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September 18, 2006

What the Primary Hath Wrought

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The favorite position for a political pundit is to look back and play armchair quarterback on a recently held election. Even the most stupid of predictions can be made to look a little smarter.

United State Senate

The battle is joined, Cardin versus Steele for the heavyweight championship belt. Rep. Ben Cardin vanquished Kweisi Mfume fairly easily. This one might have been closer, but Mr. Cardin had the benefit of Maryland's Democrat heavyweights like Rep. Steny Hoyer, State Senate President Mike Miller, and House Speaker Mike Busch.

Mr. Mfume's campaign featured several prominent labor endorsements, along with a number of notable traditional liberal organizations. A recent drive through north Baltimore yielded the observation that Mr. Mfume yard signs easily outnumbered Mr. Cardin's.

Michael Steele, the outgoing lieutenant governor, is running a very non-traditional Republican campaign. His TV commercials look like they were produced by and for MTV or BET. Quick cuts, odd angles, and bold lighting are a far cry from the usual gimmicks, like flags waving, patriotic music, and uplifting quotations.

Representative Cardin should be viewed as an easy pick by bettors. They'd be wrong this time. Mr. Cardin's campaign is already burdened by a controversy where a campaign worker used indelicate language to raise issues of race, including a reference to Oreo cookies, a throwback to the last gubernatorial election.

If that weren't enough, the staffer also questioned the competency of a fellow campaign worker, noting the ethnicity of that other staff member. Mr. Cardin and his campaign manager were quick to terminate the staffer, but the issue will not be nearly as easy to make go away.

U.S. Congress Sixth District

Roscoe Bartlett cruised to an easy victory, cemented by his enormous popularity within the Republican voter base. His Democrat challenger, Andrew Duck, had a bit of a challenge with which to contend from the far left-wing of his own party.

Frederick attorney and civic activist Barry Kissin criticized Mr. Duck as kowtowing to the Bush Administration, calling for an immediate U.S. troop withdrawal. Mr. Kissin's message seemed to pick up steam in the last few weeks of the campaign.

This raises the obvious question as to whether the Democratic Party can heal it's wounds in time to make a credible run against Representative Bartlett - or not. One good indicator is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and their watch list of races around the country that are "winnable." Maryland's 6th District is not on the list.

Frederick County Commissioners

In spite of a record investment in this race by development and business interests, incumbent John "Lennie" Thompson survived the Republican primary. Along with Lennie, former Commissioner David Gray looks to have survived in fifth place, although he's only separated from fourth place finisher Charles Jenkins by a single vote. And people say their votes don't count!

If the counts hold through the provisional ballot reconciliation, then the news for the builders and developers is pretty bleak.

While current board member Mike Cady finished in first place, his strength was with the GOP base. Mike and second place finisher John Lovell cannot count on a big Democrat crossover vote. Conversely, both Lennie and David will benefit from as many Democrat votes as they did Republican. Lennie's success four years ago is all the proof you need.

On the Democrat ballot, Commissioner Jan Gardner made an impressive showing, posting big numbers to finish first while newcomer Kai Hagen pulled second after spending big bucks on increasing his name recognition. Mr. Hagen is running a sophisticated campaign, actually paying staff, something new to county commissioner races in Frederick.

Mr. Hagen and Ms. Gardner will both benefit from Republican voters disillusioned about growth, and it looks like there are a bunch of them. Just review the election returns for GOP candidates Ed Lulie, Mickey Fyock, and Elaine Kessinger. All three garnered more votes than would be normal for relatively unknown challengers. All three were advocating for a slower rate of growth.

That trend will hold in November, and we're likely to see a "no or slow growth" board majority, and a reconsideration of the New Market Region Plan. Once again, the philosophical pendulum will swing, and planning staff will be trying to predict where the votes will be as they craft input to the board. Time for a change in the form of government!

Frederick County Sheriff

The battle of the Chuck's is underway. Republican Chuck Jenkins and Democrat Chuck Tobery both won, with Detective Jenkins surviving the more difficult test. There were several credible candidates in the GOP contest; most notable was Animal Control Director Harold Domer.

Mr. Domer's campaign was based on the idea that he had executive experience, having run the Frederick Police Department following Ray Raffensberger's retirement. He often spoke about that, and none of the other candidates on either side could match his claim.

Voters didn't seem to place the same weight on that aspect, though. During one recent forum, Republican candidate Tom Johann followed Mr. Domer by reminding the audience that Sheriff Jim Hagy had no executive experience when he was first elected either.

Newcomer and past FOP president Bill Folden ran a very well-organized campaign. No doubt we'll see him again running for office; and he should!

Retired Deputy Tobery dispatched his challenger, Tony Lawson, with relative ease. Deputy Lawson suffered from a name recognition problem, and just couldn't raise the money to overcome that hurdle. The county is better off having qualified minority candidates run for office like Tony Lawson and Sam Conyers, and hopefully we'll see these gentlemen learn from the experience and place their names on the ballot again.

Both Chucks will be working hard over the next month and a half. Chuck Jenkins looks to be the favorite, and the countywide GOP voter advantage will be his biggest plus.

State's Attorney

It's odd how this race, seemingly a low profile contest to find a good lawyer and manager, turns into a bitter and personal fight between former colleagues and friends. It's happened several times over the years.

This years GOP primary continued that trend. Dino Flores ran a campaign to turn this into a negative referendum on Scott Rolle's years as top prosecutor, while Deputy States Attorney Charlie Smith cast it as a celebration of a well-run agency.

Mr. Smith called Mr. Flores a donkey in an elephant suit; and Mr. Flores tried to create the impression that Mr. Rolle and Mr. Smith ran a plea bargain factory, trying at all costs to avoid taking tough cases to trial.

The truth squad finds fault with both assertions. Mr. Flores was a Democrat, and he did support Democrats. He changed parties, however, and became a hard-working activist for the Republican Party. No one can legitimately question his commitment to Republican causes since he made the switch. Republican voters even overwhelmingly elected him to the central committee, an acknowledgement of his commitment.

To claim that the State's Attorney's office is afraid to take cases to trial would only sell to an idiot. Just look at the record, and talk to the esteemed members of our District and Circuit Court judiciary. The judges actively encourage plea bargains, if for no other reason than to de-clutter the court dockets.

Scott Rolle even felt compelled to weigh in, writing an editorial letter attacking Mr. Flores for his claim, and even alleging that Mr. Flores had actively opposed the death penalty. Mr. Flores angrily denounces Mr. Rolle's intervention, setting up an interesting dilemma. Will Mr. Flores stick with the GOP choice, or will his disgust with the primary push him to either take a walk or become a Bill Poffenberger supporter.

Many of the Good Old Boys are already lined up behind affable Democrat Poffenberger. His signs are in locations that tell you who his backers are, and they're powerful and influential. Charlie Smith needs Mr. Flores's support. Time will tell if the primary election damage is so severe that it can't be repaired.

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