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Munson is clear choice in race for state Senate seat

September 02, 2010

The Herald-Mail typically does not offer endorsements in the primaries, leaving it to the parties to sort out their respective candidates for the general election.

We break with this informal policy in this year's District 2 state senate Republican primary race between sitting Sen. Donald Munson and the challenger for the seat, Del. Christopher Shank, for two reasons.

One is the importance of the seat, which is really the gateway through which many benefits flow for Washington County. Second is the fact that, there being no Democratic challenger, this is a winner-take-all primary race.

Both men are well-qualified for the seat, and both have proved their political bona fides and have risen to levels of importance in Annapolis, albeit for different reasons.

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The uncharismatic Munson is the classic political workhorse, spending long hours behind the scenes for the benefit of his constituents. He sits on the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and is the go-to man when Washington County needs a project or piece of meaningful legislation.

Shank is adept at constituent work as well, but is more of a political show horse, the one to whom the metropolitan newspapers turn when they need a pithy rebuttal to the Democratic majorities in Annapolis. This high-profile career path has its downfalls; because he has sparked the ire of so many Democratic leaders, the Shank name on a piece of legislation is more often than not the kiss of death.

Bright and articulate, Shank is not without good ideas, in areas ranging from land use and agriculture to child safety. For example, he was instrumental this spring in helping small producers sell chickens and rabbits at farmers markets, a reversal of state policy that benefits our growing, niche-agriculture base.

But Shank's style and unyielding, ultra-conservative ideology have cost the people of Washington County. Legislation sponsored by Shank that would treat death attributable to child abuse as first-degree murder has failed. A good bill to track domestic violence offenders with GPS passed only after Shank's name was scratched from the legislation and it was resubmitted by the Washington County delegation as a whole.

These might correctly be viewed as incidences of petty politics, but they are also the realities of state government. And in truth, it would be hard to expect the leaders in Annapolis to do any favors for a lawmaker who trashes them in the press day after day. As such, Shank's failure to produce results is borne out on this year's legislative scorecard; he struck out on every bill he sponsored.

Munson, by contrast, rarely speaks out against leadership and has cast some votes that went against his own grain. But the rewards have been clear: The university system campus in Hagers-town, new police facilities, a major library renovation, the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, an important C&O Canal reclamation project - these are just a few of the more recent projects Munson has helped to deliver.

Both men deserve high marks in that the campaign, to date, has been relatively clean for a race of such importance. Shank has taken a couple of liberties with Munson's record, trying to use an arcane vote relating to CASA de Maryland as reason to accuse the senator of being soft on illegal immigration.

He has also criticized Munson's vote for the "millionaire's tax" in 2008, neglecting to mention that this vote also saved computer-related businesses from a new, debilitating tax - and secured funding for the University System of Maryland-Hagerstown in the process.

Shank does, in a sense, deserve credit for staying true to his ideals. As is his course in Annapolis, he has shown little interest in moderating his stance during the campaign in order to win the hearts and minds of folks who find his style to be too harsh or his politics too far to the right.

For those who believe that principles are more important than results, Shank is the choice. He will not bend, and in a perfect world, this is an admirable quality. Many voters today clearly want to make a political statement, and there is no statement - for better or worse - that's more political than Shank.

Moreover, Shank has some good ideas about taxes and spending - the pity is that none of them are likely to be considered in Annapolis, because he has offended so many of his colleagues.

On the other side, we believe that Munson is an asset that Washington County cannot afford to lose. It is not an overstatement to suggest that, should Shank win, funding for projects in Washington County, as well as the jobs they create, will significantly dry up. It's uncertain, and probably unlikely, that Shank would be awarded Munson's seat on the Budget and Taxation Committee, which is so crucial to Washington County's legislative well-being.

In the final analysis, Shank cannot stand toe-to-toe with Munson on any state issue - which may explain why Shank has been so keen to keep the immigration fires burning. While hot-button issues might feed the beast, we believe the people of Washington County are more concerned about jobs and with making certain that we get our fair share of state funding.

We will continue to pay taxes all the same, no matter who is elected. With Munson in office, we can safely assume that a goodly share of our money will come back to us. Without him, it's likely that our tax money will be sent off to pay for job-producing projects in some other county. Framed accordingly, it's a clear choice - Donald Munson for State Senate.

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