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Champs at politics, Snook, Munson now must prove they can govern

November 11, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

County Commissioner Greg Snook and State Sen. Don Munson - Washington County's two biggest Republican winners on a night when the boneyard of local Democratic candidates lit its no-vacancy sign - have every right to savor their impressive wins over the next few weeks. And they will need to save their strength, because their roads are about to become significantly tougher.

Both Snook and Munson earned their political stripes the same way: By listening to people's troubles and by voting against taxes. Both enjoy quiet, personal contact, but wither noticeably under the spotlight of public pressure. And for both of them, the downside of this big win is that protections they once enjoyed have been stripped away.

On difficult issues, the current County Commissioners generally mustered three-member majorities, not including Snook's vote. Only occasionally would Snook (about whom the running joke is that he has never met a fence he couldn't straddle) be placed in the uncomfortable position of having to actually take a stand and break a tie.

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The paradox of the new commission is that although all five are Republicans, the ideological breakdown may be more equally split that it was before. Dori Nipps and Jim Kercheval are moderate, Bill Wivell is very conservative, and John Munson, well, John Munson makes Wivell look like Michael Dukakis. Snook, it would appear, falls somewhere in between. With Nipps and Kercheval on one end of the spectrum and Wivell and J-Mun on the other, this commission may go to 3-2 more often than Scottie Erickson.

If this scenario bears out, Snook could find himself to be the highly visible tie-breaking vote on a number of substantive issues. The pressure from both sides - business-moderates on one side and ideologue-conservatives on the other - could prove to be enormous. For Snook, who prefers to fly beneath the radar, this could prove to be an uncomfortable four years.

n Likewise for D-Mun, who suddenly finds himself as the most influential lawmaker in Washington County's Annapolis delegation. Before, there was always someone who could pick up the pieces of an unseemly blunder, or ram through some last-minute bond money for the county. Whether it was Paul Muldowney, Bruce Poole, Doc McClellan, Cas Taylor or Sue Hecht, Washington County always had at least one player to go to when the game was on the line.

No more. Worse for the delegation, it's left without a scapegoat in the form of a Democratic governor. For eight years, all we've heard is how impossible it is for a Republican delegation to get anything done under a sitting Democratic governor. Now who are they going to blame if our bond bills fail? Who are they going to blame if no funds are forthcoming for the city's proposed arts and entertainment district or the airport runway extension, or for the widening of Interstate 81 or the southern bypass?

It has long been Munson's aspiration to be overshadowed by no one in Washington County politics. Now, after three decades, that aspiration has been achieved. He's it.

In truth, this is not a pressure Munson should have to face alone. It's time for Del. Chris Shank, fresh off a resounding win, to step up. For starters, he's too good for the brain-dead committee he's been saddled with for the past eight years. He should lobby aggressively for a seat on Appropriations. And delegate-elect LeRoy Myers needs to hit the ground running.

If Myers, for example, makes one phone call in the next week or two, it ought to be to E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore political newcomer who knocked off the powerful Sen. Walter Baker. And these two men, who share the common ground of giant killer, ought to talk coalition building.

We have a rare opportunity: A fine governor-elect who is friendly to country folks, city delegations in disarray and what is sure to be a massive power restructuring in Annapolis.

Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore are natural allies, (Ehrlich himself was mentioning watermen and farmers in the same breath in his victory speech) and for maybe the first time, the numbers and situation look hopeful for cultivating some real collective clout.

n At the county level, the candidate most culpable for his own demise may have been County Commissioner candidate Jim Brown, who kept telling us he had "a plan" and for way too long left it at that.

That was OK for the people who know him, but for the public at large it was too much a leap of faith. Had he given us more details earlier, he might have seized some momentum, but after hearing at length only about his nebulous "6 steps" people could be excused for confusing the campaign with an AA meeting.

n By contrast, look at Jim Kercheval, who spoke clearly, smartly and early about his vision for the county and was rewarded with a huge win.

n He had no way of knowing it at the time, but when former EDC chief John Howard signed his top-secret severance deal with the county, he was signing the political death warrant of his good friend, Commissioner Paul Swartz.

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