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February 26, 2010

Galen Clagett

Roy Meachum

He was president of the Board of County Commissioners when I started writing a Frederick column. The first time I essayed into local politics came the last spring before he was unceremoniously dumped in a run for the House of Delegates.


Meeting Galen Clagett on North Market Street, while taking by Pushkin for a walk, I was no less surprised than the man I had backed through various campaigns. We had lost touch. Grinning, he stuck out his hand, and we chatted.


While veterinarian James “Doc” McClellan acted as “boss” of elected officials, including their selection, he exercised a heavy veto over Mr. Clagett’s future. I reminded him how Doc pulled me into a downtown doorway and expressed worry about what would happen if the popular commissioner reached Annapolis; the board president had filed already.


Doc’s biggest concern was based on the supposition that Galen might get more votes in the upcoming election. The veterinarian-politico feared how that might affect his power as head of the Frederick legislative delegation. For insurance, he cut the commissioner’s throat from ear to ear.


That was my baptism in the local “ritual” known as “one-shot voting.” Dr. McClellan’s followers did not follow his ordained previous practice of choosing the candidate they most wanted and marking ballots for their party’s chosen for each office.


Instead of Mr. Clagett, the virtually unknown Royd Smith traipsed to Annapolis the next four years. To cinch the noose, the Democratic machine, led by Doc, trashed Galen’s ambitions in reaching for the seat in Congress, then held by Beverly Byron, the widow of the previous incumbent.


It was a campaign disdained by Mrs. Elizabeth Clagett at the outset. By the time she became excited over the prospect of going to Washington, the run turned into the final turn and her husband became the also-ran.


Now a member of the House of Delegates’ Appropriation Committee and during his first term, Galen’s mind was much on the state’s budget when we popped into each other’s lives this week. He was clearly distraught over the prospect of how cuts would affect various programs. And I got the feeling he was not as worried by the votes they would cost, but a sincere sympathy for human beings.


Since last we met, the delegate has put on weight that he shrugged off as a sign of age. When the electorate chose him over Patrick Hogan, he was in his middling 60s. He swore to me, standing in Monday’s unexpected sunshine, this fall’s election would be his last. I always take the pledge for what it’s worth: not a penny. Look at Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.


It takes a sophomore term for any official to understand what’s really involved with the job; any early success must be chalked up to chance or latching on an issue that carries passion, one way or another.


In the first column on Galen, he was still the Board of Commissioners president and still undeclared for the House of Delegates; by giving him favorable publicity, I drew harsh criticism from a number of people, including my late colleague, Columnist Robert Reid.


What I said originally: Galen possesses maybe the most intelligence of anybody I’ve met in politics. Please understand, intelligence is not always an attribute to the electorate that wants only to hear what they want to hear.


I stand by the verdict from spring 1986.


Galen Clagett has so much brain power that he weighs and judges everything. And that’s not always a good thing.


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