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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Interview with Steven Showe, Chairman of the Washington County [MD] Republican Central Committee

 
    Transparency regarding the appointment process for all of the recent Washington County Republican Central Committee (WCRCC) appointments has been a major concern and sometimes heated topic of discussion on social media. So in the spirit of transparency, let me begin by stating:
I wanted to interview Steven Showe, Chairman of the WCRCC, for no other reason than to attempt to clear up the suspicion regarding the integrity of this committee that has been sown into the community via social media and the local newspaper, IMO for either personal attention or to further a political agenda.  I write this as a Conservative political activist and blogger that has nothing personal to gain or to lose by this interview. Although I had been a loyal Republican for 30 years, I now identify strictly as a Conservative. I have no influence in the Washington County Republican Party or the Washington County Republican Central Committee, and I am not even a member of the Washington County Republican Club any longer. In fact, although I still own a  home in Washington County, due to a personal family situation,  I have been "temporarily" living in Baltimore County for nearly two years. I have no personal friendships on the WCRCC. I do have three acquaintances out of the six who voted to fill these positions, having briefly served on one Board with one member and having occasionally attended the same political events as two others. I had no prior connection to Steven Showe. Full disclosure: Even though it has no connection to the WCRCC appointment of Commissioner Spong, which is the appointment that has created the most stir,  I am currently a contracted employee for Delegate William Wivell in a politically benign position as a social media consultant. I also compile data into document form, one day a week working from home.
    I met with Mr. Showe the night of the Republican Club meeting where the Washington County delegation gave their annual legislative update. He was willing to give me all of the time that  I needed and willing to discuss any topic. I found him to be very open and forthright, and his demeanor when asked about his leadership was somewhat humble yet firm.  He answered every question, although some were "off the record." Those particular answers were sometimes disarmingly honest, and in most cases would be to his benefit to share. I simply asked him the questions that many have asked, repeatedly, regarding the process. When not in quotes, his answers have been paraphrased.

1. How transparent is the committee legally obligated to be regarding the appointment process? "Legally, there is nothing written. Transparency is a term that might have multiple meanings. We viewed the process as if we were interviewing somebody for a job. We ran background checks and they were guarded as private." Sometimes privacy trumps transparency.

2. Did the background checks disqualify anyone? "I can't answer that."  Showe went on to say, "We didn't record minutes at our meetings because they weren't regularly-scheduled meetings and because they would have become public, and we had to protect mainly the privacy of the individuals, but also ourselves."

3. Did the committee research and abide strictly to the state constitution? "Definitely. We did not bend to the Appointments Office, we strictly read the Constitution [and sought the advice of lawyers]. We were advised that we may send more than one name, but with the recent concern for how the U.S. Constitution is being ignored and attacked, we decided to strictly follow the state constitution. The Appointments Office in Annapolis requested that we submit more than one name, and so did the Maryland State [Republican] Party.

4. The requests for three names for the Delegate and Commissioner appointments were reported to have come straight from Governor Hogan. Is that true? "I don't think it came from Hogan. It came from the Appointments Office and I don't think that Larry Hogan knew anything about it."

5. Not all applicants were interviewed for Commissioner. Were all applicants for the other positions interviewed? "Yes."

6. What were the criteria for deciding who would be interviewed? "We developed the process for each position as a committee. The process was different for each position. Completely different."
  • "As for the position for Senator, we decided to keep it within the delegation and interviewed everyone except Brett Wilson. He declined an interview because he felt that he was elected to represent Hagerstown."
  • "For the position of Delegate we decided to interview every applicant."
  • "For the commissioner position we thoroughly read every resume, cover letter, form, and essay (Top Three Priorities) submitted by every applicant to decide who we would interview. We interviewed every elected official."
Mr. Spong was not an elected official yet he was interviewed? The rest were interviewed based on their background checks and paperwork.

7. A second interview for one applicant who had applied for the delegate position and then also applied later for the commissioner position was deemed unnecessary. Why? "We had very recently interviewed this person, but if the individual comes to me I will give him more details." [Privacy]

8. Do you think that the committee could have been more considerate towards the applicants, especially in keeping them informed throughout the process? "We notified people as their applications came in. If they sent them by email there could have been those who slipped through the cracks because at first people were sending them directly to me, some to other members of the committee, until we did get a Google number that went to all of us. The applicants could have called to follow up to see if their applications were received. Those who where going to be interviewed were called, and everyone was notified the night that the interview process was over."

So, those who were not going to be interviewed were not told until the interview process was over? "Yes. Large companies [typically] do not call people to tell them that they are not going to be interviewed. That's the way we worked it. Will a company even read your resume? No, [often] they may read the cover letter and you may be disqualified or you may have the job [by the cover letter alone]. We thoroughly read everything that each applicant submitted, but we were not going to inform them that they would not be interviewed until the end of the process."

9. Would you do anything differently regarding the interviewing process? "My main goals were to keep the committee intact and not split like Carroll County, and to protect the privacy of the applicants...so no."

Regarding Mr. Spong's appointment as Commissioner:

10. Was it unanimous? What did the numbers have to be? "No. It only had to be a majority."

11. Was there a 2nd choice? "Yes." Showe stated that it had been narrowed down to four choices, and there was one with the next highest amount of votes. He did not want those names to be published. He believes that the privacy regarding the vote is necessary to keep the committee united. "United we stand. Divided we fall."

