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Monday, November 16, 2009

Frederick County Commissioner Speculation Begins

George Wenschhof

The next year will bring us many opinions from the pundits, including me, pertaining to who the candidates will be, their platforms and what issues will matter most to the local voters here in Frederick County, Maryland.

Sure to be the first and foremost issue will be the budget at the county and state levels. Keep an eye on how the candidates propose to balance the budget and what services will be provided. It was earlier this year when the county government, responding to cuts from the state, moved to reduce the amount of funds returned to municipalities through the tax equity program. Maybe we will see some candidates for state delegate or state senate speak to this issue and perhaps offer up "tax differential" as a solution. If this does become an issue, what will be the response from the county commissioner candidates?

Funding for education will always be a contentious issue and expect to see the mandate for funding the Thornton bill be debated by the state and county office candidates.

Close behind will be the issue of managed growth, as locally the struggle continues to be bringing the infrastructure in line with current build out, let alone future construction. Serious talk should take place over enacting a Frederick County transfer tax with a sunset provision. Those funds raised as a result being dedicated to infrastructure improvement within the county. Adding a tax during tough economic times is not generally a good idea for any political wannabee, yet efforts to obtain funds through new development has not resolved the gridlock facing local residents today.

County Commissioner slates are already being recruited by both "pro-growth" and "managed growth" interests. Delegate Galen Clagett (D) has made no secret of his efforts to recruit and put forward more business friendly candidates regardless of party affiliation. So far the early names being bandied about are two who work in the real estate field; Billy Shreve (R) who ran last year and Michael Kurtianyk (D). Whether or not delegate Clagett's efforts to meddle in county commissioner candidates backfires on his own reelection efforts remain to seen.

On the other end of the spectrum, Commissioner Kai Hagen (D) has announced he is running for reelection. He is also recruiting candidates who are supportive of managed growth. I wrote a column published on in August of 2006 where I talked about how this continued growth versus no-growth factions were not beneficial to the residents of Frederick County. You can read that column here for it remains true today.

Commissioner Hagen has maintained a high profile during his first term in office, taking a strong stance against the waste-to-energy incinerator, and opposing several recent annexations approved by the City of Frederick.

This may become another local issue for voters as two Republicans (Joan McIntyre and Farrell Keough), rumored to be considering a run for county commissioner, were in favor of the waste-to-energy plant. Commissioner Hagen, who was the lone commissioner to oppose the incinerator, holds out hope that a new board of county commissioners would reverse the decision to move forward and build the waste-to-energy facility.

How many of the other four incumbents on the county commissioners will seek reelection is yet to be determined. Republican John Thompson has won three elections in a row and even he wonders if he can make it four in a row. While Commissioner Thompson (R) has always been straight forward with his positions on issues, he has often being at odds with Developers. Rumors indicate he is considering a run against state senator David Brinkley (R) in district 4 or perhaps a run against delegate Paul Stull (R) in district 4-A. He would be competitive against either one but his best chance for election remains as commissioner.

In 2006, fellow commissioners Jan Gardner (D), David Gray (R) and Kai Hagen (D) ran together with Thompson (R) on a managed growth platform. This was unusual to see a bipartisan slate develop during a partisan election. I speculated on this as well back in 2006 while writing on You can read that column here. Perhaps, due to this collaboration, Democrat Jan Gardner was awarded the President of the Board and with it, the gavel.

Ms. Gardner recently indicated she will not be seeking another term on the board. Yet one only needs to go back four years to remember her making the exact same statement. Only, to later announce in front of Winchester Hall to a group of supporters, she had been convinced by the voters to seek another term.

The speculation to her interest in another position also centers around state positions. One rumor has her taking on Republican state senator Alex Mooney (District 3) and the other would pit her against a long time nemesis; delegate Galen Clagett (District 3-A). She also would be competitive in both races. If I were to speculate, I would say she would go after the Clagett seat. While that race will surely not be easy, it will not take the same type of effort needed to unseat the well funded political machine of Alex Mooney. As potential candidates continue to talk with one another and take stock of the playing field, do not be surprised to see Jan Gardner run for county commissioner again.

The remaining incumbent commissioner Republican Charles Jenkins was the sole commissioner elected who was not a part of the "managed growth" slate. Early rumors had him running for state delegate in district 3-B which will be an open seat. Delegate Rick Weldon (Unaffiliated) has announced he will not be running for reelection. However, Republican Michael Hough has also announced he is running for delegate in 3-B and already has a huge fundraising advantage over Jenkins. Mr. Hough also has the support from Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-6th District) and Alex Mooney. Look to see Jenkins run for reelection to the board of county commissioners.

Another issue that should be discussed with the voters by county commissioner candidates is charter government. This idea picked up steam after the 2006 election, only to fade away after Madam President Jan Gardner indicated there was the need to educate the public prior to taking it up with the board for a vote. This is a favorite ploy used by politicos to scuttle a issue from moving forward. She was successful in having the issue die and never be brought up again. However, an election season is the perfect time so let's see if any of the commissioner candidates bring up the need to move to charter government in Frederick County. I also wrote about this four years ago and you can read about how to move the process forward here.

While the allure to run for state office is strong after serving as a county commissioner, few have had success. Galen Clagett after two terms as county commissioner from 1978-1986; one as president, ran for delegate in 1986 and lost. It would be 16 years before Mr. Clagett would hold an elected office again when he finally won the state delegate position in district 3-A in 2002 and was reelected in 2006.

Ron Sundergill, after serving one term as Board President, lost in the 1994 Republican wave of victories during Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" platform.

Only Republican Anita Stup in recent memory won a delegate position immediately after serving as county commissioner. She won a seat in district 3 in 1990 and was reelected in 1994 after serving two terms as county commissioner from 1982 to 1990; the second term serving as president of the board.

Additional candidates for county commissioner are sure to come forward soon as the Thanksgiving season typically marks the beginning of the next political election year. One name to watch for from the recent City of Frederick election would be Democrat John Daniels. He ran a solid campaign for alderman and showed his professionalism as he researched the issues before taking positions on them. Republican Amanda Haddaway who also ran for alderman is another one to watch to see if she enters the race.

Due to the interest and success during the City of Frederick campaign, I will be interviewing the Democratic candidates live online throughout the election.

Stay Tuned!


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