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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ken Kerr Wants to Serve Community in Annapolis

Ken Kerr
George Wenschhof
Although a familiar cliché in politics, Democratic candidate Ken Kerr was sincere when he told me his running for Maryland state delegate in district 3-b was motivated by his desire to serve and make the community a better place.  He added “I look at it as almost a duty to serve”.
Two years ago Dr. Kerr, who teaches at Frederick Community College, won a nonpartisan Frederick county-wide election to the school board. He informed me he would resign from that position if he won the state delegate race.  Otherwise, he would continue to serve on the school board for the remainder of the four year term.
Ken told me four years ago redistricting resulted in making voter registration between Republicans and Democrats in district 3-b almost even, with approximately 4,000 undeclared or independent voters who will likely have an important impact on the outcome.
In spite of the effort to turn the district blue, Republican William “Bill” Folden would win four years ago, beating Democratic candidate Stephen Slater.  In this election, neither Folden nor Kerr have a primary opponent so they will cruise to the general election held on November 6, 2018.
I asked Ken if he had been “recruited” to run for the seat by the state Democratic Party and he informed me that he had been contacted by a staff member in speaker Michael E. Busch’s (D) office last year.  He added it took about six months to make his decision.  Obviously, Democrats would like to capture this seat and they indicated they would offer support to Dr. Kerr’s campaign.
I would follow up with Ken and ask, “Do you support a nonpartisan redistricting manner to be used by the state of Maryland”?  He responded with “Yes, I support a national or regional approach to nonpartisan redistricting”.
Dr. Kerr’s education experience surely led to him sharing with me his desire to create apprenticeship programs with businesses for high school students, including dual enrollments with community colleges.
He supports the recently approved state funded two years of additional education and would like to expand this to a full four years.  Ken would also like to expand the career technology center, by adding another facility in southern Frederick County.
He told me “I strongly support funding for universal Pre-K for 4 year olds - it is understood the early years are very important in a child’s development”.
Kerr also wants to establish an earned income tax credit at the state level that mirrors the federal earned income tax credit that will help working families.
In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to allow states to determine whether to allow sports betting, I asked him his position on this issue.  Dr. Kerr told me “I would support legalizing sports betting and want money to go to education”.  He added “the state is not capturing any money from the underground betting that happens now”.  In addition, Ken felt fraternal organizations should be allowed slot machines.
In regards to medical marijuana, Ken said he supported this along with full decriminalization.  He told me “the state should also keep an eye on states with legalized recreation marijuana to see how effective these policies are before Maryland moves to legalize”.
I asked him if he supported the $16 million in state funding for the proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center and Dr. Kerr said “Yes, a conference center is needed downtown and the hotel will provide a place for tourists to stay after shopping and eating”.
In an email following my interview, I asked Ken, “Do you support the state ban of the sale of assault style weapons and high capacity ammunition clips”?
He responded with “I am not in favor of confiscating anyone's guns. What I propose is--if you have an AR15 or similar, you can keep it. It's yours. But it's ONLY yours. You can't sell it, you can't transfer it. Enjoy it while you live, because it dies with you. Beyond that, we ban future sales and limit clip sizes. Civilians do not need weapons of war.”
The ninety minute interview passed quickly.  You can visit his campaign website at and on Facebook:
Editor’s Note:  The Maryland primary election will be held on June 26, 2018 and the general election will take place on November 6, 2018.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Susan Reeder Jessee, a Refreshing Choice

