What it takes, IMHO - Part Two
This column is intended for those who either really love local politics, or those who just pay no attention whatsoever.
I talked about a number of county races in Part One, but ran out of column space long before I got to the race for county commissioner.
Board of County Commissioners: Since the folks we elect to this office serve as our executive and legislative leadership, they require a varied and multifaceted set of skills. A county commissioner has to be a great listener, an avid reader, a capable debater, and most importantly, extremely unselfish with their time.
Our commissioners meet several times each week, mostly in less formal work sessions but also in their formal public hearings. They hold meetings with staff, applicants (some do, anyway), and constituents. They attend business openings, tours, special presentations, and other governmental meetings.
They are each assigned to a number of liaison functions, requiring their attendance at board meetings of a number of non-profit and community-based organizations.
We all know of their "quasi-judicial" role; but you probably don't know how careful they have to be when serving in that capacity. They act as judge and jury, taking evidence, hearing argument, conducting cross-examination, and ultimately rendering a binding legal opinion.
The upshot of this is that we don't want incompetent or incapable people in this role. Our commissioners need to be serious, thoughtful, and deliberate. They need to possess a better than average understanding of fiscal matters, since one of their most important jobs is to pass a balanced budget.
Into this fray, we have a large number of candidates representing a broad spectrum of opinions. Republicans far outnumber Democrat candidates; in fact the Democrats didn't even fill out their primary ballot. They could have gone into September 12 with five candidates, but the party seems comfortable with just four.
Not sure what this says about a major political party that can't round up enough candidates to fill out a ballot. Even if they were to do the unheard of and sweep the election, a Republican would still be elected along with the four Democrats.
The Democrat candidates are incumbent Jan Gardner, former Planning Commissioner Richard Floyd, writer and conservationist Kai Hagen, and Democratic State Central Committee member Ron Wolf.
This group seems to get along well, and shares a philosophy regarding development. All four candidates suggest that the rate of growth has outpaced the services demanded by a growing population. If the Democrats thought it was better to have fewer candidates to avoid intra-party conflict, just look at the Republicans to see why.
Three of the GOP candidates are incumbents, but a gulf wider than the Atlantic Ocean separates them, at least one from the other two. Current President John L. "Lennie" Thompson, Jr., has continued his adamant opposition to new residential and commercial growth, fighting any accommodation or special consideration.
Lennie knows what works for him, and leading the no-growth charge has served him well since his days as the burgess of Walkersville. His strident objection to development has pitted him against his two Republican colleagues, Mike Cady and John Lovell.
Both of these gentlemen take a much different approach, favoring to work within existing constraints to attempt to maintain some consistent level of permitting for new construction. The battles have played out in public, with Mike and John frequently joined by retiring Democrat Bruce Reeder, while Lennie and Jan express their opposition.
A new wrinkle is the re-emergence of past Board President David Gray. His platform is also to dial back the growth demand, starting with revisiting the already passed New Market Region Plan.
Other Republican candidates seem to share this slow down, take-a-deep-breath approach. Local attorney and TheTentacle.com columnist Ed Lulie, longtime volunteer firefighter and county emergency communication supervisor Micky Fyock, and GOP activist and businesswoman Elaine Kessinger are all urging that the new board revisit earlier region plans to see if approved development can be sustained with roads, schools, and water/sewer.
Bishop Samie Conyers stresses his long time commitment to the community, while Tom Henderson, Stan Mazelewski, and Ron Bird have yet to really get their campaign bandwagons underway. None of these guys would be described as a no-growth advocate, though.
Current Planning Commissioner Joan McIntyre, Board of Zoning Appeals Chairman Billy Shreve, and local RealtorŪ Charles Jenkins are all very familiar with land use and zoning. All three seem to be strong defenders of private property rights, and while Joan has cast some slow growth votes on the Planning Commission, the fact that none of these candidates has embraced the slower growth message means they'll gain a lot of business community support as well.
Beyond the business community, these three, along with Commissioners Cady and Lovell, stand to benefit from the resurgence of a group calling itself Real Republicans Political Action Committee, which was to play a role in this election cycle much the same as the True Republicans did four years ago.
The Real Republicans message is fairly simple: They plan to help local Republican registered voters sort through election rhetoric to identify candidates that fully subscribe to the Grand Old Party message.
In their vernacular, some Republican candidates for office do not share their vision of future economic prosperity, higher wage jobs, limited government, property rights, and lower taxes. Worse yet, according to a press release, the Real Republicans are concerned about GOP candidates who directly align themselves with Democrats.
The growth issue is dividing local partisans in a way we haven't seen before. Republican State Central Committee member and civic activist Bill Ashton was rebuked recently for announcing his support of Democrat Jan Gardner.
Bill has been a life-long Republican, but he believes that development issues are so compelling that he should cross party lines to support commissioner candidates that share his view.
On the other side of the ledger, Lennie Thompson and David Gray are embraced by different special interest groups. Citizens for Quality of Life and the Friends of Frederick County are two organizations that are advocating for fewer building permits and less new development. CQL has been around before, and helped propel Jan Gardner and Lennie Thompson to earlier victories.
Analysis: It will come down to the clash of these two ideologies. On one side, the Real Republicans PAC has endorsed and advocates for Mike Cady, John Lovell, Joan McIntyre, Billy Shreve, and Charles Jenkins, in no particular order. They will help with media and messaging, and will stress the candidate's vision in concert with the goals of the organization. They might be joined by the newly identified Unlock Gridlock PAC, which will be looking for long-term traffic solutions, although the goals of Unlock Gridlock are still evolving.
CQL/Friends of Frederick County will also back a number of candidates. I suspect they'll endorse all four Democrats through the Primary, and they may also back Lennie Thompson, David Gray, Ed Lulie, and even Micky Fyock in the GOP primary.
The goal of the Real Republicans PAC is to eliminate Republican candidates that do not subscribe to their goals in the primary, when they would presumably have the most influence. CQL/Friends want to help get both Thompson and Gray through the GOP Primary, betting that both will pick up a lot of Democrat votes in the General Election (and they will).
If Lennie and David get through the Republican Primary, they will both be on the next board. I've seen a number of their yard signs in prominent Democrats' yards in southern Frederick County. Jan Gardner seems a virtual re-election lock, so the battle will be between everyone else for the other two seats.
If the Real Republicans succeed in taking out both Lennie Thompson and David Gray in the primary (a long shot, by my odds), then the balance tips and the next board will be more favorable towards growth and economic expansion in the future.
Expect a ton on money to be spent on this race, by both sides. The really important aspect will be how sophisticated these special interests are at getting the vote out, not how much they spend influencing the vote through the media.
A surprising note from the recently filed campaign finance reports is the strength of the fundraising effort by apparent political novice Kai Hagen. Mr. Hagen led all candidates, including incumbents, in raising campaign cash. It would appear that he has done an amazing job creating a campaign effort as a rookie, but looks would be misleading. Kai is an experienced political activist, having run high-profile campaigns around the country.
As important as money is in an election, it won't be the most important factor in this race.
In fact, money won't matter at all if either side fails to get their voters out on Election Day. That's the key to this race, which side can turn out their voters.