already supported: collective bargaining with non-binding mediation, with no referendum on the matter.
This year’s battles between Smigiel/Pipkin and the Cecil County Commissioners– a majority of whom are their fellow Republicans– have left a bitter taste among many Cecil residents, including Republicans. Although they won’t say it in public, many Republicans in the county have privately encouraged Manlove to run for Delegate.
And the recent battles played a role in convincing Manlove to run for Delegate, according to informed sources.
One significant factor in the contest may be the role of the “Tea Party” movement that has been mostly aligned with Republicans and the “Young Republicans” in Cecil County that have been aligned with Smigiel. They represent an Internet-savvy new force in local politics. Some of the most ardent “Tea Party” and “Liberty” partisans in the District are based in Queen Anne’s County. In addition, Smigiel has enlisted a former aide to Pipkin, Andi Morony, as his chief of staff and she has strong ties to mainstream Queen Anne’s County Republicans.
But many Republican activists in the District will be focused on the Congressional race between incumbent Democrat Frank Kratovil and the expected Republican nominee, Andy Harris. And the “Young Republicans” are fielding candidates for Cecil County Commissioner in three local races, meaning their attention will be diverted to more local contests.