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Choose substance over empty rhetoric

September 11, 2006|by BRIEN POFFENBERGER

Labor Day traditionally marks the beginning of the fall political campaign season, and so with the holiday behind us, the chamber has focused on Election 2006.

This year, with so many races and with a mid-September primary, candidates will ask us to make several decisions seemingly all at once. In making these decisions, we will decide more than individual races. We will decide the future of Washington County.

Government plays an enormous role in shaping our future. Candidates asking for our votes owe us in return their vision of the role of government.

In business, neither hands-off Libertarians nor well-intended protectionists serve the community well. Government should not permit the destructive behavior of dominant players nor should it rescue failing businesses left behind by a changing market.

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Both are drags on prosperity.

Robber barons went away because government corrected their abuses; buggy whip makers went away because government left them alone.

In a political construct dating to Alexander Hamilton, government should work with market forces to create an environment that rewards hard work, prudent choices and skillful management. In short, government should provide a path to a better life.

If not a political philosophy, exactly, this view of government should inform the questions we ask the candidates and how we hear their answers.

Candidates, by the nature of their work, tend toward catch-all answers designed to offend as few voters as possible. A good strategy to get elected, perhaps, but not one that tells us much about how they view government.

Ask specific questions and listen for specific answers. Ask about education, infrastructure, taxes, growth, transportation.

But do not be taken in by the rhetoric. Idealism without a plan is an empty promise, and a crusade without a solution is not a policy. Good answers will indicate a thoughtful understanding of how things work, both here in Washington County and beyond.

Local officials must play a leadership role and look beyond South Mountain for answers.

The problems we are facing are not new; they are only new to us. Our local elected leaders should find the solutions already working in other communities, and adapt the best ones for Washington County.

State leaders need to recognize that issues important here may be very different than those in the rest of the state. Audiences in Washington County tire of state officials unfamiliar with our community applying lessons learned in Baltimore and Montgomery County.

At the federal level, our elected leaders need to understand the importance of federal investment in Washington County. As a transportation hub, for example, we cannot let our road system crumble under ever increasing growth pressures.

Candidates should tell us about the role government will play in Washington County's future. Those unable or unwilling may not understand government's proper place and do not deserve your vote.

Brien Poffenberger
President
Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce

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