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The Tentacle


February 16, 2006

Winning at Any Cost is Too Costly

John W. Ashbury

"All's fair in love and war," or so goes the old proverb. Unfortunately, as applied to politics, it is often used as an excuse for any tactic used to gain an upper hand in any campaign for any office.

There's a prime example right here in Frederick County with the posting of a campaign web site by a candidate for the state Senate in District 3. He attempts to tie his opponent to MS-13, a particularly violent street gang, and all because of statement the incumbent has made supporting relaxed rules for illegal immigrants.

Over in Annapolis, however, we see a better example as the Democrats use every tactic they can to toss out the incumbent Republican governor, stooping so low as to advocate for changes in voting rules and regulations that could lead to massive voter fraud.

And that's not just the opinion here, but also among some of the most political of minds across the state. Our General Assembly, with nary a vote from the minority party, has instituted voting regulations that will allow early voting, absentee voting on demand, and provisional ballots, all of which have been cited by professionals as prone to fraud - fraud that isn't likely to be uncovered until after the election results have been certified, and thus unchangeable.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich vetoed legislation last spring that instituted these "reforms." In an effort to thwart the governor's re-election bid, the Democrats in the General Assembly overrode each of those bills, even though their own appointed election officials testified that it would be nigh impossible to institute the changes in time for the September primary.

While some action is necessary to increase voter turnout statewide, these measures are sure to create allegations of fraud from whichever party loses in any race, from the governor's campaign to the lowest office in county races.

And some Democrats don't feel that what has already been done is enough to guarantee an Ehrlich defeat next November. There is now a proposal before our legislators to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences - time served and probationary conditions.

Bob Ehrlich won by 66,170 votes in 2002. With approximately 150,000 eligible under this plan to regain their voting rights according to Justice Maryland, a group that supports this legislation, the race for the Governor's Mansion would be much tighter. Justice Maryland says that about 85,000 of the eligible felons would likely register as Democrats, thus giving a decided edge to the Democrat candidate.

We have descended to a game of dirty tricks in our politics. We can no longer decide who will be our leaders based on their abilities and positions on the issues. We now have to skewer the process to favor the candidate of "our" party.

It would be the same in Maryland if Republicans were in charge. Just look at Texas where Republicans are in command and where they make every effort to enhance their chances of maintaining that power. Maryland Democrats are so angry that their candidate lost four years ago that they will do whatever it takes to return a member of their party to the seat now occupied by a Republican.

It could backfire. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans statewide by about 2 to 1, the GOPers are gaining. Frederick County is a prime example. Registration used to be heavily Democrat here, but is now Republican by some 11,541 voters.

In our county, both parties better look over their shoulders, however. Those who choose to register to vote, but not affiliate with any political party, now number 21,740, up more than 3,000 since the 2002 election. (These figures are from the Frederick County Board of Elections website and were last updated March 1, 2005.)

The old adage about voting a straight party ticket is continuing to lose favor everywhere, There are more and more active voters who now say they "vote the person" and not the party. If everyone voted a straight party ticket we would not have a 3-2 split on the Board of County Commissioners. And some members of the majority in Winchester Hall would not have been elected without Democrat votes.

And this will continue to be the case here in Frederick County. But across the state, particularly in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City, Republicans have a steep mountain to climb to be elected. And those jurisdictions can sway each and every statewide election to the Democrats.

There is an added dimension this year because the lieutenant governor is seeking the U. S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes instead of running again with Governor Ehrlich. While most fear pointing to his race as an advantage, it clearly is in those jurisdictions mentioned above as all three have large African-American populations.

But Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's advantage wasn't legislated. It is an accident of birth, and his pursuit of a quality education, pushed by his mother, unlike what the Democrats are doing in the General Assembly to aid whoever comes out of their primary.

It is apparent that more and more voters are getting fed up with the tiresome rhetoric of the politics of personal destruction. Certainly questions of moral character can and should be fodder for discussion. But should it be the main focus? Likely not!

The complexity of the issues today are far more relevant to tomorrow than whether or not this or that was done when the candidate was 30 years younger - or even 10 years younger. Where he or she stands on those issues is critical to the decision-making process before entering the voting both.

Unfortunately, too many voters today decide to cast their ballots based on their assessment of a single issue. Take for example the "growth" questions. Three of the last four Boards of County Commissioners have been labeled as "no growth." True enough.

However, if you examine the record you will find that new construction has continued unabated, with a few blips here and there, over the 16 years. The only real change has been the increased cost of building, and the attendant increase in the value of all real estate, and therefore the increase in the tax burden of everyone.

So here is an admonition as we enter the campaign season in earnest. Watch out for voting irregularities and single issue candidates who talk a good game, and then, when in office, make you the loser.



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