“Montgomery County Republicans – we’re gonna win!” WMAL conservative talk radio host Larry O’Connor proclaimed at the Montgomery County GOP Convention on Saturday morning, to the cheers of over 100 local Republicans gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Rockville.
Though no registered Republicans hold countywide elected office, GOP activists can still boast about a lasting win: Robin Ficker’s 2016 push for term limits, a ballot initiative that resulted in three-term caps for the county executive and county council members.
Former county executive nominee Reardon Sullivan on Saturday announced another effort on similar lines: a ballot initiative that would limit any one person from serving more than two terms as county executive. County Executive Marc Elrich is currently serving his second term.
Sullivan referred to Elrich as “far left” and said even if the county doesn’t elect a Republican, he would be satisfied with a Democrat who is “more reasonable” than Elrich.
Attendees were encouraged to sign and take and distribute copies of the petition, which will need 10,000 signatures to appear on the ballot.
The event included remarks and speeches from Nicole Bennett, vice chair of the Maryland Republican Party; Yukong Mike Zhao, president of the Asian American Coalition for Education; and Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a national conservative activist group that files Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.
Speakers emphasized the importance of engaging in local politics in the county, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly four-to-one. But discussion also mirrored conservative talking points seen across the country. Specifically, criticisms voiced about public school curriculums echoed a national trend of conservative concern over instruction about race and LGBTQ+ topics in schools, and opposition to “woke culture.”
“What happens in our house is more important than what happens in the White House … local engagement is the only way to win,” O’Connor said. He urged attendees to pay attention to what is going on in their communities, especially in the public schools, and to focus on engaging with community members on a face-to-face level when campaigning for local Republicans.
O’Connor said the way to flip the county red is by starting with the school board. He expressed particular displeasure that schools may discuss race and LGBTQ+ identity with students, and said the way to change that is by replacing current school board members with Republicans.
“The most important thing is to show what we Republicans stand for. And we can do that by shining a light on the godless, socialist, Marxist ideals of the left,” O’Connor said.
A panel of local activists and organization leaders spoke about advocating for causes in Montgomery County, including opposition to the Thrive Montgomery 2050 master plan, proposed school boundary changes and Montgomery County Public Schools’ COVID-19 restrictions. The conversation centered around how to advocate for conservative ideals in the majority blue county.
Steven Austin, of MoCo Neighbors for Local Schools, is opposed to the MCPS school boundaries study and said he believes MCPS has a leftist agenda. He said he doesn’t believe the county is segregated, and that he believes boundaries are a nonpartisan issue.
The countywide boundary analysis aimed to analyze how boundaries — used to determine which schools students attend based on their home address — support or impede students’ access to diverse, adequately enrolled schools within walking distance of their homes.
“Every one of our issues are connected. They all come from a leftist policy ideology that we’re seeing, particularly in Montgomery County,” Austin said. “I started realizing that [MCPS] is not doing this for the kids. They’re doing this for their own ideology.”
“If you’re not part of the machine, you don’t have a voice in this county,” said Kimblyn Persaud, founder of Empowering People in Communities of MoCO (also known as EPIC), a group that opposed Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan. Persaud said she’s a Democrat but felt shut down by Democratic politicians who supported the Thrive plan.
O’Connor encouraged attendees to take inspiration from the panelists and start their own conservative-based organizations within the county.
“We can’t just stand here and talk. We have to do something,” O’Connor said.