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February 25, 2008

Pondering a Political Future

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

At a Farm Bureau/Pomona Grange legislative luncheon a few weeks ago, audience members were treated to a little surprise along with their roast beef and ham.

After several months of quiet contemplation, I had decided that I would use that venue to announce that I would not seek re-election to the Maryland House of Delegates in 2010.

Several questions arise. Why give up the chance for a third term? Why make the decision now? Why choose that venue to make the announcement?

Analyzing the answers to those questions fully explains the reasons for the decision. Iíll try to list the reasons, although the order might be subject to question.

1.) I never wanted to be a career politician. In my dozen plus years of political experience, I have found that career politicians almost always make bad politicians. The skills necessary to succeed over an extended career in elective office lead one away from the skills necessary to make sound and beneficial judgments on behalf of constituents. Compromise is an art, but the artists who use the skills of compromise too liberally finds themselves sacrificing principle for accomplishment, a dangerous place to be.

2.) Serving as a state delegate is demanding, personally and financially. The personal demands mean that a delegate will miss a number of important family functions, because the groups and organizations who demand your presence at a ribbon-cutting, picnic, or community meeting will view your absence as a personal affront. Countless sports contests, family reunions, and school events fall by the wayside under the constant pressure to be everywhere else youíre needed. The financial impacts are easier to measure. A delegate is paid an annual salary of approximately $45,000, plus per diem and mileage during the 90-day General Assembly session. You either have to be independently wealthy, self-employed, or possessed of an employer like the Mafia who can hook you up with a no-show 90 day job. Iím not that fortunate. I have about 15 viable earning years ahead, and I need to get about the business of replenishing the savings I have burned through so I could work for other peopleís interests for the last 10 years. Anyone looking for good administrator with lots of local government/political experience?

3.) I became the grandfather of the most beautiful little boy in the world in early January. If I havenít said it before, or you donít know me very well, then I should state for the record that my family is the most important thing in the world to me. I have one married daughter who lives in Hagerstown. My other married daughter, and the mother of my grandson, lives in Tennessee. The schedule demands I mentioned above preclude my simply packing a bag and driving south to see him.

The reason for the timing is less clear. I could have waited until this time next year to announce my decision, or even waited until the re-election filing deadline. There are several valid reasons for an early, even precipitously early, announcement.

4.) I lock myself into my decision. There is a tendency inherent in a politician to look at themselves as possessing extraordinary ability to do a job, and fall into the trap of believing their own press. Iíve known a number of high-profile politicians, including one prominent local one, who hinted at a self-imposed term limit, but then forgot that commitment when he convinced himself that no else could do the job as well. A load of BS, IMO. By announcing now, Iíd look kind of foolish if I were to later recant.

5.) I get to vote my conscience, without regard to party, ideology, and electoral consequences. I receive thousands of emails that start or end with: ďI AM A REGISTERED VOTER, AND I WILL REMEMBER HOW YOU VOTED.Ē I now plan to write back and wish them good luck with that! It is very liberating to look at the next two-and-a-half sessions and not have to worry about whether itís good for Republicans or bad for Democrats. I only have to worry if itís good for Maryland!

6.) There are several people who want to run or would like to evaluate the possibility, but wouldnít have run against me if I were in the race. One of them, a sitting GOP State Central Committee member, was already involved in rumor development about a primary challenge to me in 2010. That would have been a fun campaign, one I regret I wonít get to run! Another is a person who works for me, my 2003 General Election opponent. Still another holds another elected office in Frederick County. All of them, plus other potential candidates, can start focusing on organizing a campaign and developing a message. Theyíll need it, believe me!

7.) I have not ruled out running for some other office. There are some potential interests, but those are faint and in the background. Having made clear I will not seek re-election may free up a part of my brain to fully evaluate those other options. Maybe nothing comes from that exercise, but I can at least engage in the thinking part now.

I chose the Farm Bureau event for two reasons. The first is that the room was full of people whom I love and respect for their commitment to Frederick County and their lifetime of stewardship of our resources. The only better venue might have been a room full of volunteer firefighters, but that wasnít on my calendar.

The other reason for the chosen location is the poisonous and detrimental relationship between the Frederick County delegation, the Board of County Commissioners, and the mayors and burgesses of the countyís municipal governments.

I have never seen these relationships as dysfunctional as they are currently. While there is plenty of blame to go around, what is lacking is someone who doesnít have a purely political motivation behind their actions/statements. Whether itís to energize the no-growthers or to inspire the developers, the people involved in this public policy food fight are laying to their base to the detriment of the other side.

No one person can throw stones, because the 2010 election cycle is the glass house they all are living in. By taking myself out of the mix, and effectively removing myself from the local ballot, I will be able to speak more freely without regard to upsetting either side and alienating a voter base or potential campaign donors.

The next two years will be fun.

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