Waugh still miffed by more than election result
Outgoing state senator, defeated in June primary, says GOP team abandoned him
As the Southern Maryland delegation heads to Annapolis in January for the 2019 General Assembly, a familiar face will be absent.
Sen. Steve Waugh (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) was defeated in the June primary, victim of what he characterized as a tidal shift in party loyalty that ultimately overwhelmed his campaign.
Waugh has had five months to think about the reasons for his loss, and the implications of those reasons.
‘It certainly is a blow to your pride’
After losing the June GOP primary to Jack Bailey, who went on to defeat Democrat Thomas Brewer in the November election, Waugh pulled out the mission statement he wrote after he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006.
The goals he set for himself were to be a good family man, to lead a purposeful life through experience and to
continue education. Politics was not on that list. The 54-year-old outgoing senator recently applied to a doctorate program in engineering, which falls under the education category in the game plan he set out for himself 12 years ago.
Waugh often told people he is “literally a rocket scientist.” With a degree of science in aerospace engineering, Waugh studied astronauts when he attended the U.S. Naval Academy. Since he was 5 years old, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut after watching Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969.
Waugh entered politics after 2008 when he saw the country take what he described a “pretty serious left turn.” He unseated Democrat Roy Dyson, a longtime incumbent and former congressman, in 2014, feuded with some of the local Republican politicians during his first term and lost his re-election bid to a political newcomer in a GOP primary.
“It certainly is a blow to your pride when you lose an election,” he said last week at his Lusby home that is decorated with lots of Marine-related items, family photos, his diplomas, his Senate certificate and a picture of the state house dome in Annapolis.
“But it doesn’t define me in any way,” he said. “The real disappointment is I’m not going to be there when the next thing happens.”
In an election, someone’s got to lose. In some cases, candidates may never put their finger on why they lost. In Waugh’s case, however, there was little doubt Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was the singular reason behind his defeat.
Hogan officially announced his endorsement of Bailey, a retired Maryland Natural Resources police officer, in April at a fundraiser where many local GOP leaders and politicians attended. Bailey, who lives in Mechanicsville, didn’t file as a candidate until Feb. 27, the filing deadline with the Maryland Board of Elections for the primary election.
Winning a historical second term this fall and enjoying wide popularity in the region, the governor captured 76 percent of the votes in St. Mary’s and 75 percent of the votes in Calvert.
“The governor went to great lengths to try to destroy my reputation down here,” Waugh said. “When you have a governor who’s willing to use his popularity to lie and his authority to coerce, he’s got a $9 million bank account, he was committed, so it’s one of those things that’s very difficult to get past.”
And he didn’t get past it. Waugh lost the primary to Bailey by a margin of 10 percentage points, or 752 votes. To this day, Waugh says he is not sure why the governor decided to work against him.
When contacted this week, Shareese Churchill, the governor’s press secretary, said Hogan is out of town for a meeting and is unavailable for comment.
In April, Hogan criticized Waugh as the only Republican in the General Assembly who voted to override his veto on legislation that would have prohibited colleges from asking about criminal history on student applications.
At the time, Hogan said he read in the newspaper about talks of lapdogs and bulldogs, referring to Waugh’s comment that “Southern Maryland has a choice between a lapdog or a bulldog.”
“I can tell you that Jack Bailey is not going to be a lapdog for Mike Miller and the far-left folks in Annapolis,” Hogan said, referring to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s). “He’s going to be a bulldog fighting on behalf of the people of Southern Maryland.”
In November 2017, long before the veto override vote took place, Waugh said he was told that Hogan was angry about some things he said back in the district. He never found out what that was. The only thing he could think of that might have crossed the governor was his support behind the new shock trauma center in Prince George’s County, which started as a piece of legislation sponsored by Miller.
Miller said by phone this week he never asked Waugh to vote on a bill. “Not once,” he said. “He voted his own conscience and everything. … He paid a consequence for that.”
“It is still a strange story, I think, all in all,” Todd Eberly, a political science associate professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said this week. “It’s incredibly uncommon for a leader of a party to involve himself in a primary against an incumbent.”
Eberly, who openly supported Waugh’s re-election bid, said Waugh’s vote to override the governor’s veto was the most clear evidence of his voting out of step with his party and contrary to the governor. But that was just a single vote.
“Nobody could look at his record and not conclude he’s a conservative Republican,” Eberly said.
In a state legislature heavily controlled by the Democrats, Eberly said Republicans need to be on the same page to create a unified message. “The story changes if you’ve got even one Republican vote siding with the Democrats,” he said. “It’s hard to create an usagainst-them narrative when you have one member voting with the other party.”
To Waugh, his being punished for pursuing bipartisanship didn’t make sense. He didn’t think it was the reason, either.
Hogan’s “entire campaign is based upon him saying, ‘hey, I work across the aisle; I’m not a partisan guy,’” Waugh said. “But I’m gonna be utterly intolerant of someone who is willing to work across the aisle?”
It also didn’t make sense to him from a mathematic point of view, given no Republican can pass a bill without Democratic support in Maryland.
“So you have to work across the aisle. So how can it be an offense?” Waugh said. “I don’t really understand it. I have no idea what motivated him to do what he did.”
