Del. Kathy Szeliga: 2016 election is about ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’
PRESTON — The Caroline County Republican Central Committee held its annual Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner on Friday, Sept. 23, at the Preston Volunteer Fire Company hall.
The biggest fundraiser of the year for the central committee, attended by several Republicans representing the county in elected office at various levels, aimed to raise money for more campaign supplies at the committee’s headquarters.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Maryland House of Delegates Minority Whip Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-7-Baltimore County, who is running for election in November for the U.S. Senate seat that will be open when U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., retires.
The evening opened with a brief lesson on the two former Republican U.S. presidents for which the dinner is named, presented by Chad Dean, a central committee associate member who teaches history and social studies at Saints Peter & Paul High School in Easton.
Dean said the Republican party was founded in 1854. Two years later, in 1856, John Fremont was the party’s first nominee for president, but it was not until 1860 that a Republican ran successfully: Abraham Lincoln.
Since then, Lincoln has been immortalized in myriad ways across the country, Dean said, including being the namesake for these Lincoln Day fundraisers, held annually by many Republican organizations nationwide.
Recently, Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 and 1984, has been added to share the bill with Lincoln, Dean said, as a nod to the more conservative version of today’s Republican party.
Following dinner, the first speaker of the night was Russ Schriefer, a strategist who has worked on campaigns for, among others, former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich and current Gov. Larry Hogan.
Schriefer said Ehrlich’s and Hogan’s campaigns were two of the more interesting ones he has worked on, for different reasons.
He said when Ehrlich first ran for governor in 2002, the Republican party was relatively popular in Maryland, as President George W. Bush had high approval ratings following 9/11.
But when Ehrlich ran for a second term in 2006, Bush’s popularity had plummeted, and with it Republican candidates’ in general.
Schriefer said several focus group members said they thought Ehrlich had done a good job as governor, but they refused to vote for any Republicans because of their opinion of Bush.
“The momentum had shifted,” Schriefer said. Ehrlich lost the election to Democratic challenger Martin O’Malley.
Schriefer said he first met Hogan to talk about a run for governor as a Republican nominee in 2011.
“Maryland is the first or second hardest state to elect a Republican governor in the U.S.,” Schriefer said. “You have to really thread the needle.”
Schriefer said as the campaign run fired up, polls reported 60 percent of voters would not vote for O’Malley if he were eligible for a third term. Of those 60 percent, 40 percent were very strongly against O’Malley.
“We cast (Democratic nominee) Anthony Brown as a third term of O’Malley,” Schriefer said. “Maryland is tough (to elect Republicans), but not impossible, with the right candidate and the right message.”
Schriefer said Szeliga is such a candidate, and can defeat the Democrats’ nominee for the Senate seat, U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.-8.
“Kathy Szeliga is a real person, not a phony politician,” Schriefer said.
Schriefer said Szeliga, who with her husband owns a construction company, believes in the private sector and how to solve problems at home.
“We need a big, dramatic change in Washington,” Schriefer said. “She will govern with an eye toward fiscal responsibility and common sense, letting businesses expand and create jobs, by getting government out of the way.”
Szeliga opened her own remarks by saying how well-represented Caroline County is at the state level by their delegation, all of whom attended the dinner.
She said Schriefer created her TV ad, which addresses the two questions she gets asked the most: How to say her name (sha-lay-guh) and why she is running for Senate.
“I’m running because of the encouragement and help of many people in this room, including (U.S. Rep.) Andy Harris (R-Md.-1st), who said we need people like me, who have signed the front of a check and know how to run a small business,” Szeliga said. “Career politicians don’t.”
Regulations are the biggest hurdle for small businesses, Szeliga said.
She said more than $743 billion worth of regulations have been adopted under President Barack Obama’s administration; her own construction company had to let go full-time employees and start working with contract employees because of Obamacare.
Szeliga said veterans’ mental and physical health care needs are not being met.
“It is a moral imperative to get the Veterans Administration fixed,” she said.
“I am running for the forgotten man and woman, sick and tired of Washington not taking care of business for us,” Szeliga said. “Andy is doing a great job there, but he can’t do it on his own.”
Szeliga said this election is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She encouraged those there to reach out to people, through email, phone calls and social media, to spread her message, and to put campaign signs in their yards.
She said her campaign staff’s salaries are fully funded; every dollar donated will go to buying TV ad space, something that proved critical to helping Hogan win his bid for governor.
Del. Jeff Ghrist, R-36, said Szeliga, as Minority Whip in the Maryland House of Delegates, is clear and concise and always prepared to go head-to-head on the issues with other delegates on the floor.
But she will need more voter support to win, Ghrist said. He said he wants to see Caroline County voters lead the way in November, turning in at least 90 percent of its Senate votes for Szeliga.
“Let’s do this for Caroline County,” Ghrist said.
The evening concluded with the presentation of citations from the Maryland General Assembly to two honorees.
First to be honored were all of Caroline County’s law enforcement officers. The citation was accepted by Ridgely Police Chief Gary Manos and Capt. James Henning of the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office.
The second citation went to Kenny Wood, of Lifetime Well Drilling, based in Denton, who has made 36 trips to Ghana and Tanzania, drilling wells and laying miles of pipeline, to deliver clean drinking water to more than 1 million people.
Finally, Steve Stouffer, chair of the Republican Central Committee, recognized two elected officials in Caroline County, Commission President Wilbur Levengood and Register of Wills James Phelps, and their wives, Sherry Levengood and Jill Phelps, for their many hours volunteering for central committee functions.
Caroline County Commissioner Larry Porter, left, and Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-7, right, pose for a picture at the Caroline County Republican Central Committee’s Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner, Friday, Sept. 23, in Preston.