I left the Republican Party in January 1983. It had ceased to be the Republican Party of my youth. I was a liberal Republican state legislator from Rockville -- one of only 16 Republican delegates out of 141 members of the Maryland General Assembly. In 1982 I ran for county executive and was defeated in the Republican primary by a conservative banker who endorsed draconian reductions in the federal government and tax cuts for the very rich as far as the eye could see. In that same year, my Republican colleague, Constance A. Morella, was reelected to the legislature and later moved on to Congress.
Twenty years later, I am a Democratic candidate running for the Maryland legislature and Morella is in the fight of her political life to retain her seat in Congress. Many of her supporters complain that she is the victim of redistricting. This is partly true, but the larger reason for her dilemma is of her own making.
Morella made a career out of telling voters that they should vote for the person, not the party. At the same time, the Republican Party made substantial inroads in Congress by telling voters that the Republican Party is the party of conservative principles and that these principles are more important than the individual personalities of candidates. These contradictory appeals come to a head on Nov. 5 in Montgomery County, when Democratic voters will have to decide whether it is more important to vote for the principles of their party. If, in fact, they decide to do so it will be in no small part due to Connie Morella.
Once upon a time, liberal Republicanism was a proud and vibrant force that resonated throughout the Republican Party. In New York, where I grew up, Nelson Rockefeller was hated by the Barry Goldwater wing of the GOP not because of his progressive social and economic policies but because he worked to build a progressive Republican Party. Liberal Republicans such as Sen. Jacob Javits, Mayor John Lindsey and Sen. Ed Brooke of Massachusetts took on the conservatives and worked together to build a progressive GOP that attracted and retained like-minded Republicans.
Liberal Republicanism died many years ago, and Connie Morella is a big part of that story. The triumph of Newt Gingrich-Tom DeLay Republicanism was made possible by conviction and selflessness on the part of conservatives and a lack of conviction and self-dealing on the part of liberal Republicans such as Connie Morella. These conservatives demonstrated that they would rather lose an election than support a Republican candidate with liberal principles, and GOP liberals demonstrated that they would rather win an election than build and shape a Republican Party based on liberal principles.
So the remaining liberal Republicans struck a Faustian bargain with the conservatives and right-wingers at the national and local levels. Liberals would do nothing to build a progressive GOP. They ceased doing the prosaic but essential chores of party building, such as recruiting like-minded precinct chairmen, sharing fundraising and volunteer lists with other progressive Republican candidates, supporting other Republican progressives in primary contests, and going toe to toe with the conservative and right-wing Republicans over the future and control of the Republican Party. Instead of working and collaborating with one another, liberal Republicans have run from one another. Instead of doing the hard work to build a progressive party organization, they have put their efforts into building personal organizations that are indistinguishable from fan clubs.
Morella is part of an ensemble of irresolute Republican progressives who surrendered control of the Republican Party to ultra-conservatives. In Morella's case it was an exchange for their promise to tolerate her ambitions in a district that conservatives know they cannot win. But by surrendering the GOP without a fight to the Newt Gingriches, Jerry Falwells and Tom DeLays, Morella planted the seeds of her own undoing. She has helped the Democratic voter understand that Morella's party -- the Republican Party -- does matter more than her person.
Of course, the outcome of the race for Congress in the 8th District remains unclear. But one thing is certain. This may be the year that Rep. Connie Morella finally reaps what she has helped to sow.
-- Luiz R.S. Simmons
is a Democratic candidate for the House
of Delegates (District 17).