36th Delegate Seat: With GOP Friends Like This, Who Needs Democrats?

   Queen Anne’s County Democrats have taken a pass on fielding a candidate for that county’s resident Delegate in the 36th District but incumbent Republican Richard Sossi got a last-minute challenge from an unexpected source: the former campaign treasurer for fellow 36th District Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin’s failed race for Congress two years ago.

   Stephen S. Hershey, Jr. of Queenstown, an unsuccessful 2002 candidate for Queen Anne’s County commissioner and a political appointee in former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, filed his candidacy for the Delegate seat on July 6, the last day to file. No Democrat filed by that deadline to seek that party’s nomination for the seat and the county’s Democratic Central Committee had until July 21 to appoint a candidate to run.  But state election records show no such candidate was put forward.

   Hershey, a commercial real estate executive, served as an assistant secretary of the state Department of Planning and also as an assistant secretary in charge of state property management in the Department of Natural Resources in the Ehrlich administration. The Baltimore Sun reported at the time that Hershey was one of three “political appointees'” named by Ehrlich to newly created top positions at the planning agency. ( http://www.latimes.com/features/bal-jobs061603,0,5461236,full.story )

   In the 2008 election season, Hershey served as the campaign treasurer for E.J. Pipkin’s failed attempt to obtain the Republican nomination for the First District Congressional seat.  Federal Election Commission records show that Hershey, as treasurer, was cited for failure to file a required campaign finance report for the Pipkin campaign account and the campaign was fined $250 in September, 2009.

   In an interview with The Cecil Times, Hershey said he “had a lot of conversations,” including with Pipkin, about filing in the GOP primary for the House of Delegates seat. Since there was a period of uncertainty over Pipkin’s plans and whether he would run for his Senate seat again, “there were a number of us discussing the Delegate’s seat,” Hershey said. (If Pipkin had given up his Senate seat to run for another office, possibly state Comptroller, Sossi was expected to seek the Senate seat and give up his House seat.)

  Pipkin filed for re-election to his Senate seat on June 30, a week before Hershey filed for the Delegate’s race. Sossi filed for re-election to his House seat nearly a month before Hershey filed.

  “I think the timing was still correct” to run for the Delegate’s seat, Hershey said, adding that “most people I talked to about it” did not oppose his getting into the race. ( He did not speak to Sossi before filing.)

   “Everyone who knows me knows I’m a hard worker,” Hershey said.

    Hershey, 46, a native of Bowie, MD, has lived in Queenstown for more than ten years. He graduated from Catholic University and holds an MBA degree from George Washington University. He has been active in Queen Anne’s County GOP groups, including the Republican Central Committee and the county’s Republican Club. He has also done volunteer work and coached youth football.

   State campaign finance records show he donated $500 to Ehrlich’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006, a modest amount to have been rewarded with a plum assistant secretary’s job paying more than $74,000. Hershey said he worked hard as a volunteer for Ehrlich’s campaign. The state records also show Hershey donated $300 to Pipkin’s 2006 Senate re-election campaign. He has also made donations to the county Republican Central Committee but not to Sossi’s campaigns.

    Sossi, who has been aggressively fund-raising for more than a year in anticipation of a possible state Senate seat run, is well-positioned financially for a re-election bid  to the House and the fact that Democrats chose not to challenge him means he can aim most of his considerable warchest at Hershey in the GOP primary.   

     Sossi didn’t seem particularly concerned about Hershey’s late entry into the primary, telling The Cecil Times, “Well, he paid his filing fee, that’s his right.”  But, Sossi added, “I still haven’t heard why is he really running.”

   However, the political signs going up all over the 36th District might tell the tale.  In southern Cecil County, individual Hershey signs have been posted in clusters with joint  signs touting the candidacy of Pipkin and his comrade-in-GOP-arms, Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36. Our spies in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties tell us the same thing is going on there. Hershey’s small signs are brown and look like the candy bar of the same name, but with a few modifications to probably keep the trademark lawyers at bay.

   Individual Sossi signs are showing up in the company of joint Ehrlich for Governor and Andy Harris for Congress signs in Kent and Queen Anne’s, our spies tell us.  

   Sossi has been carving out an increasingly independent course from the Pipkin-Smigiel duo. He refused to co-sponsor their attempt to impose from Annapolis a  mandated Cecil County property tax rate on the county commissioners.  The Pipkin-Smigiel legislation was killed in Annapolis– an embarassing outcome for local lawmakers’ sponsorship of a local bill– after the Cecil County Commissioners hired a lobbyist and commissioners personally appeared in Annapolis to oppose the Pipkin-Smigiel gambit.

 (On their own, the Cecil County Commissioners cut the local property tax rate and potential revenues to the county in the new Fiscal 2011 budget, cutting the past rate to the “constant yield” tax rate. But, to meet their bare bones budget, the Commissioners then cut popular services such as free recycling of plastic bottles and cans at the county landfill.  Smigiel and Pipkin have attacked the Cecil County Comissioners repeatedly on tax issues but have been notably silent on the recycling and trash “fee” increase imposed by the majority Republicans on the five-member county board. One Democrat opposed it and the other Democrat abstained.)

     Sossi was the top vote getter in the 2006 House of Delegates races in the district. Under the arcane system for voting in the district, three Delegates are elected but each must be a resident of Cecil, Kent OR Queen Anne’s Counties. Residents of each county, as well as three precincts in Caroline County, cast ballots for three Delegates to represent the District. (In Cecil County, about half of the county is in the district, including southern Cecil, Elkton and a few westward precincts.)

   Sossi  is a graduate of the University of Colorado and served five years in the U.S. Navy, including duty in Vietnam. He also served his country as a deputy branch chief of the super-secret National Security Agency and received advanced training in Chinese language studies and cryptology.  Before running for political office, he owned and operated a military antiques store.

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