Muldowney: The race he should be thinking about

April 19, 1998

Bob MaginnisMuldowney: The race he should be thinking about

It's just my opinion, but in Washington County, the most eagerly awaited political news is not whether Special Prosecutor Ken Starr will find any political dirt that sticks to President Clinton, but whether former state delegate Paul Muldowney will challenge John Donoghue in the fall primary for the District 2C delegate seat.

This newspaper has endorsed Muldowney in a variety of races, and I've been accused of being a secret campaign strategist for him (as if he really follows anyone's advice but his own), but I hope the delegate race is one that he sits out, for a couple of reasons. The first is that I don't think he can win it. The second is that his talents are needed on the board of county commissioners.

Why can't he win? Because Donoghue and the delegation came back from the 1998 General Assembly session in Annapolis with what looks like a full sack. Donoghue's passage of a bill to create an appeal mechanism for people denied treatment through their health-maintenance organization marks him as someone who's willing to stick up for "the little guy."


Nor does it hurt that the city got another $2.9 million to go with the like amount received last year to compensate Hagerstown for the flim-flam pulled on the city government two years ago by the state pension people. And even though the dairy price-support bill was the brainchild of Del. Anita Stup, its passage should also help Washington County farmers.

Now there are a couple of things going against Donoghue. The most immediate is local Democrats' displeasure with his district office manager, Chris Shank, an up-and-coming young political star. Chris is well-liked by many people who've dealt with him, but he's a Republican, and he's talked in the past about a possible challenge to Del. Bruce Poole.

Local Democratic party officials reason that Poole, a Democrat who's just gotten back on the good side of House Speaker Cas Taylor after a couple of years in the political doghouse, shouldn't have to worry about someone working for a Democrat like Donoghue.

The city pension flim-flam also occurred on Donoghue's watch, when state pension officials, faced with the possible exodus of local governments with high employee turnover, put together a bill that jiggered the rules against governments with low turnover rates, like Hagerstown. Donoghue and the delegation voted for this, relying on the committee handling the bill to notify them on any adverse effects. That didn't happen, and the city was hit with a $9 million bill, even though it had made all past pension payments on time.

But the truth is that bills like this, and the lead-paint bill, which our delegates also voted for and which has many local landlords up in arms, don't affect everyone, at least in a way that it's easy to communicate to an electorate like we have in Washington County.

Now at this point you might be asking: What do you mean by "an electorate like we have in Washington County?"

What I mean is that for most local voters, the details of legislation (provided it doesn't touch their personal pocketbooks) are less important than how nice the candidate seems. And in that contest, Donoghue, who still looks and acts as polite as the boy next door you wish your daughter would get interested in, wins hands down. Former Rep. Beverly Byron found this out when Donoghue ran against her; the dilemma was how to emphasize his inexperience without looking like a big old bully.

Running against Donoghue would also cast Muldowney in the role of the spoiler again. In 1990, he could have run for the House seat Donoghue has now, but chose a primary challenge against Patricia Cushwa instead, a challenge which lefther campaign too broke to give Don Munson a good fight for the senate seat..

As for the county commissioners, there are two possibilities. One is that there will be a whole board full of inexperienced people. The other is that some incumbents will overcome voters' emnity and return. Either way, they'll need some leadership, particularly in the area of dealing with the county's delegation to Annapolis, with whom they've clashed on a regular basis on issues like tourism and sewer funding.

Muldowney's experience would be a plus, and his business acumen would be helpful if, as I fear, some of his fellow commissioners have little experience with large budgets or state regulators.

His best qualification for the job may be the fact that throughout his political career, he's been willing to do what he believes is right, despite the political consequences. He did it in 1985, when the state pension system (and its unlimited cost-of-living clause) threatened to break the treasury, and paid the political price while others pretended there were no problems.

We will need straight talkers, not pretenders, to solve Washington County's $50 million-plus water and sewer debt problems, which is why we need Paul Muldowney on the county board.

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