12. Why do you think Spong's appointment created more of an outcry for transparency than the other appointments? "That, I don't have a clue because during the public comment phase he was the most strongly supported applicant."

13. How does Spong compare to Wivell (the voters' choice)? Was that important? "Mr. Spong is pretty intelligent and so is Mr. Wivell. Wivell has the financial skills. There was not another Wivell there, except for maybe one." He was referring to the individual with the second highest votes for the appointment.

14. Spong has no record on issues, and has never campaigned or held an office. How do you know he will represent the voters on important local issues, and also be as conservative as Wivell who the voters elected? "At his interview he gave good solid Conservative answers."

15. Do you know where Spong stands on:
  • Improving economic conditions? His opening statement showed knowledge of what has already been attempted and what we still need to do. "He was very well-versed."
  • Attracting businesses and jobs to the area? "All of them said that there have been a lot of bad decisions made over the years. He said, Hey let's learn by our mistakes."
  • Education? "He said there is room to cut the budget for education in the department itself. He would not approve anything to increase the education budget whatsoever unless it was absolutely needed. [I think] that is one budget that is not very transparent. I'd rather not quote [Spong] regarding the BOE. You should ask him directly."
  • Possible funding for a new stadium for Hagerstown? "This was a question to all of those who were interviewed. He said no funding. He thought it was better to be located outside of the community and not funded by the county. He said that if they want to have baseball let the fans pay for it."
Mr. Showe stated: "It has been several weeks now since his interview, and I don't have his paperwork in front of me. I think you should interview Mr. Spong on where he stands on the issues. I will give you his number."  I was introduced to Mr. Spong at the meeting that evening, and he agreed to give me an interview, but only if I could meet him in-person. He said that he wanted me "to be able to look him in the eye."

16. Did Spong have an issue that he was most passionate about? "He was well-rounded on every issue. My question to him was: Do you support code rule, home rule, or a commissioner-style of government? He said commissioner-style was best and most efficient. I asked, efficient in what way? He said that it doesn't cost as much. To me that was spot on."

17. Does Spong have something that qualifies him to serve?  For example, Wivell is a CPA and MBA that is passionate about budget issues. Mr. Spong's area of expertise is in education. He was a principal at a local school for 16 years.

18. Should his past affiliation as a Democrat be a concern, especially since he has no public record on issues? Why or why not? "I didn't let it influence my judgment. Ronald Reagan was a Democrat. I can't speak for the other members."

19. Did his connection to Terry Baker influence his appointment? "No, because I didn't even know until two days before [the vote] that he had anything to do with Terry Baker." Showe said that he couldn't speak for the other committee members, but said that he did not see or hear anything that would indicate influence.

20. Is there any truth to the rumor that the "Good Ol' Boys" were pushing for McKinley? "No comment. I will say that he got the most negative comments during the public comment phase."
Mr. Showe let me know that he himself had recently been called a Good Ol’ Boy by someone from the TEA Party.
21. Ryan Miner has said publicly on social media that he has called for your resignation? "Yes."
  • Was he the only one? "Yes."
  • Did you consider resigning? "No, not for s second." 
  • Did any of the other committee members get any personal blowback? Maybe one, but I'm not aware of any specifics.
22. Did you deny Ryan Miner, Ken Buckler [WashCo Chronicle],  the Herald Mail, or any other request for an interview? "No. Ryan Miner did not ask me for an interview. I have never heard of Ken Buckler. I was interviewed by the Herald Mail by telephone about 6 or 7 times...whenever they asked for one. Sometimes I had to tell them that I would get back to them when I knew something. Sometimes they held information from my interviews until they had more information. I only declined to do a video interview with the Herald Mail."
   
    In summary, I normally write opinion pieces, so many would be shocked if I didn't end this post with my own thoughts about the process, the integrity of the committee, the leadership of Mr. Showe, and the appointment of Mr. Spong.  
    Before the interview, I had nothing that would lead me to question the integrity of the committee that was elected by the voters to fulfill this duty or the process that they employed, even when my first choice for delegate was not chosen. I read a lot on social media from some that seemed to want to cast doubt and suspicion on this committee. I approached it with the innocent-until-proven-guilty perspective. After the interview, I remain convinced that the committee fulfilled their duty to the voters with integrity using all available knowledge and a fair process. I do believe that in the future voters will give  more consideration to their votes for this committee having had this experience.
   I believe that as chairman of the committee, Mr. Showe's leadership was strong and honest, with an understanding of the weight of these appointments, but also for the importance of keeping the committee and the party united.
    As for the appointment of Mr. Spong, I think that remains to be seen. I still don't know where he stands on issues. I could and may interview him, but we all know that what is said in an interview is not always a clear picture of how a person will vote. Sometimes the voting official doesn't even know for sure how they will vote until they are sitting in that seat and asked to push that button or raise that hand. I have no reason to believe that he won't serve honorably. I will not speculate that he is a RINO or a Democrat posing as a Republican. I will not speculate that he presented himself as something that he is not.  I just don't know. Nobody can predict or pre-judge. All we can do at this point is wait and see. If there was one single thing that I could do or ask others to do to guarantee that he is a Conservative Republican and will vote accordingly, I think most people know that I would do it. I choose my battles. Just because I can't affect a different outcome at this point does not mean that I will resort to sowing suspicion and strife into the community. But I will be watching...

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