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The Tentacle


May 5, 2005

A Perfect Political Storm

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The Frederick News Post attributed that quote in this headline to me in a story in last Sunday’s paper. The quote centered on a visit to Frederick last Friday by both Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.

While the quote was accurately reported, the story behind the reference is much more interesting. To have the likely Republican and Democratic Party gubernatorial candidates in Frederick County on the same night, both speaking to their party faithful, demonstrates that Frederick County has achieved an important political milestone.

After decades as a stronghold, first for donkeys, and more recently for the elephants, Friday night’s visits signal a statewide recognition that Frederick is now a power player on Maryland’s political stage.

It would be foolish and shortsighted for either side to claim or concede dominance. If the current trend were to continue, Republicans have the numbers in the battle for voter registration.

That will be an interesting aspect of the coming summer, and even more so next summer. I anticipate both parties working hard to increase voter registration, and plenty of visits from the Governor of Maryland and Mayor of Baltimore.

Already, Governor Ehrlich has visited Frederick County more in three years than his predecessor did in eight. Democrats would tell you that Parris Glendening didn’t see much purpose in frequent visits to a hostile county. I suggest that the level of hostility was, at least in part, driven by Glendening’s ambivalence.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Democratic race for governor is the fact that Mr. O’Malley is already being spoken of in the reverential tones reserved for the winner of the primary election, still a year away.

Of course, the Democrats did try to sneak up the primary election during the last General Assembly session. Mr. O’Malley led the effort, ably assisted by Congressman Steny Hoyer (D., MD 5th) and Senate President Mike Miller (D., Calvert).

The logic was to deny Governor Ehrlich a huge fundraising advantage because Mayor O’Malley will to spend millions on a primary challenge from Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan.

These schemers underestimated House of Delegates Democrats, though. While Senator Miller, Representative Hoyer, and state Democratic Party officials could see the obvious benefits of the early primary, all that House Speaker Mike Busch (D., Anne Arundel) and Ways and Means Chair Sheila Hixson (D., Montgomery) could see was their own inability to raise money during next year’s session. Every Democratic challenger in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Baltimore City would be busy raising money while incumbents were prevented from doing so by state election law.

They still won’t be able to raise funds during the session, but at least they will have four months afterward to do so before the primary in September.

Also, every vote those same Democrat incumbents would cast during the session would be subject to scrutiny by their challengers. Bad business for incumbents, so Speaker Busch and Chairman Hixson squashed the idea.

I really find it intriguing that Democrats are so quick to jump on the O’Malley bandwagon. Sure, he’s handsome, and yes, he did introduce a statistical measurement tool to the delivery of city services.

Unfortunately, that tool, called CitiStat, is working best at tracking an ever-escalating violent crime rate. As I’ve said before, if Mayor O’Malley can’t keep kids safe at school, how is he going to run the state?

Doug Duncan, on the other hand, has a solid record of management successes as mayor of Rockville – which he was creating when I first met him – and now as county executive. His team is top notch, and he balances progressive reform with an awareness of the needs of long time residents.

His biggest knock falls into the Glendening/Townsend category. He has advocated tax increases, and even the County Council, never viewed as fiscally conservative, has taken him to task for being irresponsible.

Last Friday night, six women aligned with Moveon.org stood outside the Walkersville Fire Hall holding up signs decrying proposed state land sales and protesting Governor Ehrlich’s visit. While not attacking their motives (as much as I’d like to), I will speak to their sponsor.

Moveon.org is a political action organization funded by a multi-billionaire posing as a socially aware everyman. His followers are as dangerously misled as were those of the Rev. Jim Jones, of the Jimtown infamy. They seize the organization’s “everyman” agenda, without realizing how silly it is to align with a guy who lives in opulence, is driven in a limo, flies in a private jet, and couldn’t possibly relate to the needs of “everyman.” All of this while his followers express disgust with capitalism and the benefits and rewards of hard work.

Moveon or the conservative movement, at least in Frederick County and Western Maryland, won’t decide the next governor’s race. The next governor will be decided by how effectively the two candidates can communicate with millions of Maryland voters who are not represented by political extremes.

The hundreds of voters at both of the party events Friday night, and even the half dozen sign wavers, already know for whom they’ll vote. The real question remains how Governor Ehrlich and his rival can communicate. And money, as much as we wish it wasn’t, will be a determining factor.

So, the fact that our county is seen as place of influence is good for us. It assures that we’ll see these candidates numerous times, that we’ll be the focus of pundits’ speculation and editorial review. It means that every statement our local political leaders make will be scrutinized for impact on the larger political landscape.

Okay, I take it back. Maybe being at the center of a political storm isn’t such a good after all!



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