Six Weeks and a Wake-up Call
Back in the Navy, the passage of time was tied to the number of months, weeks, days and hours until some momentous event, such as returning home from a patrol.
In Frederick County, we’re no different. In a little more than six weeks, we’ll be turning another page in our history by electing our first county executive and county council. Goodbye to the good-old-days of our five county commissioners, and hello to…who knows what?
We spent the better part of 18 months trying to get to this point. Well, here we are! The larger question is: what do we become after the votes are tallied and the winners announced? The consensus is that we could be better, essentially the same, or much worse off.
Let’s go with worst first. Depending on the electoral outcome, we could easily have an executive perceived as concerned about growth facing a council dominated by pro-growth thinking. The result – gridlock. Conversely, our first executive could be pro-growth, but have a council dominated by a less-enthusiastic approach to development. Result – gridlock.
How about the scenario where the executive favors increased spending on public education driving an increase in public investment with a fiscally conservative council opposing tax increases necessary to deliver on those promises? One possible outcome might be to have a budget stall in the council only to automatically go into effect for the lack of a vote!
In the reverse, what if a conservative executive refuses to include revenues in the budget in spite of council support for that investment? In that instance, it’s possible the council could override a veto. Depending on the executive’s passion and perspective that a protracted fight could mean real trouble for school funding.
This isn’t some idle political prognostication, either.
The scenarios painted above can easily be gamed out depending on the votes cast in both the council and county executive races.
Let’s take the situation where Blaine Young is elected county executive, and a majority of Democrat candidates for county council are chosen, except for maybe Districts 2 and 5. Blaine’s been pretty open about his plans for running the county. We can anticipate business-friendly policies and a commitment to a thriving residential and commercial construction sector. He’s told us those things are priorities, since he wants to put more people to work locally.
His ability to influence long-term land-use plans might be hampered with a majority council that disagrees with his viewpoint. They’ll be choosing the planning commission, not him. They’ll be approving changes to the Zoning Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan, not him.
Conversely, let’s say Jan Gardner is the people’s choice for county executive. And let’s imagine that Republican candidates win both At-Large and three of the five remaining council seats. Jan has made it clear she wants developers to pay more to build (actually, those costs mostly just get passed along to homebuyers) and she wants to invest more in public education. With a more conservative council, the likelihood that she’ll breeze through her changes dissolves like sugar in a glass of stirred water.
We actually have plenty of experience with this concept. It tests the creativity and persuasiveness of our elected leaders when they’re facing divided ideologies. Do they entrench themselves and face a four-year long battle, or do they adapt to the circumstances they face and try to negotiate solutions that include elements of mutual benefit?
In Washington, we’ve watched a president fumble the chance to build coalitions, and the result is historic gridlock, blame-shifting and nonsense. Republicans seem to vote no because President Barack Obama supports something, even when they might otherwise be inclined to be supportive.
And what do we voters do? Are we going to adhere to our respective party viewpoints and pull the lever for only those who share a particular affiliation or ideology?
Signs on the ground (literally and figuratively) suggest this is going to be different kind of election. Growth issues in southern Frederick County are causing longtime Republican voters to display Gardner signs. Anti-tax weariness has Young signs sprouting up in yards long-reserved for only Democrat party candidates.
Anger over the sale of Citizens/Montevue has manufactured some newly minted Blaine opponents. Disillusion over opposition to Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and his efforts has some old-school Frederick Dems walking away from Jan. This was evident during Fair Week.
Another phenomenon noted during the Great Frederick Fair was the appearance of t-shirts bearing the international symbol for No (a red circle with a slash through the center) with the words Blaine emblazoned across the inside of the circle.
When an adult walks around with a shirt like that, I think: – “Well, there’s someone who feels passionate about their First Amendment freedom of expression. Good for them.” When they’re dragging their kids around with the same shirt in a child’s size, I think: “There’s a jerk who’s forcing his child to bear his stupid opinions.”
See the subtle difference?