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Campaign dies, but issues live on

October 01, 1998

Bob MaginnisDo newspaper people dislike elected officials?

It's a fair question, given how often we hold them up to public scrutiny, and, in our opinion columns, up to public ridicule. But for the most part, the answer is "no." Sometimes we're even capable of feeling sorry for them, as I usually do when they say they're going to run a campaign based "on the issues."

Even when they're right on the issues, likability counts for so much today that, given the electorate's aversion to digging into the details, such issue-oriented campaigns often are not successful.

Take the summer's most interesting local race, which featured former Maryland delegate Paul Muldowney attempting to unseat Del. John Donoghue in the District 2-C race. Muldowney filed late and attempted to remake himself as a kindler, gentler candidate, which was about as out of character as Pat Boone's recent attempt to play heavy metal music. You can put on a new suit, but unless you've got a feel for the music you're trying to play, it's gonna be off-key.

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On three issues, however, the Muldowney campaign had perfect pitch, and I can only believe that if it had been a young, fresh-faced candidate like Alex Mooney raising these matters, voters might have reacted differently. I raise them now because they're still relevant to the quality of life here. They include:

- Washington County's water and sewer debt, now at $50 million plus. Muldowney suggested that dedicating some of the tip-jar gambling debt toward debt reduction would make sense. If any member of the Washington County delegation has come up with another possibility, I haven't heard it. State officials are quietly pushing, as they did when Keedysville and Boonsboro needed a new water system, for Hagerstown and Washington County to work together on cost-cutting measures. So far on this issue, the delegation has been missing in action, an unacceptable position on a matter of this importance.

- Though it's periodically attacked by groups like Common Cause, Maryland still gives its delegates and senators scholarship money to dole out as they see fit. But there is no requirement that the lawmakers give the cash to people who actually live within their district, and Donoghue in fact has given two scholarships to Chris Shank, his office manager and the treasurer on one of his campaigns.

Ellen Sauerbrey has proposed eliminating the $8.5 million-a-year program and spending the funds on free tuition for 1,000 students who would agree to teach in Maryland after graduation, and for teacher re-training and the like.

It sounds good, but lawmakers will attack it on the premise that without some local control, all the benefits will go to the state's more populous areas. Which brings us back to the original issue: If local lawmakers want local control, why should the money go to someone outside the district? It's a modest reform all local lawmakers should be eager to support.

- Back in March, Herald-Mail reporter Brendan Kirby did a story on Maryland's "HotSpots" program, writing about a day spent accompanying Jackie McDowell, a parole officer making rounds of places where ex-offenders live. Many had no ties to the community, which got me to thinking:

If inmate are from Prince George's County or Baltimore and committed their crimes in one of those jurisdictions, why shouldn't they go back home after they've done their time? Once inmates have served their sentences, they do deserve a chance to rejoin society, but we've got our own crop of home-grown offenders to deal with, without taking on the metro areas' burdens.

In a letter to The Herald-Mail published Sept. 6, Muldowney suggested one possibility:

"The state medium security prisons in Cumberland and Princess Anne have worked out an agreement with the Division of Corrections that all inmates ready for mandatory release under the supervision of Parole and Probation, will be transferred to Baltimore prior to release, and released there.

"Why haven't we worked out an agreement similar to Princess Anne and Cumberland? I don't know."

I don't know, either, but somebody in our delegation ought to be working on it, because even though the Muldowney campaign is as dead as day-old road kill, several of the issues it raised still have lives of their own.

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