Republicans in the Maryland House ousted Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell as their leader Tuesday, voting to replace him with Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke, a younger member who promised to do a better job of spreading the minority party’s message beyond Annapolis.
“Unfortunately, there are many voters out there in Maryland who don’t hear our message,” said Kipke (R-Anne Arundel), 34, who emerged as the victor after a contentious closed-door election that stretched more than two hours.
O’Donnell (R-Calvert), 52, had guided the Republican caucus since 2007, taking over the same year that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) took office. During debates, he often gave fiery speeches on the floor in opposition to the administration’s policies.
With only 43 members in the 141-member House, the GOP’s influence is already limited, and some delegates fear their numbers could decrease in the 2014 elections.
Those will be the first races run in new districts drawn by a commission appointed by O’Malley. Kipke acknowledged Tuesday that it will be a challenge to pick up seats using a map that was “gerrymandered” to favor Democrats, but he said the party can make gains by working with a number of Republican party and conservative advocacy organizations to promote their initiatives.
O’Donnell left the meeting without talking to reporters and did not immediately return a phone call. A vote total was not disclosed, but several delegates said it was close.
Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) was also selected Tuesday to serve as minority whip, the No. 2 position in the caucus. She replaces Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Talbot), an O’Donnell ally.
Kipke and Szeliga had aggressively sought to take over the leadership of the caucus, visiting many members at their home or at local restaurants in recent weeks.
Kipke said that Tuesday’s debate became heated at times.
“One nice thing about being the minority party is you can have robust debates, and there’s no fear of retribution,” he said.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said late Tuesday that he has had good working relationships with O’Donnell and Haddaway-Riccio.
“Tony did a good job of providing the loyal opposition while having a tremendous amount of respect for the institution of the House of Delegates,” Busch said. “He did an admirable job.