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Health care issue boosts turnout at GOP picnic

August 26, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

SMITHSBURG -- Healthcare reform, the national deficit and the race for Sen. Donald F. Munson's state senate seat were among the hot topics Wednesday evening at the Washington County Republican Club's annual picnic at Lions Community Park in Smithsburg.

More than 200 people packed the park's pavilion, a turnout club treasurer Liz Jones said was high for a nonelection year.

"Usually in an off year, we're lucky if we get 100," Jones said.

Republican Club president Andy Hawbaker said the club has seen higher attendance at its monthly meetings over the past six months.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, attributed the increase to growing concerns among Republicans about the direction the federal government is taking in regard to health care reform and other issues.

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"It frightens them, and I think that's getting people to be more involved in grass-roots activity," Shank said. "People want to be involved. They want to know what they can do to turn their nation around."

Shank was the center of much discussion at the picnic, due in no small part to the fact that Jones was selling bright yellow T-shirts that said "Vote Chris Shank, Conservative Leadership for Washington County."

Shank, who has said he is considering running against Munson next year, said the shirts did not constitute an announcement about his intentions to run. He said he would be on a ballot in 2010 but was still considering his options, and said the T-shirts were a way to gauge his support.

One yellow-clad Shank supporter was Jeff Werner of Hagerstown, who said he thought Munson was straying from the party's conservative principles.

"Chris is the embodiment of a total conservative," Werner said.

Like many at the picnic, Werner said he had strong concerns about the health care reform legislation under consideration in Congress, but he said he also felt strongly about illegal immigration, taxes, slots and other issues. He said his vision for the ideal government involved four principles.

"You gotta cut the budget, you gotta cut taxes, you gotta empower the people and you've gotta have less government involvement," he said.

Club member Denny Stouffer said he thought the most pressing issue for Republicans was reining in federal spending.

"The federal government is spending and spending and spending," Stouffer said. "No matter how they try to disguise it, that's what it boils down to, and we can't keep going like that as a country. We can't."

Hawbaker invited Republicans who feel strongly about those or other issues to join the Washington County Republican Club, which hosts speakers at each monthly meeting.

Registered Republicans between the ages of 18 and 40 can join Washington County Young Republicans, a new group the club is attempting to establish to give younger Republicans a chance to participate in activities and discussions with their peers, club member Sue Stouffer said.

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