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Home rule supporters have right to be proud

February 14, 2008

Supporters of charter home rule may not feel like winners this morning, but if that's true, we would beg to disagree. Triumphs can't always be measured in raw numbers or categorized by single-day snapshots.

There's no ignoring the significant margin of home rule's defeat. The majority has spoken and we respect the will of the people. But we would also be derelict not to tip our caps to those who led the home rule campaign -- a campaign for better government -- and suggest that this effort was a positive experience for all involved. In short, it was a win.

The home rule effort in Washington County was, of course, about the style of government that our citizens prefer -- at least it was at first. But then a rather amazing thing happened. An issue that might have caused polarization and division actually unified the people of our county. For it or against it, people participated. People who might have slept through high school civics classes were suddenly sitting up and asking questions about our government. What kind of system do we have now? What are the options? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?

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Voters identified the issue, became informed and made their decisions based on the facts. How refreshing. This was a campaign largely free from public name-calling and personal attacks. There was some grumbling on each side about taxation authority, but even this was not a blatant distortion of the facts, but rather a disagreement over an area of the charter that was decidedly gray.

Much of the credit for this positive experience in democracy goes to Jeanne Singer, who selflessly volunteered considerable time and energy to the idea of home rule. Few people today are willing to shoulder a cause in which they believe, and commit themselves to championing a better way of life.

A thankless job perhaps, but we thank her -- and the others too numerous to mention -- who made that commitment. Those who served on the charter board and spent untold hours writing and debating the document are also to be congratulated, whether they supported the final draft or not. It was good work.

Singer should take heart that a number of people who did not quite feel comfortable with the charter at this point in time have nevertheless entertained the idea of voting for home rule at some point in the future, if the next-generation charter addresses their concerns. Even some of the most staunchly opposed to this particular charter said publicly that the concept of home rule has value.

This is a good building block for the future. Voters are correct to believe that a change in government should not be enacted on a whim. A change of this magnitude takes some getting used to. At some point in time, we believe Washington County voters will approve home rule, and as such, this vote was a necessary part of the process.

It would be a mistake now to forget all about home rule for another decade and lose the momentum -- as has happened in this county in past home-rule votes. Leaders in all levels of government should keep home rule on the front burner before the eyes of the voters.

Quite simply, home rule embodies control of our own destiny, the belief that if an issue is important to us we should be able to act on it ourselves and not be chained to a slow, gooey process in Annapolis, voted upon by lawmakers who might not have even visited Washington County.

We would urge the charter board not to give up the ghost, but to continue to fine-tune the document, tying down loose ends and clarifying its language. Listen to the concerns and address them head-on. Win over those who agree with the concept of home rule, but had issues with this particular document.

No one should have come away from this vote with a bad taste in the mouth. That in and of itself is quite a positive move forward. And when home rule is ultimately approved in this county, those who worked so hard for its adoption this election will not see Tuesday's vote as a loss. Instead, they will see it as the day we turned an exceedingly important corner.

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