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With foes in both parties, Munson faces busy election year

May 06, 2002|BY TIM ROWLAND

Advocates of a three-party system ought to love Washington County, now that the Republicans have effectively broken into two camps - an event that will add spice to local races for state office in a county that hasn't elected a Democratic lawmaker outside Hagerstown since 1996.

The good news for Republicans is that since GOP voter registration overtook the Democrats a decade ago, the count outside city lines has continued to move solidly in their favor. The bad news is that once any political party achieves overwhelming control, fissures are likely to occur within the party itself.

Now the party is divided to the point where it's quite possible that some Republicans will be supporting Democrats in the fall elections over their bitter inter-party rivals. Things are so sticky that one Republican mulling a run for County Commissioner surveyed the ground and decided he will run his race on his own without Central Committee involvement.

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Problems began three years ago, when Vikki Nelson waged a primary campaign against Sen. Don Munson. Some viewed her campaign as a healthy inter-party debate of ideas and legislative effectiveness.

Munson wasn't one of those people.

Some politicians in history have demanded more unquestioning solidarity and loyalty than Munson. Stalin comes to mind. But that may be about it. Last year Munson re-arranged the Republican Central Committee leadership to the detriment of Nelson's supporters, offending some long-time allies in the process.

There's been grumbling on the right, from Republicans who were upset with Munson No. 1, over the power play, No. 2 over Munson's vote to raise the cigarette tax in exchange for state support of a Hagerstown college campus and No. 3, the fact that Munson will back a Democrat rather than a fellow Republican who has crossed him at some point in time.

Party advocates remember with distaste last year's Hagerstown municipal elections, in which Munson posted yard signs supporting Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Breichner over Republican Bob Bruchey. While Munson has irritated some of the more conservative members of the party, he has also drawn fire from moderate members, particularly Bruchey and the business community which has openly questioned the senator's effectiveness in Annapolis.

It was Bruchey, remember, who told a Chamber meeting that for Hagerstown to win the college campus "we have to shut Senator Munson up." Worse, Bruchey was able to out-muscle Munson over the campus' location, securing it for the downtown when Munson wanted it located on the outskirts. Getting bested by Bruchey in a power struggle is something Munson will never forget.

That's good news for John Donoghue, the city's Democratic delegate who is being challenged by Bruchey this year. Munson will doubtless support Donoghue, although there will be some of us goofball voters who will want to see Bruchey and Munson in the same delegation, just for sport.

While he's busy putting out that fire, Munson will also keep an eye on Dels. Chris Shank and Bob McKee, Republicans who are on course for an interesting primary, steered there by an uncharitable redistricting cartographer.

Shank, who has yet to declare, has an advantage in that the new district contains more of his current constituency than McKee's. Shank has also used the Munson template - constituent service, and Louis Goldstein-like attention to voter detail - to try to carve out what, for the senator, has been an unbeatable formula.

So why has McKee been grinning like the Cheshire Cat through this whole affair that conventional wisdom initially held would lead to his political demise? He blithely shrugged off the bad redistricting news, and refused to move into an open district, which many thought he would - including, it seems, Shank.

Here, Shank may be a victim of his own ambition. He's promised Munson he won't run against him this year, but not beyond. That, coupled with the fact that some Republicans are openly talking about the possibilities of unseating Munson in a primary, undoubtedly has the senator's celebrated paranoia going great guns.

Munson got McKee elected seven years ago, and it's likely he'll work on his behalf again. It's a delicate proposition, because if he provokes Shank too much, it may guarantee his Senate seat will be contested by the young delegate in the future.

Meanwhile, in the newly created Northern delegate district, Munson attended the campaign kickoff of LeRoy Myers Jr. recently, and is said to have proffered his usual support-for-non-aggression deal and received Myers' agreement.

At 50, Myers is a grownup, which in this delegation would be a real plus. He's a savvy businessman with the strong conservative/religious views that, provided they are not wielded in the extreme, have done well in Washington County politics.

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