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Government & Politics

Schifanelli bows out of GOP chair race after filing documents missed deadline by an hour

Gordana Schifanelli (R) in Annapolis on Aug. 15. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Gordana Schifanelli, the Republican who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor this year, has been thwarted in her bid to become chair of the state party. The GOP’s current leader claimed her nominating paperwork arrived an hour late.

Republican leaders from around the state will gather in early December to elect a new chair, three vice-chairs and a secretary. Schifanelli, a Queen Anne’s County lawyer who ran on a ticket headed by Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), planned to run for state chair on a slate dubbed the “Unity Team.”

In a series of social media posts on Tuesday, she bluntly rejected outgoing Chair Dirk Haire’s claim that the slate filed its paperwork an hour late. She said the only requirement in the party’s bylaws is that nomination paperwork be filed within 30 days of the vote, a condition she insists was met.

“MD GOP blocked the nomination of excellent candidates citing some arbitrary 5 p.m. deadline nowhere to be found in the current By Laws…,” she wrote. Schifanelli then suggested that the 5 p.m. deadline was “created to exclude outsiders.…”

In an email to party leaders, Haire said potential candidates had more than a month’s notice that nominations had to be in by 5 p.m. on Nov. 9. He noted that party regulations allow for people to be nominated from the floor at the upcoming GOP convention if two-thirds of the delegates approve, giving the Unity Team — and anyone else who missed the deadline — an opportunity to become viable candidates.

“There is also no legal ability for someone who files late to force themselves into the Nominations Committee report,” Haire wrote. “[W]e have followed the same process as we have for decades, and the Nominations Committee has done their work and provided their reporting on who is eligible and timely filed.”

Cox won the endorsement of former President Trump late last year, and that helped fuel a 9-point victory over former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz in the Republican gubernatorial primary. But Cox and Schifanelli were broadly criticized by party leaders — particularly Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford — for failing to craft policies and messaging needed to win over Democrats and independents.

Cox’s unsupported claims about the 2020 election were seen as a particular turnoff to the types of voters that Republicans need to be successful in Maryland. Democrats hold a two-to-one voter registration advantage here.

In a lengthy phone interview on Monday, Schifanelli came across as someone determined to challenge Haire’s ruling. She talked extensively about wanting to “rejuvenate” a state party that is “broke,” dominated by “old people,” riven by “nepotism” and “shady deals,” unable or unwilling to support office-seekers, and in desperate need of a rebranding. She spoke enthusiastically about broadening the GOP’s outreach to younger voters.

By Tuesday, however, she decided to fold her tent. “I cannot help people who don’t want to help themselves,” she wrote in an email.

With Schifanelli off the ballot, Republican Central Committee members who gather at the Maryland Live! Casino and Hotel in Hanover on Dec. 9 and 10 will have two choices for chair — Nicole Beus Harris, a political consultant and the wife of Rep. Andy Harris, and Tim Fazenbaker, a Baltimore County business executive who ran unsuccessfully for state delegate in District 6 this year, finishing fourth in a field of seven. Two years ago he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination to take on Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D).

Fazenbaker describes himself as a “true American” who “has seen first-hand how Socialist policies have destroyed” his native Baltimore.

In an interview, he said the party needs to reach out to younger voters and people of color, and to invite them to shape the Republican Party to fit their outlook. In a news release, he said he would advocate for “a community centered approach, stopping corporate welfare, preserving public lands, environmental responsibility, improving education and freedom of choice.”

Fazenbaker said there is a perception within the party that Nicole Harris’s chief qualification for chair, an unpaid position, is that she is “the wife of a congressman,” an issue that could hurt the party’s efforts to broaden its outreach. “Her background, from what I know, is not as in-depth as, say, mine,” he said. “People have that right to question what has she done.” He also said Andy and Nicole Harris are rarely seen “in areas that aren’t solid red.”

Nicole Harris declined to respond to an email request for an interview. Aides to the congressman did not respond to media inquiries over a two-day period.