Political Street Gossip – Part One
A recent Market & Patrick Street corner conversation has fueled my political speculation gene. A prominent Fredericktonian, known as a quiet – albeit generous – type, asked what I thought about the upcoming federal, city, county, and state elections.
Never the shrinking violet, I gladly exercised my worthless speculative powers on the political landscape. What follows is that speculation, feel free to accept, reject, praise, or ridicule as you see fit.
Incumbent Sixth District U.S. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett seeks a return to office, many years removed from his initial commitment to self-imposed term limits. He has clarified that original position numerous times, always making clear that he was only going to serve a couple of terms, contingent on a balanced federal budget.
That’s sort of like saying you’re only going to serve until a white knight on a unicorn rides into Camelot to kill the fire-breathing dragon. It just ain’t happenin’, kiddies! As far as Representative Bartlett’s efficacy, it all depends on your perspective.
Traditional conservatives love him and his consistency; liberals and progressives hate him for the same thing. One interesting wrinkle is his apparent environmental advocacy, especially when it comes to the subject of peak oil. Some say it’s insightful and forward-thinking to argue against rampant consumption. Others suggest his drum-beat of alternative energy research and consumer conservation is starting to sound a little nutty.
Democratic challenger – and former Frederick mayor – Jennifer Dougherty is an enigma in her own right. Arguably one of the most driven, focused public servants in recent memory, this one just cannot avoid constantly stepping in warm piles of political controversy. If political sensitivity were a china shop, Ms. Daugherty would be the bulldozer.
She wears that strident aggression like a badge of honor; many viewers on both sides of the political aisle consider it a character flaw. Remember the pictures of Her Honor posing with blow-up Bozo dolls, first in a mock city directors meeting, and again in a mock Board of Aldermen meeting? She thought this was funny; the people involved thought it demonstrated a startling lack of sensitivity. She did advance the ball on the Carroll Creek project, institute the Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NACs), and normalize relations with previously disaffected residents.
There is a Libertarian challenger, Gary Hoover, of Clear Spring, but time, interest, and reality suggest that spending much time talking about his chances is a little foolish. If voters in his own party (Republican) rejected him, does anyone seriously think he’d fare better changing affiliations?
No one, repeat no one, should discount Jennifer Dougherty’s chances in this race. Congressman Bartlett has been around a long time. He has built strong voter name recognition, has an impressive (and growing) campaign war chest, has business community support, walks in parades, cuts ribbons all over the district, and shakes thousands of hands. Sounds impressive, huh? For those of you who believe that these characteristics spell u-n-b-e-a-t-a-b-l-e, I have four words for you: former Mayor Jim Grimes.
The traits ascribed to Representative Bartlett were all visible in the person of James S. Grimes; mayor of Frederick for two terms prior to Ms. Dougherty’s upset election. Jim Grimes was popular, personable, and certainly effective.
Two things impacted Jim’s re-election. The first is that he was dragged kicking and screaming into his third attempt at the mayor’s race, never a good sign for an incumbent. This is a lesson I’ve taken to heart in my own political future. If the passion isn’t there, get out! The second thing that affected Jim’s chance for re-election is what ought to be the greatest source of concern for the Bartlett crew.
Jennifer Dougherty is a tireless campaigner and will use every single tool at her disposal in her bid for office. Some might suggest that’s a problem, but isn’t that what both expect and love about politics? We want the bloody battle, the name-calling, innuendo, and personal attack. Jennifer has proven a master of all that and more.
She has surrogates who happily spew garbage and rumor; just think back to the Black Book and Jennifer’s minions suggesting Jim Grimes was hiding facts to protect his buddies. She was going to be the Sunshine Mayor, and promised to throw open the files upon her election.
All that changed when she got in there and realized that doing so would subject city taxpayers to great legal liability. It will be interesting to see how the Dougherty campaign employs these tactics against Mr. Bartlett. Already we’re seeing the groundwork being laid in a campaign to place President George W. Bush’s extremely unpopular face over top of Representative Bartlett. Not a quote goes by without Ms. Dougherty asserting that Congressman Bartlett is doing the Bush bidding, in spite of facts that might suggest otherwise in many cases.
Here’s Jennifer’s simple problem and a prediction. The 6th Congressional District is not the City of Frederick. Democrats lag far behind Republicans in voter registration, and there aren’t enough left-leaning independent voters to close the gap. This district is the most conservative in Maryland, and one of the most conservative in the nation. It was gerrymandered to place as many Republican voters in one district as possible.
Mr. Hoover adds an interesting wrinkle, but not nearly enough to worry Congressman Bartlett’s people. Sure, he’ll siphon off a few Libertarian and independent votes, but in the end, this race will be won by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.
The elements of interest will be whether he can carry Frederick County (it will be very close), and how well Ms. Dougherty does in Washington County. If she carries both Frederick and Washington, and depending on the margin of victory, election night could be long and anxious for Team Bartlett!
Next week, the City of Frederick 2009 election.