Susan Reeder Jessee
George Wenschhof
In an era of attack dog style politics that has resulted in polarizing friends and communities, it was refreshing to spend ninety minutes interviewing Susan Reeder Jessee.  She is a Democratic candidate for one of the two at-large seats on the seven member Frederick County council.  Not once did she criticize another candidate or their position on an issue. 
The daughter of former county commissioner Bruce Reeder (D) and Democratic state central committee member Odette "Dottie" Reeder, Susan told me “I am running because I feel this is what I was meant to do. This is an opportunity to give back and I want to continue Mom and Dad’s work”.
Growing up in Frederick County and receiving her MBA from Hood College, she has seen firsthand the challenges brought about by growth.  Perhaps being a daughter, wife and mother in addition to being “around” politics throughout her life helped her in how she approaches issues.  Susan added “I have lived in four of the five districts so I know the county well.
When I asked about the issues most important to her, Susan said “I am not a single issue candidate”.  However, she told me economic development was important for the residents of Frederick County.  She believes we need to go outside of the county to target businesses for recruitment to bring jobs here.
Her background includes years spent as a Business Development Specialist for The City of Frederick and a member of the founding board of the first business incubator, The Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc. (FITCI).  Susan also served on the FITCI Client Selection committee.  She presently works as a project manager with IDT-Biologika.
Nearly 50% of the county budget goes toward education and Susan is proud to have received the endorsement of the Frederick County Teacher’s Association.  She remembers her tenth grade Biology teacher who inspired her to enter this field as a professional and wants Frederick County schools to be the best in the state.
Being aware of the needs of seniors is another area Susan is passionate about.  She spoke about the county Meals on Wheels program and tax initiatives to help seniors.
Affordable Housing is also important to Susan who feels the county has fallen way behind in providing affordable housing for the youth and seniors who live in the county.
When it comes to overall growth, Ms. Reeder Jessee wants to work and brainstorm with all community stakeholders to develop policies to get Frederick County in front of needed infrastructure and services.
Keeping neighborhoods safe and making sure first responders had what they needed was also important to Susan.
In regard to waste disposal, she wants to look at providing incentives to encourage recycling and composting, saying “you can’t force people to do this”.
Overall, Susan Reeder Jessee says “Let’s work together to move Frederick County forward”.
You can read more about Susan Reeder Jessee on her campaign website:
Editor’s Note: The primary will be held on June 26, 2018. In the Frederick County council race, voters will determine the two at-large candidates and the candidate for each of the five districts from the Democratic and Republican parties who will go on to appear on the November 6, 2018 general election ballot. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Familiar Names Highlight County Executive and Council Race

George Wenschhof
Frederick County Council president Bud Otis was the only familiar name left off as the filing deadline for candidates closed at 9:00 PM Tuesday.  After receiving angst from Republicans for consistently supporting Democratic county executive Jan Gardner during his first term, Mr. Otis changed his political affiliation from Republican to Undeclared.  Undeclared candidates have until July 2nd to file a Declaration of Intent and must turn in the required signatures to be certified by the local board of elections by August 6th.  He would also be spared the primary election held on June 26th this year.

There have been some unconfirmed rumors, should he obtain the required signatures, he may file for county executive.  Interesting to note, no Undeclared candidate has ever won a countywide position in a Frederick County election.

Should Otis file to run in the at-large county council race, where voters choose two council members, he will join a crowded field filled with well known candidates.

Democratic voters will have 5 candidates to choose from and Republicans will have four.

Former county commissioner president and state delegate Galen Clagett is the most familiar name among Democrats.  In a press release Susan Reeder Jessee said “My deep desire to serve the citizens of Frederick County never left since my candidacy in 2014”.   Her parents Bruce and Odette held office in Frederick County for a combined 28 years.

Kai Hagen suffered a humiliating loss to Blaine Young and company eight years ago after serving one term as county commissioner.  He and Jan Gardner ran with Republicans John “Lenny” Thompson and David Gray 12 years ago as the Dream Team”.  They won with an anti-growth message highlighted with Thompson’s “If Developers Win, You Lose” slogan.

After losing in the 5th district race four years ago to Republican Kirby Delauter, Mark Long is trying again, this time in the countywide at-large race.

The one newcomer is Kavonte Duckett, who I met a few years ago at a Frederick County Young Democrats Meeting. I was impressed with him and am not surprised to see him running for office.

Republicans won both at-large positions four years ago with Bud Otis and Billy Shreve.  This year, Philip Dacey a former City of Frederick alderman, is perhaps the best known Republican in the at-large race. However, also known are Justin Kiska, who is running again after losing in 2014 and Jason Miller, a columnist with  They are joined by Danny Farrar.

