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May 14, 2007

Political Winners & Losers (Part Two)

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

In last Monday's entry, we analyzed federal and state politicos and organization on the winning and losing sides of the electoral and ideological battlefield. This week, in addition to a few statewide stragglers, we bring the focus a little closer to home.

The State Democratic Party - Winner

When Gov. Bob Ehrlich was inaugurated, former state GOP Chairman John Kane was known to carry a notebook around with a binder label that simply read "target list." According to those in the know, the notebook didn't actually contain a list of the targeted Democrats, but was just intended to poke a finger in the eye of the leaders of the legislative branch.

As expected, the media had a field day with the idea of the leader of the Republican Party sporting a list of targeted Democrats. Unfortunately, target lists have a funny way of coming back to haunt their creator. This case was no different.

Speaker Michael Busch (Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. (Mike) Miller (Calvert/Prince George's) fumed over the list, but they turned their anger into action. They went out and raised money and developed a strategy to spread those funds over the "targeted."

I never actually saw a list, but I know from press accounts who some of the names were. Here's a partial accounting (all Democrats, of course): Galen Clagett (Frederick), Sue Kullen (Calvert), John Bohanon (St. Mary's), Murray Levy (Charles), Dave Rudolph (Cecil), Mary Dulaney-James (Harford), Norm Conway (Wicomico/Worchester), and John Donoghue (Washington).

The idea was that Mr. Kane and the GOP central committees in these counties would recruit, train, and fund challengers who would knock these incumbents out of the legislature. The scorecard tells the story. Every single one of these targeted Democrats was re-elected, and six incumbent Republicans, all seeking re-election, were defeated. Several came from the same districts as targeted Democrats. That may be the last time we ever hear about the creation of target lists, at least the last time we'll ever see one get carried around Annapolis, anyway!

The State Republican Party - Losers (for now)

If you thought it hurt to call the leadership of the House and Senate winners, it's very painful to point out the loss tally for the State GOP. Without a sitting governor as the presumptive head of the party, state Republicans are struggling to find their voice.

There are several bright spots on the horizon, though. Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley (Frederick/Carroll) is well-respected, although he had to stave off a challenge from ultra-conservatives to take the top spot in the Senate Republican Caucus. Similarly, House Minority Leader Tony O'Donnell (Calvert/St. Mary's) has established himself as a credible, passionate voice for the minority party. You'll be hearing more from both men over the next three years, and both will gain in stature.

State GOP Chairman Jim Pelura was a recognized sight around the State House campus, and his articulate statements served as an effective counterpoint to the O'Malley Administration's press announcements. The GOP stable statewide includes two current county executives, David Craig, of Harford County, and former Delegate John Leopold, of Anne Arundel County.

Rumors out of Baltimore County hint that current Delegate Pat McDonough, a tough blue-collar fighter with a razor-sharp wit (who also hosts a very popular weekly radio show on WCBM), may be planning to run for Baltimore County executive. Pat would be a tough opponent, as his arguments on illegal immigration and resentment towards BG&E resonate across party lines.

Organized Labor in Maryland - Winner

These guys (and gals) started work on the gubernatorial race as soon as Bob Ehrlich was elected in 2002. They didn't need a crystal ball to know that the state's first GOP governor in decades wasn't going to roll over for the labor agenda, and he didn't. In fact, Governor Ehrlich appeared to go out of his way to establish a policy focus demonstrating his bias towards job creation and economic opportunity, most of which ran counter to the various union policies and priorities. They didn't have far to look to find a sympathetic candidate.

The marriage of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and organized labor seemed made in heaven, and their mutual admiration society flourished over the summer of 2006. Once elected, Governor O'Malley rolled out his pro-union policy focus. Living wage and mandatory union dues payments (even for workers who opt out of representation) were two of the most important bills on labor's legislative agenda; both passed and were signed by the governor.

The next three years look bright and productive for the labor movement in Maryland, which means things will get worse for business and taxpayers.

The Gardner Board of County Commissioners - Winners

These commissioners started off on an oddly gentle and consensus-based footing. David Gray, a returning commissioner, abdicated his leadership role (granted as a function of his position as the top-vote getter in the majority party) to the overall top vote-getter, Jan Gardner. That apparently selfless act seemed to set a tone of cooperation and civility, and the love-fest continues to the present.

This board, benefiting from a rabid anti-development fervor among the electorate, appears intent on not just setting a tone less welcoming to new development, but actually looking backward and undoing the work of the previous board.

Past boards are known by the name of the president serving during that tenure, which seems odd considering that the president is basically a figure head, the only true power being the power to wield the gavel at public meetings.

Regardless, Jan Gardner and her board appear to have captured the imagination of a majority of Frederick Countians; so expect their reign to continue, much to the chagrin of the development interests.

One area of concern is the impending expansion of Fort Detrick, along with thousands of jobs (and the people to fill them). Those people will want to live here, and the question may come down to whether those people will have local housing choices; and will the Gardner Board be able to wrestle with the roads, schools, and other components of a healthy community in the face of that onslaught.

Pro-Growth Mayors - Losers

Following closely on the heels of the commissioners' success, the small town mayors in Frederick County, who are advocating for control of their own destinies through annexation, are being cast as villains in the growth drama.

The mayors of New Market and Thurmont, Winslow Burhans and Martin Burns, find themselves being vilified because they've decided that their constituents need the right to annex land into the corporate limits in order to make the growth timing decisions and infrastructure deals with developers that will affect their towns.

Growth opponents, fresh off a smashing victory in the last commissioners' race, see it differently. They classify any attempt to bring land into a municipal boundary as denying the newly elected commissioners' their voice, knowing the commissioners' will probably refuse to support such actions.

The rhetoric level between the mayors and the commissioners is at an all-time low (or high, depending on your perspective). The recent New Market town annexation referendum is an example, with the yard sign battles of recent general elections replicated up and down Main Street. On a recent windshield survey just before the annexation vote, it was clear that the opponents had this thing sewn up.

Once the individual annexation battles are resolved (as it was in New Market), then both the local elected officials and the county commissioners have to get back to the work at hand. If they continue to spar like angry children over the growth issue, the real losers will be the town residents.

Watch two players in this drama, Commissioners' President Gardner and Brunswick Mayor Carroll Jones. They are close, and Carroll will play a leadership role in trying to find balance between the interests of the towns and the oversight role of the commissioners.

Form of Government debate - (Winner & Loser)

To change or not to change, that is the question. We're once again talking about options and possibilities, and that is a good thing. A recent forum sponsored by the Frederick County Teacher's Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Committee of Frederick County, and the League of Women Voters focused on the various options for the structure of county governance.

Going into the event, there seemed to be some legitimate interest in the discussion. Prior to last November's election, people, concerned with the direction of the last board based on growth votes, seemed to be open to a change. Once the Gardner Board took office, and demonstrated their clear desire to slow things down a bit, those who might have been interested in a change seemed to withdraw from the debate.

Those same people are now claiming that "developers" are the ones who are pushing for charter government. It's just not true, but just because it isn't true doesn't prevent the claim. The simple fact is that we've been having this debate for a number of years, and both Charter form and Code Home Rule have been rejected on ballots by Frederick County voters. Unless and until a groundswell of registered voters clamors for a change, this will (and should) remain a debate among insiders and political junkies.


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