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August 15, 2002

Where Do The Candidates Stand On The Issues?

John W. Ashbury

If the information we have gotten from local candidates so far in this election cycle is any indication, we are in real trouble for the next four years.

The masses of voters, who will cast their ballots on September 10 to reduce the number of candidates for the November general election, have little, or no, idea of what any of them stand for. It's a black smear on the local media that the really critical issues facing Frederick County are not being discussed by the candidates within their printed lines.

The Gazette is planning a Voter's Guide and an editorial endorsing some candidates for local and state offices. The League of Women Voters has prepared a Voter's Guide in the past, which has been published in The Frederick News-Post, but there is no word yet that one is forthcoming this year.

Yard signs are plentiful in some Frederick City locations, but seem to be scarce around the county, particularly in the other municipalities.

One disturbing trend, however, is apparent. Some candidates have aligned themselves with other candidates or office holders in the hopes of improving their chances at the polls. There is an old saw in politics: Never Align Yourself With Another Candidate.

Far too many have latched onto Delegate Sue Hecht's skirt. If they are successful in September, Ms. Hecht will become known as the Queen of local Democratic politics, much the same as former Delegate Anita Stup is known in some Republican circles.

Ms. Hecht and County Commissioner Jan Gardner, along with Mayor Jennifer Dougherty of The City of Frederick, have actively recruited candidates, primarily of the female persuasion. And a trip past the mayor's pub on West Patrick Street reveals a plethora of Democratic campaign signs stuck in the planters out front.

Such a display will hurt these candidates with certain voters because of their current dislike for what Ms. Dougherty is doing in the city. Her victory last fall may not translate into votes for those she supports this year.

The candidates' alignment with Ms. Hecht, Ms. Gardner, and Ms. Dougherty would seem to suggest that their views parallel those of the three women, although one can never be certain what a person will actually do once elected. A prime example of that is Ms. Dougherty herself, who rode into office promising more open government and "a fresh approach," but she has slammed the open door and taken the old approach to new heights of secrecy and behind the scenes activity.

To those who agree with Ms. Hecht's liberal politics, the candidates she is promoting will garner their votes. But the majority of Frederick County's voters are conservative, whether Democrat or Republican. The sad part comes when one realizes that the quality of the candidates who put their names on the Republican ballot for all too many of the offices are not qualified for the jobs they seek.

At least the Democrats have some quality candidates on the ballot, even if you don't agree with their politics. We may not want to see any of them elected, but our choices on the other side of the spectrum are slim at best in too many cases.

That doesn't apply in the District 4A race for the House of Delegates. We have three incumbents running for two seats. None of them has ever lost an election. Louise Snodgrass has been elected twice as Burgess of Middletown and twice to the House. Paul Stull has been elected delegate twice. And Joe Bartlett won four years ago in his first political fight, although by a slim margin over Bill Castle.

Both Democrats in this race have tasted defeat and will likely do so again. The word around the county is that the only reason Dick Franklin and Val Hertges Dale are running is to prevent the winners of the Republican primary from having a cakewalk in November.

Mr. Bartlett has aligned himself with incumbent State Senator Tim Ferguson, as evidenced by the number of places in the district where their large campaign signs appear together. And Mr. Ferguson's ads in the News-Post, which in recent weeks have attacked Ms. Snodgrass, suggest that Mr. Bartlett thinks the chairman of the delegation is far more vulnerable than Mr. Stull. Why else would Mr. Ferguson go after someone who is not his opponent in the primary?

Mr. Stull is seen as one of the truly "nice guys" in politics and a champion of the farming community. That gives him a leg up in the campaign to go along with his career in the local public school system.

But Mr. Bartlett's record over the past four years is nothing to write home about. His antics with Sen. Alex Mooney early in both their political careers still haunts the memory of far to many voters. And Mr. Bartlett can' t point to any real accomplishment, while his opponents can point to their successes as graded by others, both in the media and in the political, business and farming communities.

Mr. Ferguson's ads attacking Mrs. Snodgrass and Delegate David Brinkley, his opponent, brings smiles to reader's faces, but little else. Negative campaigning can work to a point, but it can also backfire. Just ask Tom Hattery about his final mailing in the 1992 race against Roscoe Bartlett for a seat in Congress. The backlash was so severe that Mr. Hattery lost, and Mr. Bartlett hasn't been really challenged since.

We are a little more than four weeks out from the primary and nobody in the race for county commissioner is making any noise. Belinda Teague-Levy, Lennie Thompson, Ms. Gardner, Fern Hines and John Lovell have signs out, but where are the other 16 candidates. Are these the five who will get elected? Likely not.

There is little happening in public in any of the races. There was a candidates' "forum" in Burkittsville the other night and candidates and their hangers-on outnumbered actual voters more than 2-1. Sad.

We can only hope that things will heat up quickly. We don't want to be forced to make a decision solely on name recognition. Knowing where the candidates actually stand on the critical issues would be nice.

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