District 1 incumbent Democrat Jerry Donald will not face a primary.  Four years ago, he won by a handful of votes and helped give county executive Gardner a majority on the board.

The Republican primary will be Kevin Grubb facing Dylan Diggs.  Grubb is a former City of Frederick police officer and previously ran for county sheriff.

District 2 incumbent Republican Tony Chmelik will face competition in the primary.  I have interviewed Steven McKay numerous times and he is best known as president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion (RALE). Cedric Cole is the third Republican in the race.

The lone Democratic candidate in district 2 is Lisa Jarosinski and she will face the winner of the Republican primary.

In District 3, a heavily Democratic voter registered district, incumbent Democrat M.C. Keegan-Ayer does not have any opposition and as a result will be elected on November 6 in the general election.

District 4 is another heavily Democratic voter registered district and will not have a primary.  Incumbent Democrat Jessica Fitzwater will face Republican Jimmy Trout in the November 6 general election.

District 5 is an open seat after incumbent Republican Kirby Delauter filed for county executive.  This heavily Republican voter registered district will have a Republican primary with Michael Blue facing William Valentine. 

The lone Democratic candidate is Shannon Boyrer.

The county executive race will see a heavily contested Republican primary.  Kirby Delauter, who is presently a council member from district 5, has made no secret of his distaste of Gardner and her policies.

However, before he will have the opportunity to face Gardner, he will have to beat two formidable Republican candidates in the June 26 primary.  Both Regina Williams and Kathy Afzali are well-known to Frederick County voters.

Afzali served as state delegate in district 4 after proving her strong campaign skills by upsetting sitting and popular Republican Paul Stull.

Williams served as budget officer for Frederick County government and settled a lawsuit with the county after being fired by Gardner.  Williams was dating Blaine Young who ran against Gardner for county executive, at the time of her firing.  Her mother Debbie is well connected in Frederick County.  She established and has run the Patty Pallatos Fund for years.  Originally started in memory of a close friend who died of cancer, this fund has helped countless families in Frederick County.

Look to see the Republican vote be split in the primary, resulting in a very close contest.  Although Delauter has had the bully pulpit to express his disdain for Gardner, it would not be surprising to see one of the women win the primary.

The Republican winner will face incumbent Democrat Jan Gardner who will not have a Democratic challenger in the primary.  Gardner has received mixed reviews as the first Frederick County executive, following the passage of charter government.

The decades long battle on how best to manage growth continues with many of the candidates for county executive and council.

If he submits the required signatures and even though he received the most votes of any council member in 2014, don’t look to see county council president Bud Otis be the first undeclared candidate elected in Frederick County.

In addition to the Republican county executive primary, one of the fiercest primary battles will be among Democrats in the at-large race.  It is too early to handicap this race.  However, Susan Reeder Jessee, a relentless campaigner who prides herself with getting along with all political factions, has an excellent chance of moving onto the general election.

It is no secret Clagett and Hagen are not on the same page when it comes to politics or how they view county executive Gardner and her policies. So it will be interesting to watch the dynamics here. Also, watch to see if Mark Long, a good man who probably should have run again in district 5, aligns himself with Hagen or tries to be his own man in the primary campaign.  As the newcomer in the contest, it will be fun to keep an eye on Duckett.

Look to see Dacey, who has proven his fundraising prowess, be the odds on favorite in the Republican at-large primary with Miller and Kiska battling for the second slot.

Another close primary will be in district 2 among Republican incumbent Tony Chmelik and challenger Steve McKay.  McKay has been aligned with Gardner on growth issues. As RALE president, he has shown he understands campaigning and working hard on issues he cares about.

In the Republican district 1 primary, look to see Kevin Grubb prevail over Dylan Diggs and face Democrat Jerry Donald in the general election.

It will also be interesting to see if the primary date of June 26 impacts voter turnout.   

