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Washington County Board of Commissioners

November 06, 1998

A Washington County Board of Commissioners without Ron Bowers? We all figured it would happen one day. No one's immortal, after all, but I imagined that he'd retire, his career capped by a testimonial at the Venice Inn, recounting his accomplishments in office. This is the commissioner, after all, who always calls you back. Turning him out would mean taking a chance that somebody else would answer those calls and handle constituents' problems.

But take a chance they did, knocking off Bowers and John Shank but returning Greg Snook, who benefits from his nice-guy personality and the name recognition his family has garnered in three generations of public service. As the top vote-getter, he's probably set to be commissioners' president again, a job that will be easier with the addition of Paul Swartz, who's cast himself in the peacemaker's role.

With Bert Iseminger and John Schnebly, the board gains the expertise of a planner and an education booster, plus some vision about what has to happen to help the county grow in an orderly fashion. Political newcomer William Wivell, a numbers cruncher at Allegheny Energy, rounds out the group, and should have some insight into how to deal with the county's long-term water and sewer debt.

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The biggest surprise of the commissioners' race, however, has to be the defeat of Sue Tuckwell, who amassed a record of public service - chairing both the United Way campaign and the county Gaming Commission, just to name a few - prior to filing. With the help of campaign manager Randy Changuris, she put together a large group of volunteers and knocked on thousands of doors, even after breaking her foot. Perhaps local voters are not ready for an assertive woman in the mold of Anita Stup, who served Frederick County as a commissioner and District 3 delegate.

Stup didn't run for re-election this time, yielding her seat to Joe Bartlett, son of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. Del. Sue Hecht, the closest thing Frederick County has to a liberal Democrat, also won, despite a vigorous Republican effort to knock her out.

Del. Louise Snodgrass, Hecht's District 3 colleague, spoke against her during a "Hecht No!" rally, which will make for some interesting working relationships in that delegation during the next session. (Snodgrass is lucky her target wasn't someone like former Frederick delegate James "Doc" McClellan, who would have made sure that her bills were buried and that her committee work involved deciding what shade of green to paint the benches in state parks.)

On the Washington County side, the likely election of Chris Shank - absentee ballots may still produce a victory for Del. Bruce Poole - gives the county delegation a Republican majority, putting Del. Bob McKee in line for the chairmanship, unless, of course, Shank feels constrained to go across party lines to support his mentor and sometime scholarship provider, John Donoghue.

Donoghue survived a write-in challenge from Paul Muldowney, who couldn't defeat him in the primary and who has lost every race he's entered in the past 12 years. He's 63 now, and in four years would be a bit old to start climbing the assembly's seniority ladder again.

He was right on some major issues - the regulations, since changed, that allowed former state prison inmates with no ties to the area to stay here and the award of delegate scholarships to people outside delegate districts. But Muldowney filed in July - way too late - and felt constrained not to pummel Donoghue, who comes across as everybody's favorite nephew.

To everybody, that is, except Democratic party officials, who resent his decision to keep Shank working in the delegation's office, despite his not-so-veiled ambition to challenge Poole, who had just recently been welcomed back into House Speaker Cas Taylor's good graces after a couple of years' exile. Poole had a leadership position that Shank won't be eligible to fill until the balance a power shifts more toward the Republicans.

The Republicans have some fence-mending to do as well. State Sen. Don Munson is reportedly not shrugging off the things said during a primary challenge from Victoria "Vikki" Nelson, whose key issue was Munson's decision to join his colleagues in overturning the County Commissioners' ridiculous attempt to decertify their roads department union. Don't look for Munson to give "the hat lady" a hug and a kiss anytime soon.

Finally, in the non-partisan school board race, Mary Wilfong was the top vote-getter, despite the revelation that she'd never voted until she ran for the office. Her decision to discuss, albeit reluctantly, the religious beliefs that kept her away from the polls prove that while confession may be good for the soul, it doesn't hurt at the ballot box either.




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

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