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Advisory group eyes current campaign

October 16, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Are you enthusiastic about any candidate running in the current election? That's the question that was raised this past week in a discussion with members of The Herald-Mail's editorial page advisory committee.

This group of citizens meets with me monthly to discuss the page's content and what issues I should address in my personal columns. Last week we discussed the current election campaign. We dealt first with the Maryland governor's race.

"I have certain leanings, but I try to keep an open mind," one member said, but added that he has doubts about Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

"She's always attacking Mr. (Robert) Ehrlich's record. It may not be sterling and may be attackable. But he has some experience in the give-and-take of politics and he comes from a blue-collar background. She has some great intentions, but I don't know if she's demonstrated the expertise of managing state government."

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Another member noted that whether or not they have experience, the one who's elected will have the vast authority that Maryland's constitution gives its governor over the budget.

"The legislature can only nibble around the edges, cutting here and there," he said.

Commenting on the fact that if elected Ehrlich will face an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, another member said that the Republican will be forced to compromise.

"Ehrlich's got to appease some of these people. With Townsend, you'd have the same old one-party machine. I think we can change direction with a Republican governor, but he's got to moderate his positions," he said.

Another member agreed, but said that Maryland would be much better off if it had two strong political parties.

Asked for her opinion, another member said she would vote for Townsend, because she liked the people she'd aligned herself with.

"I watch the people around the candidate, who they surround themselves with," she said.

One member said that Ehrlich's stand in favor of slot machines at the state's race tracks was troubling because so much money and energy is wasted on gambling.

"But when these guys come to face the hard reality of the shortfall, most likely a lot of them will change their positions," he said.

The state's budget could be cut across the board without too much damage, one member said, because there are little pockets of fat tucked into every agency, in order to reward political friends of the incumbents.

Making sense of the county commissioner race was even tougher for the group, with one member saying he was "going as far into the newcomers as I can and then filling in with incumbents."

The only real way to make progress, he said, would be to "put up a slate of people - a reform slate - to take some positive steps to consolidate services with the city."

One member who couldn't attend e-mailed his comments later.

"I can find no reason to endorse any current commissioner," he said, adding that the current board's leadership is suspect on issues like the comprehensive plan, Fort Ritchie and the secrecy over a former department head's retirement package.

Their failure to offer a vision of the county's future even as development creeps over South Mountain is troubling, he said, as is their apparent inability to work with the Hagerstown Council.

The group seemed to agree that the commissioners have been captives of their staff, with one member saying, "I would vote for anyone who would vote for firing two or three top staffers."

Newcomer Jim Kercheval got good marks for what one member called his straight talk, while another felt that incumbents Paul Swartz and William Wivell were "grandstanding" on the secret agreement issue.

Most of the time was spent on the races for governor and county commissioner, but in the delegate races, District 2B contender Dave Russo may have a close race with Chris Shank, the group felt.

Shank's Republican affiliation is a problem, one member noted, because in Annapolis, the Democrats rule.

"It gets back to that one-party system again."

In former Mayor Bob Bruchey's race against incumbent Del. John Donoghue, one member said that as mayor, Bruchey began his term by making appearances all over the city, but became scarcer and scarcer as time went on. Elected officials should keep in touch, she said.

The group's members have their favorites, but no one was lavishing praise on any candidate. It's the same way with their friends and families, they said.

"At this stage I really haven't seen much enthusiasm exhibited over any one candidate," a member said.

This may be due to inexperienced newcomers, especially in the commmissioners' race, who either don't know how to get their message out, or don't have one. The other possibility is that the incumbents may be whistling through the graveyard, as they say, hoping that name recognition gets them through.

If you'd like to see the candidates in action, forums for the county commissioners and Maryland senator and delegate candidates will run on Antietam Cable TV. A list of times and dates appears elsewhere on this page.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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