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March 16, 2007

Democratic Brouhaha

Roy Meachum

Democrats might not think so. From this view, it's rather delightful to consider foolishness that did not come from the GOP, usually out of Commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson's mouth.

In his latest desperate cry for publicity, Mr. Thompson grabbed lots of News-Post ink for perhaps his most hair-brain scheme: To set up toll booths along local roads.

The commissioner admitted not knowing how much should be charged, or where the money might actually go. He offered no concrete suggestions. He went so far, however, to call for a national crusade starting in Winchester Hall.

By any reckoning, it was Lennie as usual: bluster and sound signifying nothing. Folks buying into the idea should be immediately checked for sobriety.

Something along that line happened to the chairman of the Democratic Central Committee (DCC).

Trooper First Class R. P. Kulina clocked DCC Chair Bob Kresslein surging 74 m.p.h. in a 50-m.p.h. zone; that happens not infrequently along local roads. It was about 10:30 P.M. on the last day of August. As it turned out, Attorney Kresslein had lifted a few. On top of the speeding ticket, he faced a DWI charge.

As readers probably remember - minus the speeding rap - I was caught drinking and driving a few years back. Police sources said I was set-up. Never mind, I was guilty as charged: a fact I made known as soon as possible. My confessing column appeared in the local newspaper within 48 hours of the arrest.

At the bottom of Kate Leckie's March 9 News-Post story, Mr. Kresslein admitted: "I made a serious mistake in judgment, one of which we all are capable of making but over which we have control."

More misfortune lay ahead, in the form of another mistake.

Shakespeare characterized as "the law's delay" the reason why the case didn't reach court until last week. It turns out his Democratic Central Committee colleagues knew nothing about the August DWI when they elected him their chair following September's primary. As a fact, some of them still didn't know until Ms. Leckie's story appeared last Friday.

Especially the younger members were irate. Experienced hands tended to treat the event, in their chairman's manner, as something that could happen to anyone.

The problem lies within the timing and the county's political structure. When I first started writing for Frederick readers, this was safely a Democratic bailiwick. Republicans acquired offices only with the assent of their "opposition." All that changed, seemingly overnight.

In reality, as I recall, Democrats held tight control until state Sen. Charles Smelser and Del. James E. McClellan retired, in 1994. By coincidence, that was the same year Newt Gingrich's Contract with America handed Washington over to his GOP.

Much of the national Democratic comeback has been prompted by administration "mistakes," which have turned the general public away from Republican causes and leadership.

On the local scene, the legislative delegation that went to Annapolis in January added a single Democratic voice: Sue Hecht. Del. Galen Clagett returned. They are both from Frederick City, which amounts to a moderately liberal enclave within a GOP county.

In fact, neither Ms. Hecht's victory nor Mr. Clagett's re-election had much to do with the DCC. They raised funds and operated independently. That's the way it's been in local politics since 1994; before that "Doc" McClellan frequently anointed candidates to run on the Democratic slate.

As for the Republican Central Committee, the best thing that can be said about the last elections was the way long-time chairman Chuck Jenkins catapulted into the sheriff's chair. The RCC made the difference, particularly in the primary when a cadre of the once-powerful lined up against Mr. Jenkins.

In neither party can it be said the central committee wields any real power; both Republican and Democratic panels might coordinate visits by state dignitaries; but maybe not. They are largely honorific positions, reduced to debate and cheerleading. But they can be springboards to other offices.

Bob Kresslein has not found that last eventuality to be true. A mild and affable human being, he's failed frequently at the ballot box but, recognizing his hard work for the party, he's managed in the past to win a DCC seat. He was popularly elected last fall.

In the event, calls for resignation, after Kate Leckie's story, wound up, as I said, in another brouhaha. Younger members stood their ground but were overwhelmed by older heads who felt local Democrats should face next year's presidential elections united.

Well, more or less.

On the subject of the party, my favorite quote comes from Will Rogers; he expressed my feeling, exactly:

"I don't belong to an organized political party," the Broadway cowboy announced. "I'm a Democrat."

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