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January 23, 2009

Politics By Discrimination

Roy Meachum

Evidence suggests the national Republican Party is on the ropes. Again. George W. Bush's departure from office marks a nadir for the GOP comparable to Herbert Hoover's. In both instances money takes the major blame. Bush's White House avoided, like the plague, the word "depression." But it's here.


The trick for the other party? Put together a similar coalition as enabled Franklin Delano Roosevelt to more years in the Oval Office than any predecessor. When Republicans finally achieved again governmental control, they quickly enacted legislation that shoved a stake through the dead president's heart. Unable to understand how one of their own could ever match Mr. Roosevelt's popularity, they limited all future White House residents to no more than two terms.


The only clear "victim" of their act of vengeance, so far, was Ronald Reagan, the GOP's current poster boy. In many Americans' eyes he easily could have won a third term; as it was, his vice president George H. W. Bush rode into the Oval Office on Mr. Reagan's coat-tails; his son and successor helicoptered off the Capital grounds Tuesday leaving the Republican Party in a GOP mess.


Frederick County presents a totally different situation. Since moving here, nearly 26 years ago, I have never discerned an organized Grand Old Party. Outside this city the Democrats have a really rough time gaining an elected seat. But, as I have witnessed again and again, the Republican State Central Committee can claim no credit. Candidates independently mount campaigns, taking contributions wherever they can. They count on their rapidly growing party registrations. That's limited to the county, however.


In the city, Republicans remain in the minority, even after a number of conservative Democrats switched labels. When I arrived Dr. James E. McClellan boasted about how no candidate reached office without his approval; and he was right. He organized the defeat of former County Commissioner President Galen Clagett, although he was a fellow Democrat.


Dr. McClellan told me he was very concerned about the challenge in Annapolis Mr. Clagett would make to his leadership role. The ex-commissioner spent years in the electoral desert before winning a delegate contest. It should be noted, by then, the good doctor had high-tailed out of politics, under great pressure from Anita Stup, then a delegate and formerly the commissioners’ president. She had already cost Jack Derr his Senate seat, for operating in a lock-step with Dr. McClellan.


For FDR's party, Mr. Clagett provided a balance against Dr. McClellan; so did long-time Frederick Mayor Ron Young. It was interesting to observe how the three rivals performed around each other. In any event, there was no organized party in the city; that allowed former Democrat Paul Gordon to register Republican, without fear of penalty, to oust Mr. Young. After a single term, Mr. Gordon slipped back into quasi-private personal life; he was followed in City Hall by genuine Republican James Grimes.


Mr. Grimes probably provided Dr. McClellan's last political hurrah. The two were politically joined at the hip; they shared friends and enemies. The GOP mayor furnished a public voice for the ex-boss's manipulations and machinations. I never understood what happened. Mr. Grimes gave his "you won't have me to kick around" speech and then reversed himself to run the most misguided campaign I've witnessed over the years. He obviously had had enough.


This was the chaos that facilitated Jennifer Dougherty winning her sole race: she was a perennial loser before and lost two elections since. Her single victory prompted a feminist rise in the Democratic Party, as I've noted before. A probable municipal candidate recently told me he was assured of support from a Democratic female honcho – unless a woman filed for the office. I will not protest by naming again the number of female politicians I have supported and admired – starting with Anita Stup.


In simple fact, as President Barack Obama's example demonstrates, we should not be voting by individual characteristics; that's sex discrimination, as many women know full well. I deeply believe we should encourage running by anyone who meets the legal definition (resident, etc.). Nowhere in the rules is personal plumbing mentioned.


But that is the very basis on which the Democratic Party was organized once Dr. McClellan and cronies surrendered authority. Admittedly, women seem much more interested than men in doing the dog work of politics. The true test may very well lie in November's Frederick City races.


All things said in the interim must be considered no more than speculation and guesses – including this column.


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