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September 24, 2002

True Republicans PAC Too Simplistic And Superficial

Kai Hagen

Last month, a letter was sent out by a new political action committee called "Frederick Countians for True Republicans." The letter, which began, "Dear Republican Candidate," included a questionnaire designed to help the group "decide who they [were] going to endorse in the Republican Primary."

Apparently, most of the candidates took a few minutes to fill it out and mail it in, in spite of the fact that the name of the committee and the content of the questionnaire made the process a ridiculously simplistic and blatantly unintelligent exercise. The committee and its methods are a poster child for the worst sort of shallow and superficial politics.

They ought to be ashamed.

But, of course, they are not.

And, based on a review of the primary results, they are probably feeling pretty smug right now. In the race for the Board of County Commissioners, for example, four of the five Republican primary winners are all...cough...True Republicans. Interestingly, it seems that one of the Democrats moving on to November is also a True Republican.

It is not a coincidence or a surprise that this bipartisan slate of True Republicans is virtually the same as the list of candidates who are members of the so-called "Defenders of Citizens Rights," and the list of recipients of the largest contributions made by those builders and developers who throw their financial support behind any candidate who opposes even the most moderate and reasonable efforts to manage growth in our county.

Although the irony of True Republicans endorsing a Democrat, too, might escape the committee, it does help illustrate the fact that partisan politics don't make much sense in most local elections, such as the one for Board of County Commissioners.

In any case, the Frederick Countians for True Republicans don't represent the views of many Republican voters in Frederick County, and their priorities certainly don't reflect the views of the thousands of independent voters who will likely decide the composition of the next Board of County Commissioners.

One is left to assume that the committee hopes and expects that many Republican voters in the county will not question either the committee or the process used to make the endorsements.

After all, the committee itself barely questioned the candidates.

The questionnaire reduced the varied and complicated concerns of Frederick County residents to an insulting list of 10 short yes or no questions.

No comments, please. No qualified responses. No explanations necessary or desired. No creative solutions considered. No thoughtful alternatives on the table. Nothing more than an absurd reduction of many complex issues and possibilities to the most simplistic rendering possible.

Let's take a look at just the first three questions.

Question #1: Do you now as a candidate or have you as a public official supported an increase in taxes or in user fees? Yes or No.

A commissioner could support a tax increment financing deal allowing a developer to dedicate their property tax dollars for their own benefit. That's okay for a True Republican. But heaven forbid they cast a single vote, for example, at any time, in support of a small increase in one-time impact fees on new development. Current impact fees cover only a fraction of the actual cost to taxpayers and local government. But we are supposed to believe that no True Republican would ever consider reducing the burden on the current residents, who are making up the difference.

Of course, the questionnaire was not only for candidates running for the Board of County Commissioner. So, we have to assume that no member of the State Senate or House of Delegates could be a True Republican if they ever voted for, say, a five-cent increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes.

The rhetoric may be black and white, but the real world is not.

Question #2: Do you believe that the impact on the business community should be examined before any legislation is adopted? Yes or No.

Okay. Certainly.

But the question itself suggests that some elected Republicans (the fake ones) and most elected Democrats don't already consider the impact any legislation has on the business community.

They do, of course.

I wonder why the committee did not also ask if the candidates "believe that the impact on the residents of Frederick County should be examined before any legislation is adopted? Yes or No."

And I suppose they think only a "socialist" would ask if the candidates "believe that the impact on our air and land and water should be examined before any legislation is adopted? Yes or No."

Question #3: Do you support school vouchers? Yes or No.

Education is one of the primary responsibilities of the Board of County Commissioners. Yet, this single question is the only part of the questionnaire that even remotely touches on education-related matters.

Nothing about class sizes and overcrowded schools. Nothing about attracting and retaining good teachers. Nothing about curriculum. Nothing about school choice or other options and strategies. Nothing about new school construction. Not even a chance for a candidate to qualify what sort of voucher program they might support.

A candidate could oppose the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (which, among other things, attempts to ensure we have enough schools to meet the needs of a growing population); could support cutting teacher's salaries; could be willing to increase class sizes further; could support cuts to music programs, and so on, and still be fully supported and endorsed as a True Republican.

The rest of the questions follow the same pattern.

True Republicans reduce all transportation and traffic-related issues and concerns to whether or not a candidate supports widening I-270 and a precise ratio of monies spent on highway improvement versus mass transit.

True Republicans reduce all matters of zoning and land use and growth management to whether or not a candidate might ever support any rezoning of any property without the landowner's consent. If you can imagine a good reason for any change in the zoning of a commercial property, perhaps one owned by an absentee corporate landowner, you are not pure enough be a True Republican.

The committee's simplistic treatment of these complex issues is appalling. But no less so than what is not asked about at all. For instance, there are no questions about the future of agriculture in Frederick County. No questions about senior centers and home care assistance. No questions about water and sewage. No questions about the environment. No questions about open government. No questions about conflict of interest. No questions about sprawl. No questions about law enforcement and emergency services providers. No questions about most public services and facilities.

The Frederick Countians for True Republicans aren't asking about such things. And they are betting voters won't either.

After all, less than 24% of eligible voters in the county cast a vote in the primaries, the second lowest percentage in the entire state. In many cases, the registered party members, who did not bother to vote either, don't know enough, yet, or don't care enough, or just leave the primary election to others anyway. No doubt it is some of each.

But the Frederick Countians for True Republicans are underestimating the intelligence and concerns of all of us, Republican and Democrat and Independent alike.

And so are the candidates that responded to the questionnaire by circling yes or no 10 times and mailing it back with the hope of receiving an endorsement.

But who is really making the endorsement, anyway?

Frederick Countians for True Republicans has no established history. No grassroots membership. There is no headquarters I could visit. And I couldn't find a phone number or and e-mail address or a website.

The truth is that The Frederick Countians for True Republicans is the audacious brainstorm of small group of people who had the arrogance to register the Orwellian name as a political action committee through which a few special interests could funnel their campaign contributions and fund a blizzard of mailings and phone calls and radio and newspaper ads designed to dumb down an election that genuinely matters to the people of Frederick County.

Perhaps we ought to create another new committee. We could call it something like Frederick Countians for Honest, Thoughtful, Creative and Responsive Leadership.....

But that's probably too complicated.

In one sense, anyway, I do appreciate the efforts of the True Republicans. They have provided the thoughtful and independent Republican, Democrat and Independent voters of Frederick County a handy-dandy list of candidates not to support this November.

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