What homework should county candidates be doing?

March 12, 1998

In a column which appeared Thursday, Feb. 26, I asked readers to tell me what sort of homework the candidates for Washington County Commissioner should be doing. What, I asked, are the most important things for them to find out?

For answering that question, in 100 words or less, I offered the winner two tickets to Basket Bingo, an April 3 fund-raiser for Washington County's Parent-Child Center, a non-profit agency that helps parents learn to raise their children without resorting to physical or mental abuse.

The event, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Hagerstown Eagles Club at 16 N. Locust St., features collectible handmade-in-the-U.S.A. Longaberger baskets as prizes, which should have been enough of a draw by itself to get your fingers tapping on the keyboard. But generous guy that I am, I also offered two tickets to a separate drawing that will be held that night for a $200 basket.


Maybe you were still thinking about whether you wanted to go to an event that was nearly a month off. Maybe your lucky bingo shirt had disappeared into the electric clothes dryer's black hole, the one that eats one sock out of every pair. Whatever the reason, only one reader responded.

However, I'm going to give you another chance. Not only will I pay off the first winner, but I'll give you another chance to win an identical prize, by telling me, in 100 words or less, what sort of homework candidates for office should do.

Is it enough for candidates to declare that they oppose any new taxes and believe that government should be "run like a business" with heavy applications of "common sense?" Or should they do more?

Today's winner, Washington County Commissioner candidate Albino Trujillo, favors to "do more" approach. As he says in his letter, which appears elsewhere on this page, much can be done just by asking for copies of budgets and studying the numbers.

Entries are due by Wednesday, March 18. Send them to Candidate Contest, c/o Bob Maginnis, The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md., 21740.

People participate in elections in a variety of ways. Some make donations to their favorite candidate, some volunteer to go door-to-door or stuff envelopes. And then there are those who would rather campaign against someone, by pointing out his or her shortcomings to the rest of us. And while we may regret the emphasis on the negative, that's part of the political process.

So are whispering campaigns and anonymous letters, which are different from political debate because candidates and their supporters rarely get a chance to identify the other side, much less refute what they're saying.

I bring up the point because I recently received an anonymous letter about a Washington County Commission candidate whose name I won't mention. The letter alleges that the candidate was fired from two jobs locally, and says such an "employment background" renders the candidate a "poor choice" for county office.

Maybe so, if it were true. Before I ever read this letter, two officials of one company had denied the story that this person had been fired, and the head of the law firm named in the letter said the same thing this week.

I bring this up not to condemn the practice of tipping off journalists anonymously. Sometimes there are good reasons why a person with information the public needs to know can't risk his or her livelihood by passing it along publicly. In this case, however, the tipster was passing along bad information.

My advice: When you hear something negative about a candidate, especially something personal that's not on the public record, ask the person passing it along how they know it's true. Their answer will tell you all you need to know about whether or not to believe the story.

Recently I've received a couple of anonymous letters including negative comments on my stuff. The Herald-Mail welcomes criticism, and in fact gives letters critical of its staff members priority over others. If you wish to remain anonymous, however, you must call your comments into Mail Call, which can be reached by dialing (301) 791-6236.

The "beltway bullies," as the late state Sen. Ed Thomas used to call them, this week succeeded in knocking down a bill to help Maryland's dairy farmers get a more few cents per gallon for their product, and perhaps put off the day when they'll have to sell their land for development.

The hypocrisy of the urban lawmakers on this issue is overwhelming, and their claims that they worry about how much poor families will have to pay for milk are bogus.

What they fear is the political repercussions from asking their own constituents to pay a few more pennies to help someone in another region of the state. And so rural areas' payoff for going along with the Baltimore school settlement, among other gifts to urban areas, is a kick in the teeth. Until those regions outside the beltway form an alliance to oppose these ingrates, we can expect more of the same.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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