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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!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Time to Consider 25th Amendment?

George Wenschhof

George Wenschhof
The irrational, irresponsible and totally unacceptable actions coming from the occupant of the White House clearly illustrate Mr. Trump is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to serve as president of The United States. 

It is frightening to consider the further damage Mr. Trump can do over the next three plus years to American representative democracy.

The extreme damage Trump has already done and can do is so severe, it may be time for the vice president, cabinet and congress to step up to exercise their powers provided in the constitution to replace the president, for the good of the nation.

Section 4 of the 25th amendment of the U.S. constitution outlines procedures for the removal of a president deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

It only takes the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to decide that a president is no longer fit. After the House and Senate are notified, the vice president is able to take office as acting president.

If Trump would protest to the House and Senate and there is no doubt he would, he is reinstated until another vote is taken by the vice president and the Cabinet declaring him unfit. Afterward, a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate is required to determine the permanent removal of the president.

Espousing reckless and incendiary language that has put the United States on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea, an action that would result in the loss of millions of lives, demonstrates Trump is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

Add to that, an at times incomprehensible and combative recent press conference where Trump defended white supremacists in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Meanwhile, there are multiple ongoing investigations of the collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia and their efforts to influence the 2016 election. The firing of F.B.I. director James Comey and verbal threats of their jobs by Mr. Trump directed at special counsel Robert Mueller and attorney general Jeff Sessions have also been appalling coming from the president. His actions deserve the scrutiny of obstruction of justice charges.

Dismissing and defending his son’s acceptance of a meeting with Russian operatives, ostensibly for the purpose of receiving negative information on secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her campaign is simply mind boggling.

Further telling is that in six short months, there have been three White House press secretaries who have come and gone, unable to effectively provide cover for the failings of the president. Now, after many high level executives resigned following the disgusting language by Mr. Trump defending white hate groups, the White House has announced the much lauded Council of American Manufacturing has been disbanded.

Understandably, members of the president’s cabinet and staff who do not want to be associated with a bigoted and unstable leader are also seriously contemplating resignation. 

The inability of Mr. Trump to understand and effectively project American democracy across the United States and worldwide combined with his incapacity to comprehend how congress operates are major compelling reasons to consider taking action now.

Exercising the 25th Amendment is not an action that should be taken often or without serious thought. Yet this Amendment exists for times like this when it is painfully obvious the elected president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office.

American representative democracy is being tested as never before. At the very least, it is past time for congress to step up to exercise their check and balance powers with the executive branch.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Wilson City Alderman Candidacy Raises Concerns

George Wenschhof
Roger Wilson
I recently sat down with Democrat Roger Wilson to discuss his run for alderman in The City of Frederick election this year.
In 2014 he ran for state delegate in district 3-a. I interviewed Roger several times and found him to be affable with a strong desire to serve in elected office.  While, I supported his candidacy, I had opined Democrats Karen Young and Carol Krimm would likely prevail in the Democratic primary and win in the general.  I would be correct.
After Democratic candidate Jan Gardner would win the Frederick County executive contest also held in 2014, she would appoint Roger to a new position serving as government policy/affairs and liaison to work with government entities.
I would write columns on Gardner’s appointments, Changes in Personnel Rules Needed to Cover Gardner Appointments dated 12-5-2014 and Is Gardner Overreaching Her Authority? on 12-11-2014.
Basically, this position, along with a handful of other at-will plum positions were created and filled by supporters of the county executive before personnel changes had been made or the county council had approved.
I expressed to Roger the concerns about conflicts of interest he would face working as a high salaried at-will employee for the county executive and serving city voters when city-county issues would come before the board of alderman. Rumors had been deliberately circulated Roger would be running for mayor and I also asked him why he chose to run for alderman instead.
He indicated he had discussed staying in his position while running and serving, (should he win election), with county attorney John Mathias and had decided to run for alderman.
When I asked Roger if he would inform the voters he would recuse himself from the vote when it came to city-county issues, Roger would tell me “it is a little early to say that, adding I am not elected yet.”  I would say I felt it was important for voters to know his position on potential conflicts of interest prior to casting their ballot in the election.
When I spoke to county attorney Mathias, he told me he had informed Roger he could run for either position but it would be problematic to serve as mayor and stay in his current position.  Mathias would tell me he had reviewed the state constitution and the ethics ordinances in both the city and county and did not see where Mr. Wilson could not run.  However, he did say there may be occasions, should Roger be elected, he would have to recuse himself from the vote.
On November 24, 2014, I would publish Growth Battles Continue with Young Appointment.  I questioned the legality of Republican Board of County Commissioner president Blaine Young, who had lost the county executive race to Jan Gardner, being appointed to the Planning Commission while still serving as county commissioner.  County Attorney Mathias would defend the legality of this action to me in a phone interview.  I would opine "But, when looking at the appointment of commissioner Blaine Young to the planning commission, the state constitution spells out a person cannot hold two positions in which they receive compensation.  A planning commission member does receive a small amount of compensation.”
This appointment received opposition and intense legal scrutiny that was followed by Blaine Young resigning from his position on the Planning Commission.
I asked former president of the Board of County Commissioners and Maryland state delegate Democrat Galen Clagett how he viewed the city alderman candidacy of Roger Wilson while he was in an at-will position serving at the pleasure of county executive Jan Gardner.
Clagett responded by saying "Roger should have stayed out of the race. He has a problem, a real problem. It is a sticky wicket. There is a potential conflict of interest for him, especially in water/sewer issues, fire/rescue issues, tax equity.  I do not see a problem with him running necessarily, but I see a problem with him serving."
Local columnist Harry M. Covert told me "for a county official to seek a city aldermanic seat is opening a questionable matter. I believe this candidacy could well end up in court.”
Covert added "No doubt Mr. Wilson wants to serve. However if he wants to be successful he should resign his county post and put all of his time and talent seeking the city post."
I share the concerns expressed by Galen Clagett and agree with Mr. Covert, that Roger Wilson should resign from his county appointed position.  City voters would then be able to clearly hear his views on issues that matter to them.  A campaign distracted with legal challenges and concerns about conflicts of interest will not serve Mr. Wilson or the voters well as he campaigns for city alderman.
Stay tuned.
Editor’s Note: The City of Frederick primary election will be held September 12, 2017 and the general election November 7, 2017.