Munson's reversal took guts

December 23, 2002|by Terry Headlee

Having covered politics and observed politicians for more than 20 years, I've seen my fair share of flip-flops by candidates who develop mild to major cases of amnesia once they're sworn into office.

But Washington County Commissioner John Munson's rationale this week as to why he has no choice but to take the $10,000 pay raise he railed against as a candidate takes some guts.


Because he's not only been been caught cold in a campaign fib, he's also trying to paint himself as a victim, saying the pay raise he so despised before Election Day had been approved by the Maryland General Assembly so he can't give it back now even if he wants to.

You might be interested in some history from the campaign trail. This will take a little time to explain - but trust me, it will be worth it.


When Munson first filed for office, he complained that the county was spending too much money and should work harder to lower its debt. He noted the county pays out more than $7 million in interest payments on the debt each year.

To lower the debt, and to set the example, Munson suggested that the ax swinging start right at the top - with the county commissioners. He attacked the commissioners' salary, which was slated to increase by $10,000 to a total of $30,000 annually effective with the new board elected in November.

He talked about it during the campaign. He also wrote about it and made it an essential part of his five-step platform.

In fact, these are the exact words he wrote in a newspaper column published just two days before the Sept. 10 primary:

"If we are to eliminate the debt, we need to start with the county commissioners so if elected, in the very first commissioners' meeting, I will propose that all five commissioners not accept the $10,000 raise that has been given to them. This would be a $50,000 savings to the county right off the bat."

Munson went on to be one of the Republican nominees in the primary and was elected to the County Commission in the Nov. 5 general election.

In case you missed it, Munson explained in a Herald-Mail story published Tuesday that he is having second thoughts about rejecting the pay increase. After doing some research, Munson said, he learned from a member of the local delegation to the General Assembly that the pay raise can't be reversed.

"I should not have said that during the campaign, I guess," Munson told Herald-Mail reporter Tara Reilly. "You can't reject it. You can't do it. The state has to do it for you, and they said it can't be done."

Sure it can, but that's a topic for another day.

What can be done is that Munson can simply follow in the footsteps of other Republican lawmakers who have criticized pay raises while on the campaign trail.

Simply donate the $10,000 to charity each year.

That's what U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett did after he won a seat in Congress in 1992. Bartlett, as a candidate, spoke out against a congressional pay raise and pledged to donate a large percentage of his salary for scholarships.

And that's what he did. For years, Bartlett donated $60,000 a year to Western Maryland college-bound students. Today, he still donates $20,000 a year for scholarships - $2,000 to students attending each of the 10 colleges in his district.

When Robert E. Bruchey II ran for Hagerstown mayor in 1997, he campaigned that the $28,000 salary was too high for the part-time position of mayor (those were his words) and promised to give away $4,000 of his pay each year.

After some nudging, Bruchey eventually followed through on his pledge. Like Munson, Bruchey later pointed out that being mayor was more time-consuming than he thought. Still, Bruchey eventually opted to have the money deducted from his city-issued paycheck as a United Way contribution.

The reason why you should care about Munson's campaign promise and why we pursued this story is that at some point candidates who become elected officials need to be held accountable for what they pledge to voters.

It's one thing to change your opinion on an issue. It's another to make bold promises to voters in an attempt to gain their vital support at the ballot box and then say "oops, never mind" shortly after being sworn into office. This is the reason why some residents complain they don't trust politicians.

In a letter to The Herald-Mail published Wednesday, Munson wrote that he still believes it is "impossible" to get the state legislature to pass another bill and have the governor sign it that returns the commissioners' pay to $20,000.

One of the problems with this is that Munson is the only commissioner to complain about the $10,000 pay raise. The other four never made it a campaign issue.

Still, Munson pledged to give it his best effort.

"I will continue to explore the possibility of getting the legislature's help on the subject," Munson wrote.

We'll keep you posted on that promise as well.

Terry Headlee is the Executive Editor of The Herald-Mail.,/i> He can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 7594 or e-mail at

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