As a Marine pilot who flew combat missions overseas, Waugh said this election taught him a lot — especially, that politicians aren’t Marines.
“I don’t consider myself anything other than an average Marine. … You’ve got to know who’s on your side, and you’ve got to take care of your people on your side,” he said. “That was the mentality I brought to Annapolis, and then was ‘educated’ on how few people feel that way,” he said with a self-deprecating laugh.
‘It’s every man for himself’
Not too long before the primary on June 26, Waugh said this year’s campaign had been “more personally painful” compared to his uphill fight to challenge an incumbent senator four years ago.
In 2014, Waugh defeated Dyson, who had held the seat for two decades and had fended off several Republican challengers over the years. Waugh himself tried for the first time in 2010, and lost by a narrow margin.
On election night four years ago, Waugh expected to lose to Dyson, but was surprised to learn he had won by 13 percentage points during a red tide when St. Mary’s Republicans took over three seats in the legislature that were previously held by Democrats.
“Republican candidates came together [this time], and we helped each other relentlessly from Day One,” Waugh said in 2014. “The team atmosphere allowed us all to leverage one another. … [We] understood what it meant to be part of a team.”
This time around, Waugh was largely campaigning alone as many local Republicans in both counties — state delegates and county commissioners — publicly endorsed his rival.
Waugh said he mistakenly assumed loyalty from those for whom he repeatedly left skin on the floor.
“I’ve never seen a group of people so willingly to abandon a shipmate,” he said. “That was extraordinarily disappointing to discover that all these people who I had been helping and fighting for felt absolutely no loyalty at all toward me.”
The real fault line in the state legislature, he concluded, is not whether you are a Democrat or Republican, but that “it’s every man for himself.”
“Honestly, I felt like he kinda abandoned us toward the end of his term,” Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) said Thursday morning by phone. “He was putting out stuff saying he is the most effective legislator. I remember that email. He acted like he didn’t need or want our help.”
In a January email to supporters announcing his run for a second term, Waugh wrote: “Last year I was the most effective legislator in Annapolis, passing over 20 bills and gaining record funding for St. Mary’s and Calvert counties.”
“He made that statement. The majority of those bills are delegation bills,” Morgan said, adding other lawmakers should share equal credit.
During the primary, when many of his fellow Republicans publicly endorsed Bailey, Morgan endorsed neither. Both Waugh and Bailey are his friends, Morgan said, so he decided to stay out of it. “I’m not a king maker. It’s not up to Matt to tell people who to vote for,” he said. “Let each candidate make their own case.”
Summarizing Waugh’s four-year tenure, Morgan said “Steve did a more than respectable job, and he has a lot to be proud of.”
Del. Deb Rey (R-St. Mary’s) said Thursday by phone she enjoyed working with Waugh and considers him a friend. A military veteran herself, she praised Waugh for leading a summit to identify issues related to veterans and addressing their needs.
Like Morgan, Rey also didn’t endorse anyone in the GOP Senate primary. In her own race, Rey lost her bid for a second term to Democrat Brian Crosby this fall. “I don’t feel like I abandoned him,” she said. “We all had a race to run.”
Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) this week called Waugh “a patriot” who served his country and his constituents well.
“When you enter the political world, you have to accept the joy of winning and the misery of losing,” Clark said. “You pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and you move on with your life.”
In the long run, Clark said it’s fruitless to reason why one wins or loses an election. “Anytime [you run], you have to fight alone,” he said. “The people who abandon you are the people who don’t vote for you.”
Looking back of his time at the Senate, Waugh is most proud of the school safety legislation that started at his desk following the fatal shooting at Great Mills High School on March 20.
“We went after real problems and put together, I think, some really comprehensive changes that are gonna make substantial differences,” he said. “I hope it will make people feel safer when they put their kids on the bus.”
As a former Marine colonel, the well-being of veterans has been an issue dear to him. Waugh, who did not attend nearly as many public events as other local legislators, did speak last year at the Veterans Day observance program in the Helen community, and attended an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in Prince Frederick this month. He also worked to pass a veterans suicide prevention bill.
“I’m desperately afraid my son will suffer what I clearly still do,” Waugh said, referring to his son, Nick, and his own struggle with post traumatic stress disorder.
Of his four-year tenure, Waugh was considered one of the most effective Republican legislators in the General Assembly. The number of bills he introduced and the number of his bills that went into law reflect that record.
Eberly said last year that “Waugh is a legislator that came in and learned the game very quickly, and became effective very rapidly.”
Waugh thinks what made him effective early on was one simple step he took in his first year as a state senator. He co-sponsored a bill with every senator except for one — a gesture he believes proved to his fellow lawmakers that they can work with him.
“No one has done that before,” he said. “When I brought a bill in, I wasn’t seen as this far-rightwing crazy guy, even though I’m a pretty conservative guy. They saw me as a real person, and they actually would try to agree with whatever I was trying to put forward.”
As the election has been won and lost, everyone moves on, but the record stays.
“He should be proud of the record he amassed,” Eberly said. “Nothing can take that record away.”
Sen. Steve Waugh (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), who lost in the Republican primary in June, stands last week on the deck at his Lusby home overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.