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October 30, 2006

Will Democrats Gain in Frederick County? - Part One

George Wenschhof

It has been said that all "politics are local," so let's look at the 21 offices up for election in Frederick County, excluding the four non-partisan Frederick County Board of Education seats on the ballot.

Frederick County is known as a "Red" county in Maryland with the Republican Party holding the advantage in registered voters. This is an anomaly since voter registration in Maryland is 2-1 Democrat. It will be interesting to note if any of the national Issues trickle down and the pendulum swing toward Democrats will affect our local elections.

Looking at the local contests, Democrats currently hold only three of the 21 seats up being contested. They are Jan Gardner and Bruce Reeder (not running) as county commissioners, and Galen Clagett as a state delegate in District 3-A.

Regardless of whether Democrats post wins this year, the local Democratic Party deserves acknowledgement for the effort that was made to field competitive candidates for all the positions on the ballot.

Twenty-one seats up for election at one time is a lot for the public to consider and make reasonable decisions when casting their vote. This could easily be reduced to 15 seats. There are six elected positions that arguably should not be on the ballot and instead be classified merit-based positions in Frederick County Government and the State of Maryland.

These are the sheriff, Clerk of the Court, Register of Wills, and three Orphans Court judgeships. The Frederick County treasurer was another of these "type" of elected positions until made a classified merit-based employee prior to the last election. Most likely it would require a state constitutional amendment to change the selection process with some and possibly all of these positions.

These offices are not political policy making positions but rather are jobs that require experience and education, neither of which is a prerequisite for those who appear on the ballot. A merit-based classified employee is also not one who is appointed. So an argument could not be made that these positions would become political "brown-bag" appointments.

The only office that an argument could be made for it to be an "at will" (serving at the pleasure) rather than a strictly merit-based classified position is sheriff. The chief of police in the City of Frederick is hired in this manner. In this case, the sheriff would still be hired utilizing personnel procedures and would be classified as a department head or division chief and as such serve at the pleasure of the county commissioners.

Nonetheless, the sheriff race remains a high profile contest and rightfully so. It continues to receive the attention of voters. Chuck Jenkins (R) has campaigned very hard and is known as a fair person who will talk straight to you. He also earned respect from both sides of the aisle during his term as chair of the local Republican State Central Committee.

In addition, his exposure to the community was aided by the time he spent as a panelist on the Adelphi Cable 10's "Pressing Issues." Deputy Jenkins will win with 60-65% of the vote even though retired Deputy Chuck Tobery (D), who has also run a strong campaign, would make an excellent sheriff and is well qualified.

The Clerk of the Court is currently Sandra Dalton (R). She is being challenged by Richard Gibbs (D), a local attorney. This is a race that has not captured the attention of the voters to the same degree as the sheriff's contest. A former and well liked clerk of the court, Charles Keller has publicly endorsed Mr. Gibbs for this position. Interestingly, Mr. Keller, upon retiring from the position originally endorsed Mrs. Dalton only to resurface the following election as her opponent and ended up on the losing side.

Richard Gibbs's experience as a lawyer and small business owner would seem to make him well qualified. Mrs. Dalton, however, enjoys the perks of incumbency and - with it - name recognition. She will also win with at least 60% of the vote.

The Frederick County Democratic State Central Committee added Sarah Finefrock to the ballot when no Democrat filed to run for Register of Wills. Former Frederick City mayor and Sarah's boss at City Hall, Jennifer Dougherty, was instrumental in getting Sarah on the ballot and has been assisting her campaign. She faces 16-year-incumbent Republican Virginia Fifer.

Ms. Finefrock has elevated the interest of this race by questioning the legality of some advertisements run by Mrs. Fifer, which resulted in the local elections board referring this question to the state attorney general. No opinion on this matter has been released at this date.

She has also been innovative and used the internet and to attract and inform younger voters about her campaign. Sarah exudes enthusiasm and hopefully will stay involved in politics and run again for an elected office. Mrs. Fifer with her name recognition and experience will win this race with over 60% of the vote.

On the Republican side, the race for the three Orphans Court Judges has two incumbents, Tim May and John Tregoning. They are joined by former Frederick Mayor James S. Grimes. They are facing Democrats Fern Hines and John Norman, both of whom are well known. Mrs. Hines has served on the Frederick County Planning Commission and John Norman has worked for the Frederick County Board of Education and has previously sought political office.

Mr. May, who has served for 12 years and should be the top vote getter in this race due to the bi-partisan support he receives. A Democrat pick up here will be difficult as well.

We are fortunate that we have qualified candidates on the ballot for these positions for this election. Let's hope thoughtful discussion takes place after the election as to whether these positions should continue to appear on the ballot.

(Editor's Note: Tomorrow Mr. Wenschhof addresses the race for county commissioner and will continue to explore whether Democrats will increase their representation.)

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