By Josh Kurtz
The Republicans who would be governor all came to the Tawes crab feast in Crisfield last week — a motley assemblage of the fractured state party’s various wings, all but guaranteed to preserve and extend the GOP’s record of futility if nominated in 2014.
There was David Craig, friendly but reserved, the educator/technocrat who’s made local government work for decades. There was Larry Hogan, who has been around the block a few times himself, gregarious, nearly giddy, now that he and his current vehicle, Change Maryland, have so infuriated Gov. O’Malley and his people. And there was Blaine Young, with an impressively sizeable cadre of supporters, many sporting Blaine Young T-shirts, hoping to ride incendiary positions all the way to Government House.
Each of these men has some appeal. But they also offer a plethora of platitudes, mostly along the memes of “taxes bad, immigrants bad.”
Small wonder Maryland Republicans can’t get anywhere. Even granting that voters are fed up and may be willing to give anything different a try, these guys offer nothing fresh or exciting, beyond a mere denunciation of what has come before. Young’s rhetoric is particularly chilling.
But what if there was another way for the state GOP?
Chrys Kefalas is betting there might be.
The name may be vaguely familiar to Republican insiders. He was deputy counsel to Ehrlich when Ehrlich was governor, working under the formidable Jervis Finney, who remains a mentor.
These days, Kefalas, 32, is working for the federal government. Openly gay, he has spent a good bit of his spare time fighting to pass — and now preserve — the same-sex marriage law. He’s also having a series of conversations with friends, associates and former colleagues about the future of the Maryland Republican Party, and additionally is pondering, among what he calls “various hypotheticals,” whether to run for attorney general in 2014.
Kefalas is looking to chart “a Lincoln Republican course for our party.” He frets that, with its institutional opposition to gay marriage and the DREAM Act, the state party is only pursuing “anti-messages — anti-immigration, anti-freedom.”
Kefalas calls himself “a principled conservative, but a realistic one.” He has a libertarian worldview and favors limited government. He sounds like a fairly conventional Maryland Republican when he says, “I think 2014 could be a time when the citizens are looking to check the balance of power in the state.” But he readily concedes: “I know I’m not the candidate the [party] leadership would select.”
If this formula for a Republican future sounds a little like what Jon Huntsman was peddling in the presidential campaign, well, there’s something to that — Kefalas was a leading supporter of Huntsman’s. (Huntsman’s candidacy, it seems, was fueled to a degree by the liberal media — and here’s the liberal media, taking interest now in one of his acolytes.)
When pressed, Kefalas says he is not contributing to or volunteering for any presidential candidate in the general election (Huntsman gave Mitt Romney a perfunctory endorsement and then vanished from the scene — and is pointedly not planning to be anywhere near the Republican National Convention).
And he doesn’t have his heart set on running for office — in 2014 or beyond. Kefalas says he is surprised by how little public activity there has been associated with the AG’s race so far — though two possible contenders, Del. Bill Frick (D) and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy (D), did make the trek to Crisfield last week, and there seems to be increasing movement and discussion in just the past few days. Kefalas is watching to see who emerges in the AG’s race — among Republicans AND Democrats — before deciding whether to make the leap.
“We haven’t seen anyone who is a sure-fire attorney general on the scene,” he observes.
Like his former boss Ehrlich, Kefalas has a personal story that’s all-Maryland. He grew up in Baltimore, went to Calvert Hall High School, then Loyola College, then the University of Baltimore Law School. His family owns Costas Inn, the popular Baltimore County eatery.
Having worked for Ehrlich, both in Congress and in Annapolis, Kefalas knows the personal sacrifices a political career involves — and the inherent challenges of running as a Republican in a Democratic state.
“I saw first-hand how hard this is,” he says, adding, “I think there are a lot of things in the state worth fighting for…At some point, there’s a threshold that I would have to decide to cross” to become a candidate.
Kefalas figures it would cost upwards of $5 million to run a successful campaign for AG and says, without bluster, “I’ve never had a concern about that aspect of the campaign.”
So for now, Kefalas watches, listens and waits. After the November elections — and, he hopes, victory for the forces looking to defeat the anti-gay marriage and anti-DREAM Act ballot questions – he’ll ponder the party’s future, and his own, a little harder.
“I think 2014 might be a year for someone who is conservative and independent to emerge and run a competitive race,” he says.
Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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