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As Long as We Remember...

August 28, 2006

What it takes, IMHO – Part One

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Anyone who has spent any time reading web forums or posting on blogs knows that the abbreviation IMHO means In My Humble Opinion.

I thought it might be fun to use the IMHO cover to address what I think are the essential skills, knowledge, and abilities to serve in the positions that voters will be asked to narrow down on September 12 and make final choices on November 7.

My qualifications are no better or worse than anyone else’s. In fact, my varied government experience might even offer me some advantages.

Register of Wills: The aspiring Register should possess working knowledge of the Maryland statutes related to wills, deeds, and trusts. This is a rather arcane and complex section of the Annotated Code, but essential to a smoothly run Register’s office. Further, the Register serves as the staff support to the judges who serve on the Orphans Court, so the Register has to be able to provide advice and guidance to the court in their deliberations. Finally, but no less important, the Register has to be able to assist residents who seek their services during what are normally very difficult times.

Analysis: None of the candidates running has made a case for the need to replace Virginia Fifer for failing to do her job. That might still happen, but unless it does, count on Mrs. Fifer to be the front-runner through the Primary and the General Election.

Judge of the Orphans Court – The judges in this very special court resolve questions arising from contested wills and estate settlements. In addition to common sense and good judgment, the Orphans Court judges receive advice and counsel from the Register or Wills. There are several strong candidates here, and a lot of that valuable commodity known as name recognition.

Incumbents Tim May and John Tregoning are well-liked, and have cruised through previous elections. This time, a few high-profile Republicans have joined the fray. Former Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes makes his return to politics seeking a seat on this bench. Joining him in challenging the incumbents is Adrian McC. “Mac” Remsberg, a former Republican county commissioner.

On the Democratic ticket, Fern Hines, a popular farmer and former Planning Commissioner joins John Norman, a respected retired executive seeking a seat. One last note on this race: at a recent candidate event in Urbana, an audience member was overheard saying, “What does a judge of the Orphans Court do, anyway?” Really!

Analysis: A lot of folks are talking about a May-Grimes grudge match. I just don’t see it that way, although it is likely both will be serving after November. The only way Republicans don’t sweep this is if the Republicans don’t campaign.

Clerk of the Circuit Court: Our Clerk runs the business office for the Circuit Court, an extremely complex and important administrative office. You might be familiar with the recording clerks in the courtroom, but the Clerk also maintains all of the land records as well. Jury care and feeding is also a duty of the Clerk’s office, and Sandra. Dalton has done all of these things very well. One of her favorite aspects of the job is the civil wedding, and who could blame her! In this race, incumbent Republican Dalton squares off against Democrat Richard Gibbs, a local attorney, in November.

Analysis: Barring some electoral miracle, this one is already over. Sandy Dalton is very popular, very visible, and very re-electable. Mr. Gibbs is intelligent and glib, but at the Urbana Forum he came across like a smart aleck; and voters don’t flock to a smart aleck.

State’s Attorney: The State’s Attorney is the top law enforcement officer in the county, our lead prosecutor for all major felonies. Scott Rolle has said that he runs the largest law firm in Frederick County. The real battle would seem to be in the GOP primary, where current Deputy State’s Attorney Charlie Smith is pitted against GOP Central Committee member Dino Flores. This one is a donnybrook, with Mr. Flores using statistics to attack the prosecutorial record of Scott Rolle (and his opponent by extension), while Mr. Smith points out Mr. Flores’ relatively recent history as a registered Democrat.

One attack piece from the Smith camp went so far as to point out how Mr. Flores supported Democrats in the last election, including (insert gasp here)… Kathleen Kennedy Townsend! Mr. Flores uses a very effective tool as a criticism, the ratio of cases to actual trials. By comparison, it is much lower in Frederick than in similar jurisdictions. Several people seemed intrigued by this finding at Urbana’s candidate event.

Notwithstanding all of this fallout, the General Election looms large for either Mr. Smith or Mr. Flores. Standing at the finish line is Bill Poffenbarger, a well-known and genial lawyer who has an amazing record as a criminal defense attorney (specifically in DUI cases). In a politically weird turn unique to Frederick, Poff (as he’s known to his friends) is supported by a number of high-profile Republicans, as well as the Good Ol’ Boys (GOBs).

Analysis: Whether Charlie Smith or Dino Flores wins in September, both had better hope they can do two things: reunite the party, and raise a pile of money. Bill Poffenbarger will be waiting for the General Election fight, and money (think GOBs) won’t be an issue for him!

Frederick County Sheriff: I knew when Sheriff Jim Hagy finally hung up his Sam Brown belt this would be a real bloodbath. It seems almost silly to have to explain the role of the Sheriff, as I suspect most already know very well. Our Sheriff’s Office is essentially the county police force, providing response coverage throughout the county except for those municipalities that have their own police agency. Additionally, the Sheriff runs the county jail, security at the courthouse, service of summons, and more recently, the Animal Control division.

True to suspicion, this is the big fight we all thought it would be. Chuck Jenkins, the lead detective for the Sheriff’s Department, filed his candidacy after talking it about it for years. Chuck is one of the hardest working foot soldiers in the history of the local Republican Party. Die hard party loyalists and candidates who have benefited from Chuck’s hard work feel compelled to repay that loyalty.

Harold Domer, the former Acting Chief of the Frederick Police Department, is the only candidate in this race with direct, executive law enforcement management experience. He’d have been chief in Frederick if Jennifer Dougherty hadn’t been mayor. He now runs the Animal Control Division under Sheriff Hagy.

Tom Johann, a long-serving deputy with a solid reputation, is an upstanding guy, and he is well-regarded in a very wide circle. He has also done an admirable job of getting his name out. Bill Folden, head of the sheriff’s traffic unit, has done an amazing job of creating and running a campaign, in spite of his novice status. His signs, notable for the inclusion of a photograph, seem to be all over the county.

For the Democrats, retired Deputy Chuck Tobery leads the two-man race in both name recognition and distributed signage. Tony Lawson is slowly building momentum, seizing on his ability to appeal to minority voters while at the same time stressing his strong connections to young people as a school resource officer. In the interest of full disclosure, he is the outstanding JV football coach of my son Rick’s team at Brunswick High.

Analysis: I still think that the winner of the Republican primary is the presumptive victor in November. Sheriff Hagy has avoided identifying his favorite, at least publicly. Several people have told me that the sheriff has a preference, and that in rare cases, he has made that preference known. IMHO, the answer to that question will point to the eventual winner. If Jim Hagy tells enough people whom he prefers, that individual has a significant advantage over the other candidates. If Sheriff Hagy announces his preference in the media, that would be huge! One last big wrinkle: regardless of the Hagy factor, with this many candidates, the vote in the primary will be diffused and difficult to predict.

I’ll save MHO on the Board of County Commissioners and state races for another column.

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