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January 17, 2006

Self-anointed watchdog ''Lennie''

Roy Meachum

Commissioner John Lovell raised a pertinent point, as reported in last week’s Gazette. He was talking to Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) President John “Lennie” Thompson.

“I don’t know who elected you to be the watchdog for everybody filing (a nonprofit tax form) or PAC…to prove them wrong,” Mr. Lovell was quoted.

With over three years’ exposure, having served on the county board together since the last elections, he knew the answer. Mr. Thompson considers himself anointed; he alone possesses the strength to protect county residents and voters from the perils he generally invents. The board that day dealt with a prime example.

The discussion hinged on the Frederick County Business PAC, which sponsored ads in the recent municipal elections. They endorsed candidates from both parties, surprisingly picking Democratic mayoral candidate Ron Young over Republican Jeff Holtzinger, which I found confusing. Doesn’t the GOP claim allegiance from merchants and such?

The ads themselves surprised me. While businesses, no less than other special interest groups, have attempted to influence elections in the past, I found the Chamber of Commerce’s new tactic refreshing.

They were not operating behind closed doors or working through intermediaries, as was their customary wont. They should be applauded for the openness they paraded in November’s races. Bravo!

That’s not how Mr. Thompson viewed it, of course. He thumped on his fellow county commission members, preaching his gospel that Frederick County Businesses PAC should be forced to conform to his notions; he lost 3-1, with Jan Gardner absent. Another victory for developers and their lobbyists, he could say.

I firmly disagree.

My problem with lobbyists does not stem from what they do; after all, by any label people will attempt to get laws written to suit their wishes; they number in their ranks, moreover, the BOCC president, taking advantage of his catbird seat.

As the raging Washington scandals demonstrate, there are unscrupulous individuals, in and out of public office, and they will use any and all means at their disposal to bend government to their will and for profit. Intermittently, they may actually secure an advantage for their clients.

But, chiefly, the true miscreants operate out of public view: in restaurants, hotel rooms and private offices. The telephone is a big weapon in their war to bend the public purse and institutions to their private gain; they take care not to be overheard.

Mr. Thompson utterly fails to see any difference between the free and open petitioning of government, embedded in our constitution, and bad-news operators, like Jack Abramoff and Bruce Bereano.

While its chance of passage rates somewhat lower than a snake’s belly, the BOCC president has suggested legislation that would demand any and all who approach commissioners register and pay a fee, if they spend a piddling $2,500 on mailings, ads or otherwise. The PTA was mentioned in a news story. Why not the Girl Scouts, too?

These are not the “lobbyists” Mr. Thompson means, of course. He wants to penalize, discomfit and castigate anyone even vaguely connected with the building industry. As usual, he’s playing to his core constituency, the no-growth mob.

By any measure, this is but one more special interest group. Another collection of concerned citizens who are most concerned with imposing their view on everyone else; in the name of preserving their way of life, they want to stifle yours and mine.

Mr. Lovell was more than kind using the phrase “a watchdog,” even though his remark seems tinged with sarcasm; it’s actually dripping acid. His target is less than an Aristotelian gadfly, an early citizen watchdog over the corruption of power, and more in tune with Sen. Joe McCarthy, who specialized in innuendo and smear.

As the commissioner knows full well, the Chamber of Commerce is but one item on the BOCC president’s hit parade, a list made up of those, who like the late unlamented Wisconsin senator, he considers subversives to his grand illusions.

Speculation over the holidays surfaced, in print, about Mr. Thompson’s future intentions. Talk we’ve heard before. Will he or won’t he seek reelection? I consider the matter moot. Barring some catastrophic circumstance, wild horses could not pull him out of Winchester Hall. But he knows he’s reached the limit of his political reach.

Running for another term shapes up a turkey shoot. In what amounts to a popularity contest, his no-growth gang matters. With his opponents sharing their votes among different candidates, his followers should have little difficulty putting him among the ranking five who bring the bacon home.

But stepping out on his own, in a one-to-one battle, could be very injurious to his political health, and theirs.

When he tried to tangle with Judge Terry Adams he used every trick his very tricky mind could devise; he sought to substitute himself for the far more qualified jurist. She cleaned his clock at the ballot box, although – his usual claque aside – he received unexpected support.

People I knew were all too willing to stick Mr. Thompson in the Court House, anything to get him out of Winchester Hall, but fortunately for Maryland’s legal system, he’s still there, on East Church Street.

That’s more bad news for those of us who want governmental interference in our lives held to an absolute minimum, where possible.

An elected official who fancies the role of watchdog, by any name? That strikes me as an oxymoron; although “oxy” may be totally unnecessary.

Give it up, Lennie.

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