Maryland Democrats, hoping to capitalize on a surge of anti-Trump activism to help unseat Gov. Larry Hogan (R) next year, elected Kathleen Matthews, the former Marriott International executive and onetime congressional candidate, on Saturday to lead their state party.
Matthews, 63, who enjoyed the backing of the party’s senior elected officials, was the overwhelming choice of the more than 170 county central committee members who gathered in Greenbelt. She had been interim party chair since March 1, when Bruce Poole stepped down.
The election of a state party chair, who traditionally leads fundraising and candidate recruitment efforts, is a nonevent for most voters. But Saturday’s decision carried added significance for a Democratic Party still reeling from Hogan’s upset victory over then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown in 2014 and stunned by Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton last year.
Matthews said the party must call Hogan, who seldom criticizes Trump, to account for the Republican’s policies in the White House.
“We must defeat a governor who is silent at every turn,” said Matthews, who added that Thursday’s House vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act “just made me sick to my stomach.”
Matthews promised to renew a state party infrastructure that has deteriorated in recent years, especially outside traditional Democratic strongholds in Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. She promised to pursue an “all-Maryland strategy” to recruit and support candidates.
Matthews, who last year lost a bid to be the Democratic candidate for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, campaigned aggressively for the unpaid party post, contacting party leaders in all 24 counties and Baltimore City. She has also met with members of grass-roots groups resisting Trump’s and the congressional GOP’s agendas in an attempt to bring those groups into the party tent.
But progressives, including many who supported the Democratic presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), charged that Matthews’s rise was emblematic of the status quo maintained by longtime party insiders such as Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer. Left-wing activists are also angry with the Democratic establishment for not supporting what they saw as key bills in the most recent General Assembly session.
Matthews’s lone opponent in Saturday’s vote, Montgomery County party activist Tony Puca, voiced the skepticism of those on the left.
“We do have a broken party right now, and that’s what this is all about,” said Puca, a former Montgomery County central committee member and congressional candidate who drew expressions of surprise and a few laughs when he declared himself not only the best choice for state chair, but also “probably more qualified” for chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee than new chair Thomas Perez. His work in state and national politics dates to 1964, when he organized New York City high school students for Lyndon B. Johnson.
Puca said the party will not win over groups such as Our Revolution and Indivisible by turning to “the same old people running it the same old way.”
The meeting opened with a pep talk from Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who urged Democrats to become active in this year’s Virginia gubernatorial race as “a warm-up drill for 2018.”
“I will tell you that the outcome of the governor’s race in Virginia will set the political psychology for the first year of this new [Trump] administration and how we’re fighting back,” Van Hollen said.