Politics is local

keep it that way

July 22, 2006

They say all politics is local and it's true.

Patiently, persistently, area representatives to the Maryland state legislature voted in a bloc to speak for Washington County against overwhelming big-city power in that body. Only one delegate from Hagerstown often wilts under orders from Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller.

In a scant 60 days or so, primary elections will be upon us once again. Generally speaking, such races can be compared to the qualifying heat for a spot on the Olympic team.

There, contestants who fail qualifying trials don't make it to the big competition. In politics, only primary winners are found on the November general election ballot. It should be said that the September contests are especially important in local races, where community issues abound.


In Maryland, voting is fast and easy. A simple call to the Washington County Board of Elections in downtown Hagerstown provides for registration by mail. A similar contact can produce an absentee ballot for those planning to be away. Residents signing up for driver's licenses may register on the spot.

While all this is easy, usually that's not the problem for potential voters. Figuring out the best candidate is a challenge for practical people who don't like coin tossing. Washington County residents like to know who deserves their vote; lacking time to learn about candidates, they may not vote at all.

In 2006 Maryland will choose its governor, one U.S. Senator, a new Attorney General, its U.S. House members, its state legislature, and a host of local officials. The so-called "off year" election time is one when all too many people stay home, feeling uninformed.

Starting early, candidates are coming out in person. Recently, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley discovered Hagerstown. He gave a "God, mother, and country" speech with little of real interest to Washington County people. Probably he won't make much effort in this area in the weeks ahead.

Traditionally, a marvelous thing about Western Maryland is its "crossover" voters, people registered with one party who case ballots for the other. Many recall that Republicans voted for Democrat Rep. Beverly Byron, D-6th, until her own party killed her off in a political primary.

Had she made it past the qualifying heat to the general election, she was a good bet for re-election. Whatever their party preference, those who remember Rep. Byron will likely register and arrange to show up both for primaries and the general election.

However, Washington County has noted a drop-off in voter participation in recent years. It also has seen an increase in undeclared (independent) voters, a group barred from both Democrat and Republican primaries.

Their absence and the stay-at-home tendencies of others place tremendous power in the hands of a few activist political people. That is not good for Washington County.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich wants to be re-elected based on his record - not perfect but impressive considering state legislature obstructionism. Mayor O'Malley must run on his record, imperfect by any definition. The state legislature's "top dogs" will run on their record, abysmal even to the most inattentive voter.

Some people will vote because they are angry at George Bush. It is well to remember that this year and in years to come Bush will not appear on their ballots. His political impact ends in 27 months. Therefore, the upcoming Maryland contest is not a referendum on the president.

Annapolis is a far piece over a crowded roadway. Bizarre behavior in the leadership of the legislature is not in the face of Washington County residents every day. Determination to do nothing for constituents, to not protest loudly when a blogger called U.S. Senate candidate Michael Steele a racial slur and speak openly about no purpose beyond defeat of Gov. Ehrlich may go unnoticed. Worse, the hard work of most area officials may not be fully appreciated.

That said, the purpose of this column is not to brag about accomplishments of the governor or the competence of the Washington County delegation. Its purpose is to highlight the importance of voting, of taking time now to pay attention to statewide and local plans.

Those running speak to us at free picnics and county fairs where we take our children. They hand out pieces of paper giving their messages in brief.

While this goes on, service can be felt by us every day. Taxes held down, refunds to property owners, job growth, attention to the disabled and citizen-friendly grants are things that should compel us to use our vote. We may not be angry about anything when fall arrives; we should be determined to preserve what we value. As said earlier, all politics really is local.

Let's make sure we don't turn our part of the state into downtown Baltimore, or stay home to give silent blessing to those who fail us.

Dee Mayberry is a Boonsboro resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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