State central committees, county central committees and local political clubs of the Democratic and Republican parties are all part of a bewildering landscape of political party organization in Maryland. A few distinctions will provide a clearer picture.
Political parties are defined in Maryland law and state central committees are designated as their governing bodies; as governing bodies they write their own constitutions and bylaws. Maryland law also creates county central committees, specifying, among other things, that the Wicomico County Democratic Central Committee (WCDCC) has eight members - four male and four female - elected to four-year terms during primary elections in gubernatorial election years. Further, how central committees raise money and what it is spent on is regulated by law; regular financial reports are made to the State Board of Elections.
While central committees are the legal face of parties in Maryland, local political clubs, such as the Democratic Club of Wicomico County, are not based in Maryland law and membership is open to all registered Democrats. Both central committees and clubs sponsor fund raisers, organize volunteers and work to elect Democrats in the general election. In fact, in some counties clubs have more influence than central committees.
A dilemma faced by party organizations, particularly central committees, is their role in primary elections and the selection of nominees for the general election. Many political scientists believe that parties should actively recruit the best candidate and help that person win the primary. Other researchers say that parties should be neutral because supporting one candidate will anger competing candidates and their supporters and cause dissension within the party, hurting the party’s chances in the general election. WCDCC follows the second option and does not endorse candidates in the Democratic primary, but will advise equally all Democrats who seek the party’s nomination.
In upcoming election years, outstanding citizens are needed to run for elected offices, especially at the county level; please consider becoming a candidate. Elected office is not for everyone, but it’s where we need our best citizens.
*This essay by Harry Basehart originally appeared in “Politically Correct?” published in The Daily Times, September 22, 2013. It was revised February 28, 2017.
* Update from Michele Gregory blog post from 6/11/2017