Stay tuned. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

U.S. Constitutional Amendments Needed Now

George Wenschhof
Today, it is painfully obvious a serious nationwide discussion is needed on election reform where we engage voters to hear their preference on areas that have significant impact.
Establishing a nonpartisan method for redistricting, meaningful campaign finance reform, popular vote versus the Electoral College, primary caucus voting versus secret balloting, online voting, ballots by mail, the determination of the order of the states in presidential primaries, the length of the primary and general elections, term limits and the role of the media in elections should be included in the discussion.
The descent of American politics into tribal warfare has contributed to the congressional gridlock we experience today.  States and cities are described as “Red” or “Blue” depicting either the Republican or Democratic Party. Local communities are divided as never before and friendships are now tested by extreme partisan politics. This begs the question “will American democracy survive?”  This dysfunctional approach to governing did not occur overnight so expect the solutions to this self defeating culture to also take time.
Sadly, finding the solutions to the issues we face as a society has deteriorated into a “my way or the highway” approach in Congress.
Health Care legislation is a good recent example of the clannish approach to governing that has taken hold in the United States.  The U. S. was the only developed country who did not view health care as a right and not a privilege until The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010.
After The Affordable Care Act was passed in the Senate, the House voted 219-212 on March 21, 2010 to approve with all 178 Republicans voting against it.
Seven years of obstructionism and countless attempts to repeal by congressional Republicans would follow and in May of this year the House passed The American Health Care Act with a vote of 217-213 with all 193 Democrats opposed. The bill has been sent to the Senate and its defeat was the result of Republican Party infighting.

Tax reform legislation is the latest example with the Senate passing their version with a 51-49 vote along partisan lines with only one Republican senator opposed.
These illustrations of the extreme partisan approach to governing taking place today in America are difficult to absorb. Moderation and compromise have become mostly obsolete traits in members of congress. It is difficult to argue this pendulum swing approach to governing on serious domestic and foreign policy is conducive to moving the country forward.
Thankfully, the founders of the constitution provided mechanisms to amend the document, when the need arose. The process is rightfully not easy, resulting in only 27 amendments since the constitution was ratified in 1789 with the first 10 of them, known as the Bill of Rights, ratified by the first congress in 1791.
An amendment can be proposed by the Congress with two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and Senate voting in favor of it. Or, two-thirds of the state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention to propose an amendment. States have never voted to call for a new constitutional convention.
To be ratified an amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or Congress can direct the states to establish special ratifying conventions to consider the proposed amendment with again three-fourths approval needed.
Since the passage of The Bill of Rights, only 17 constitutional amendments have been passed out of over 11,500 that have been introduced over 226 years.
It is interesting to note that out of these 17 amendments, 11 are associated with the United States election process.  In 1870, the 15th amendment prohibited the denial of vote based on race, color or previous condition of servitude.  In 1920, the 19th amendment prohibited the denial of their right to vote based on sex.   

The 22nd amendment approved in 1951, limits the terms for President to two and in 1971, an amendment I benefited from, allowed an 18 year old to vote.

All the way back in 1804, the 12th amendment established the Electoral College as the manner to elect the president.  Since that time the electoral vote and popular vote have produced the same presidential election results except on 4 occasions; 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016.

Perhaps, the top issue contributing to the acerbic and vitriolic manner exhibited by many members of Congress is how redistricting is conducted today.
Population changes reported by the census every 10 years become the justification for redistricting, a task handled by state legislatures in 36 states. Seven states have only one representative, due to the size of their population. The remaining states use an independent or bipartisan commission, with a few of those states retaining state legislative approval.
This has led to the inverse of what we want in a democracy.  Instead of voters picking their representatives, politicians are picking their voters. Extremists from the two major political parties who have been elected to these “safe seats” are mostly driven by ideology and not pragmatic thought.
The out of control cost of elections is another area that must be addressed.  The Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission essentially found that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment. This allows corporations and unions to spend money to support or criticize candidates.  Today, elected members of congress spend a third of their time in office raising funds instead of representing their voters. 
Meaningful redistricting and campaign fundraising reform along with other changes proposed by voters coming after a nationwide discussion must be enacted through constitutional amendments to have meaningful effect.
Naysayers will say passing constitutional amendments to establish election reform will never happen. To save the democracy we all love and cherish, it has happened in the past and it must happen again.
Let’s hope the discussion begins soon!