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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


November 29, 2010

Once a scribe, always a scribe

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

No, I never really stopped. In fact, some of the best stuff I’ve written was conceived during the pseudo self-imposed hiatus brought about my attempt at humor on these very pages. No need to revisit history, you know the deal.

 

Most of that really good stuff will remain in the “can,” at least until the writer’s place of employment is no longer a factor in publishing decisions.

 

As a pundit, the just past General Election is simply too juicy a prospect to completely pass up. The term tsunami is being used to describe the November 2nd results nationwide. Tsunamis kill, wreaking havoc in their path. The results of the General Election won’t kill, at least not anything other than spirit, that is.

 

The National Democratic Party is in a state of bewilderment, struggling to find a real bright spot amid the chaos of the Republican House majority and a much-narrowed U.S. Senate chamber majority. President Barack Obama is learning to incorporate a new phrase in his Capitol lexicon, compromise. He’s suddenly changed his tune on the Bush-era tax cuts, sounding like he’ll consider a temporary extension for even the wealthiest Americans, something he had dismissed mere months ago as a non-starter.

 

Don’t envy the president his challenge over the next 18-24 months. He needs Republicans for two purposes: first, he wants to accomplish some things, even in divided government. And secondly, he needs a foil in order to run for re-election in 2012. Obstinate Republicans who oppose everything and propose nothing could be just the ticket he needs.

 

As much as his Chicago-honed political instincts will be screaming out to him to find common ground, his core political base will scream equally loudly to avoid building centrist coalitions with the “enemy.” The Nancy Pelosi wing of the Democratic Party doesn’t want to forge even a slightly cooperative relationship with their GOP colleagues. President Obama needs both. Good luck with that!

 

Locally, it might seem, on first blush, which the electorate got caught up in a national ballot movement in favor of candidates with an “R” behind their names. Only two Democratic Party candidates were elected in offices where party affiliation still matters. Senator-elect Ron Young and Del. Galen Clagett walk out of the post election Democratic debris as the only survivors.

 

Was the GOP wave completely responsible for this? For those who got left behind, maybe that offers some solace. In practical political reality, there were some other, more plausible reasons.

 

In the state races, if GOP candidates really were the sole beneficiary, then Sen. Alex Mooney wouldn’t be planning his family’s first vacation in years (his words, not mine). Ron Young prevailed, mostly thanks to early voting. As proof, Senator Mooney actually had more votes cast for him than did Young on Election Day! In a delicious twist of irony, Senator Mooney opposed early voting for the very reason that caused his loss. Democrats had a focused strategy to turn out an early vote, and it was that early vote that swept Ron Young to victory.

 

The really juicy attack mailers that Senator Mooney sent out missed their target when arriving at early voting households. Those voters had already been to the polls when the most vicious hit ads went out. Same thing with many of his radio and TV ads. Senator Mooney, who up until now had perfected the art of the last minute negative ad campaign, spent money to influence a portion of the electorate which had already voted for candidate Young.

 

In District 3-A, Del. Galen Clagett and former Del. Patrick Hogan traded first place throughout election night. That both were elected wasn’t much of a surprise. The fact that Republican Scott Rolle finished third, ahead of Democrat Candy Greenway, in spite of the complete and total lack of a campaign, may have been the shocker in this race. The wave affect?

 

In the District 4-A race, a district long dominated by Republican voters, Kelly Schulz and Kathy Afzali won easy victories. The ladies did the work, making all of the necessary appearances and saying the right things. Ms. Schulz is a personal favorite. She led the county GOP central committee through some troubling times, and worked in Annapolis during my time there. She’s going places, trust me on that. Another bright spot in that race was Ryan Trout, of the beloved Trout’s of North County dining fame. He’ll be back on a ballot again, you can take that to the bank.

 

In District 3-B, Republican Michael Hough won a convincing victory over perennial Democratic candidate and former Burkittsville Mayor Paul Gilligan. No, this writer was not supportive of Mr. Hough in his first bid for state office. The rhetorical level of the primary, against Del. Charles Jenkins, was nasty and unnecessary. Learning as he did from Senator Mooney, Michael ran a no-holds barred, bruising full contact race.

 

That aside, Mr. Hough is now my delegate, or will be when he takes his oath of office in January. I wish him well, as he will now be my voice in the halls of the General Assembly. His election signals a tidal change in the Republican Caucus in the House of Delegates. Michael, along with Kathy Afzali, Neil Parrott, from District 2-C in Washington County, Justin Ready from Carroll County, and incumbent Delegates Don Dwyer (Glen Burnie), Herb McMillan (Annapolis), Warren Miller (Howard), Gail Bates (Howard), Mike Smigiel (Cecil), Patrick McDonough and Rick Impallaria (both Baltimore County) all signal a severe shift to the ideological far right.

 

These legislators form the core of an ultra-conservative wing of the GOP that will test Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell’s ability to maintain party discipline. Throw in some moderate viewpoints and caucus meetings could be really interesting affairs. The floor work will be particular fun to watch, as Speaker Michael Busch (D., Anne Arundel) will have his hands full if the newly elected ultra-cons decide to try to throw their weight around.

 

Finally, we go to the county commissioners. Blaine Young and his slate showed discipline and focus in their rout of the county board. Never off message, they kept it simple and repetitive. Without exactly explaining how, they talked about jobs, over regulation, and excessive analysis. Only in a campaign is too much study of complex issues a bad thing!

 

Now, the new commissioners get to assume the reins at Winchester Hall. On December 1st, following a ceremony at The Great Frederick Fairgrounds, the new board takes office and starts practicing this new form of governance they’ve been promising. Processes will be simpler, taxes will be lowered, costs will be controlled, and an environment conducive to job creation will take hold.

 

How do I know that? Because they said it would, that’s why.

 

So, maybe it’s not fair to expect this all right away; after all, some of the new board has never held office before. Let’s give them some room to grow and space to work before we go getting all "judgey" on them, huh?

 

One thing they better do right away. They had better fix the communication breakdown with the municipalities. That connection is seriously dysfunctional thanks to the outgoing board’s bad attitude and the inflexibility of some town leaders. The new board can alter this course with a few simple steps, let’s hope they do.

 

Outgoing Commissioner Kai Hagen came into office riding an anti-growth wave that washed former Commissioners Mike Cady and John Lovell out the door. This time around, Commissioner Hagen ran a campaign focused on two things: preserving the slow growth controls he helped craft and pass, and opposing the construction of a waste-to-energy plant near the McKinney wastewater plant and industrial complex.

 

Commissioner Hagen denied creating a slate of like-minded candidates; he wanted us to believe they all came together coincidently. Balderdash!

 

Commissioner Hagen built his slate the same way Blaine Young did. They both sought out people who agreed with their viewpoint, and then honed their messaging and communications. The Young slate was obviously better at the game than the Hagen crew, but this was the Frederick County political version of West Side Story’s Sharks and Jets – two heavyweight crews slugging it out for all the marbles and control of the turf for the next four years.

 

Now, to the victor goes the spoils, and the vanquished go home. Except in our version, the victors now have to cover a potential $17 million dollar budget deficit, potentially cutting staff and valued programs to cover the shortfall. There aren’t a lot of options, and what options there are don’t look too promising.

 

The vanquished, on the other hand, will now probably take to the courts to continue their fights against growth and development and to battle the incinerator. They lost in the eyes of the voters, but these people are on a crusade. They just believe the voters were wrong, that’s all. They’ll spend the next four years and untold tax dollars to prove that point in the court system.

 

I guess we’re better off, but time will tell!

 



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