Indefatigable Robin Ficker, Running to Run Maryland
By IAN DECKER
Capital News Service
It’s 2:05 p.m. on a Monday in April when Robin Ficker, one of four declared Republican candidates running for the Maryland governor’s seat Larry Hogan is leaving, pulls into the parking lot of Potomac’s public library. Ficker is there to speak at the board meeting of the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women.
Driving a Ford Escape with a large yellow sign touting his signature campaign goal of cutting the state sales tax by 2 cents, Ficker, 79, is the only candidate to physically attend the meeting. There are several joining on Zoom, and candidate Kelly Schulz, a former Maryland cabinet secretary endorsed for the seat by Hogan, sent a proxy to relate her campaign promises.
In front of about 20 women, Ficker spends his 10 minutes talking about cutting the sales tax from 6 to 4 cents, which his website says will save Marylanders hundreds of dollars a year.
But it isn’t just about providing a stimulus boost to the residents of Maryland; the sales tax will “send a message to businesses nationwide to come to Maryland,” Ficker’s site says.
“When you go fishing, you just don’t just throw in a hook, you got to have a lure,” Ficker said to the Republican women, about attracting businesses to Maryland. “You got to have something that looks nice to eat. It could be made out of metal, or you gotta have a worm. You got to have something on the hook to lure the fish in.”
The fishing analogy is just one example of his folksy – and sometimes unorthodox – approach to politics and life. Ficker was such an antagonistic sports heckler at Washington Wizards games that the NBA instituted a rule limiting fan interference during matches.
“He is a quirky individual with a fascinating personal journey who is perhaps overly focused on the one issue of taxes,” said David Lashar, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor. “That which I know of him as a person from the campaign trail, I rather like … even if I do believe there are better options for the next Maryland governor.”
Ficker has been involved in Maryland political contests since the late ’70s, when he served in the Maryland House of Delegates representing Montgomery County for a single four-year term.
But over the past 40 years, his career has hit a series of setbacks. Ficker’s campaign losses include a 2016 U.S. House race in Maryland’s District 6 Republican primary; the 2014 Maryland state Senate general election race in District 15; and a 1982 Maryland House of Delegates race in Montgomery County. This March, he was disbarred due to complaints of professional misconduct.
“He has had previous failures, but I’m sure objectively and particularly in his mind, he has successes also,” said Del Lamiman, the first vice chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party. “And for some people, it doesn’t take quite as many successes to keep them going.”
Ficker’s determination and civic activism are what his running mate, LeRoy Yegge of Dundalk, admires about his uphill contest, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1 and where both major parties are fielding experienced public officials.
The nine Democratic candidates running in the July 19 gubernatorial primary are former nonprofit leader Jon Baron, Comptroller Peter Franchot; former Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe, former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain, former U.S. Education Secretary John King, former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore, former U.S. Secretary of Education Tom Perez and college lecturer Jerome Segal.
In the GOP primary for governor, Ficker faces Schulz, who served seven years in Hogan’s administration as secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and secretary of the Department of Commerce, and who earlier served in the Maryland House of Delegates; Dan Cox, a Donald Trump-backed member of the House of Delegates; and Joe Werner, an attorney from Baltimore County.
“Everybody has failures in life,” Yegge said, when asked about Ficker’s earlier runs for office. “But what does a failure do? It picks you up and makes you stronger and makes you move on. It just shows [Ficker’s] dedication, even with his failures that he’s had in previous campaigns … that he’s still willing to fight for Maryland.”
Ficker has advocated for issues that earned over 2.5 million votes as ballot questions during local and statewide elections. In 2016, a ballot question he supported received nearly 300,000 votes countywide and passed in the Maryland Legislature. It limited county executives in Maryland to three consecutive terms in office.
In any election, the selection of a running mate helps to send a message of a candidate’s priorities.
Yegge has spent several years as the owner of Bruno’s Pizza in South Baltimore, although he recently left that position to spend more time with family. Yegge also has managed Dempsey’s Brew Pub at Camden Yards and has spent the past four years driving for Uber. And while he also works for a nonprofit for young adults with disabilities, Yegge, by his own admission, “has never been a candidate for anything,” until this year.
Ficker said he chose Yegge because he grew up in Dundalk and has spent time in Baltimore County, an area in the state with a high percentage of Republicans. Yegge’s passion for Maryland and work in the community made him an ideal partner in the campaign, Ficker said.
“I just thought that having Baltimore County on the ticket was important,” Ficker said.
He is a candidate who does not rely on proxies or campaign managers to do the work for him.
“In some of his campaigns in the past, he’s knocked on thousands of doors personally, not just with surrogates,” Lamiman said.
On his website, Ficker in picture after picture poses with some of the GOP’s most notable names, including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
“Doug Ducey of Arizona, I met him; he’s a very nice person,” Ficker said. “But you know what? I’m just as smart as Doug Ducey. I know I am.”
Ficker has been trying to return to local government since the early-’80s with little success, so the question becomes: Why does he keep running?
“In the big parties, it is too often, ‘How will you win?’ and ‘What do the polls say?’ instead of ‘What do you believe?’” Lashar said. “Robin disdains the former questions and knows his own answers to the latter. That, from the outside, is what seems to motivate him.”
In addition to cutting the sales tax to save Marylanders money and attract big businesses to the state, Ficker is running on a platform focused on limiting property tax increases and restricting sewage sludge trenching in residential zones. Trenching strips land for pipeline maintenance.
Should he win election, Ficker knows that as governor, he will face daily challenges.
“The office of governor is a position where you’re dealing with conflicts,” Ficker said. “It’s really conflict living, OK? … There’s a new conflict every hour. You have to be used to dealing with conflicts.”