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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


October 31, 2006

In One Week

Roy Meachum

Guessing that at least half of registered voters will show up for next Tuesday's voting is a fool's game. So is trying to predict the winners.

In my progress through Frederick's downtown and other neighborhoods, I've heard people overwhelmed with self-confidence and prone to prophesy; they will proclaim with great force that so-and-so has the race sewed up.

In the 22 years I have been observing the local scene, I have never played that game. Rooting for candidates and helping them along in print have been the extent of my political interference. Sometimes there comes along someone whose presence in public office would be inimical to the greater good. I've said so.

Barb and Harold Domer were the latest examples. Anyone who would like to separate the pair paid no attention to their long careers in the city police department. Veteran cops sought me out to give thanks for my News-Post columns during the recent primaries for sheriff. The Domers are nice only when it pays them to be nice.

As I said, his opponent, Chuck Jenkins was backed by much of the sheriff's force and a slew of well-wishers, especially those who knew him as chairman of the GOP central committee. They were the ones who brought the Domers down. I hope my writing helped, but I've been at this game so long that I know that dictum about the pen being mightier than the sword belongs in the trash.

John "Lennie" Thompson proves my point. At the point The Washington Post celebrated my premature demise, there was mention of how the commissioners' president had one wall covered with my past columns. He continues to be re-elected. He will probably be again next Tuesday.

Mr. Thompson is an absolute demagogue, telling people only what they want to hear and magnifying his actions to accord with his shouted words. He decries, for example, the inconveniences suffered by county residents; he doesn't mention how he votes against each and every measure that would ease the strain. He generally casts the sole negative vote against any and all attempts to make improvements.

If trapped on the roads, appalled by the schools or worried about water supplies, Mr. Thompson does everything within his power to keep you uncomfortable. Happy folks never listen to a demagogue's flute. Like Huey Long from my native Louisiana, Mr. Thompson counts on real or imagined misery to keep him in a commissioner's chair. His one foray outside that purview handed him his head; Judge Terry Adams wielded the sword.

It will be interesting to see what happens when charter government finally arrives. As his smashing loss against Judge Adams demonstrated, he does not do well one-on-one. We can still expect the gentleman from Walkersville to throw his white suit into the county executive race.

Meanwhile, it's safe to predict Mr. Thompson and his ilk will battle the adoption of charter government, despite the fact Frederick holds the unhappy title of being Maryland's sole "big" county caught still in governmental horse and buggy days. They're in power now! They want nothing to risk the voters tumbling to their fumbling view of what's wrong locally.

Amazingly, while growth looms as the sole determinate in the commissioners' races, it barely blips as an issue in the other contests.

Charlie Smith wants to demonstrate his separate and strong identity; retiring State's Attorney Scott Rolle's shadow looms over his former deputy. Mr. Smith is not immune from his former boss's tricks to beat the odds in his attorney general shoot-out.

The Rolle camp came a cropper when it tried and failed to challenge the credentials of his Democratic opponent. Montgomery's States' Attorney Doug Gansler's stock shot even higher when a judge threw the case out; his lead appears insurmountable, which may be the reason for the desperate move.

Such questionable tactics do not help Mr. Smith in his political life-or-death struggle with Bill Poffenbarger. It's true, as a friend suggested, that Mr. Poffenbarger's clients are frequently facing driving and drinking charges. He also said he didn't know so many of his close friends had used Mr. Poffenbarger; he was my lawyer when I went before a judge on that charge, in 2001. I like him. But I feel the same about Mr. Smith.

Perhaps the most curious question gets laid to rest next Tuesday. Why Jim Grimes tossed his tractor cap and chewing tobacco into the Orphans Court competition? While I had been told well in advance Mr. Grimes planned that move, I could not believe. I thought it was a ploy to hide filing for the county commissioner.

Once again, I was dead wrong. It still doesn't figure a man who once realized his greatest political ambition, in becoming mayor, would enthusiastically seek a post large on the privilege of being called judge, and short on everything else. It happened. The Orphans Court exists for the specific purpose of settling wills when contested; in the process we can assume it minds the interests of orphans.

But is this fit work for Jim Grimes? Not hardly, as we say in my native South. When he filed the streets were alive with rumors about what he was supposedly really after. The consensus was some off-stage feud with Tim May, presently serving as chief judge. Frankly, I don't know.

Whatever the national trend, this Republican stronghold seems very safe from any Democratic revolution. Andrew Duck hopes the countrywide tide will enable him to take over Roscoe Bartlett's chair in Congress. I don't see it happening; Mr. Duck does.

Speaking of legislators, the knockdown raging in that part of the Third District that includes Frederick City offers interesting possibilities. I have been told that Sue Hecht is well on track to regain a delegate's chair, and that could mean an entirely Democratic slate in the district. That's not going to happen, I feel.

Still anything is possible when you have a seasoned campaigner like Ms. Hecht. As covered in a recent column, there are rumors she and her followers have asked others to single-shot her. That means voting exclusively for Ms. Hecht and leaving the other part of the two-part district ballot blank. More than the usual political palavering, a battle of wills has been launched. >From where I sit, the only beneficiary is Republican.

On his own terms, incumbent Delegate Patrick Hogan is a splendid young man and very serious about his responsibilities in the General Assembly. He has displayed what seemed to have been lost with Charlie Smelser's retirement: He moves about quietly, offending few. I've never heard a harsh word spoken against Mr. Hogan.

The rest of the legislative races seems from here shoo-ins, largely because incumbents have learned the Golden Rule of politics, as practiced by Mr. Hogan. They go about their business "offending few." Sen. David Brinkley has proven the master at that game.

Sen. Alex Mooney stands as the exception. But nobody works harder at wooing his electorate, as I witnessed one recent evening. And then there's all that money. He collects so much, mostly out-of-state, that he hands some around to his fellow Republicans.

When it comes to the county commissioners other than Mr. Thompson, I haven't a real clue; it looks like a royal donnybrook. As in so many parallel situations, it matters entirely on who turns up at the polls.

Or in the mailbox: this is the year when the absentee ballot has become terribly chic.



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