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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Frederick County Deserves More Than a Carnival Barker

George Wenschhof
Blaine Young
The deadline has now passed for candidates to file to run in the 2014 election and there were few surprises for the voters in Frederick County Maryland.
In a poor imitation of Professor Harold Hill from “The Music Man”, Republican board of county commissioners President Blaine Young, holding back tears and using his sons as props, made official what everyone knew, by announcing his run for county executive.
The alleged suspense as to whether he would run was embellished by Blaine stating his 13 year old son would make the decision for him at 6:00 PM on February 25, a mere three hours before the filing deadline. 
Holding up a “Blaine Young for county executive” sign, Blaine proclaimed he had no prior idea what his son’s decision would be.
Reminiscent of George C. Scott in the movie “The Flim-Flam Man”, Blaine would like voters to believe it was a last minute choice, while many believe the appearance of his sons was intended to blunt sure to come scrutiny on Blaine’s personal life.
One thing numerous Frederick County voters can be thankful for is Blaine will not, due to legal constraints, be able to host his radio show while he is running for office.  A platform he exploited while serving in office the past three plus years.
It is likely a weakened Blaine will still easily prevail over fellow commissioner David Gray and former county budget officer Mark Sweadner in the Republican primary. 
However, in a much anticipated contest, he will face a colossal battle with Jan Gardner who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.   
Joining Blaine in the last minute trip to the board of elections was Republican board of county commissioner Billy Shreve who filed for county council at-large.  Shreve, commissioner Kirby Delauter(R), who is running for county council in district 5 and commissioner Paul Smith(R), who is running for Maryland state delegate in district 3-A have given Blaine “carte blance” over the last three plus years to proceed with his reckless and ill conceived privatization strategy, leading me to label them “Blaine and Company”.
Shreve will not have an easy route in the at-large council race where voters will choose two representatives.  The June 24 county council at-large primary will have 8 Republican candidates and 5 Democratic candidates with the top two from each party facing each other in the November 4 general election. 
Former Republican congressman Roscoe Bartlett chief of staff Bud Otis and Billy Shreve will be the early favorites to win in the Republican primary.  With 5 strong candidates, Democratic voters are ensured they will have two competitive contenders for the general election.
In years past, because of voter registration favoring Republicans, one could easily say it would be difficult for a Democratic candidate to win countywide.  But with Linda Norris, Susan Reeder Jesse, David Twigg, Whitney Duck and Steve Bruns in the running, look to see at least one elected in November.
The rearranging of the deck chairs, by proponents for “smart growth” versus proponents for growth continues with the candidates who have filed for the five members of the council elected by districts.
Look to see the Democratic primary produce the winner in November in District 3 with M.C. Keegan-Ayer, Dwain Earl Robbins and Jesse Goode having the most name recognition.
At first glance, all of the county council races appear to be competitive with the exception of District 4 where I place Democrat Jessica Fitzwater, who is unopposed in the primary, as the favorite to win in November.
Even, in northern district 5, long a Republican voter stronghold, early favorite Kirby Delauter will face a primary challenge from Walkersville Burgess Ralph Whitmore.  Whitmore is close to former county commissioner and Walkersville Burgess John “Lennie” Thompson who was a member of the 2006 board of commissioners led by Democrat Jan Gardner dubbed “The Dream Team”.
Frederick County residents have had enough theatrics from Blaine Young over the last three plus years. 
What Frederick County residents deserve is reasonable, fair and effective representation.
Instead of signs welcoming visitors stating “Frederick County, Open for Business”, what are needed are signs saying “Welcome to Frederick County, a Well Planned Community”.
Vote for change in 2014.
Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Minimum Wage Increase Long Overdo

George Wenschhof
It is disheartening to hear the ageless Republican Party argument against an increase in the minimum wage.  This is just another example of how out of touch with reality the Republican Party has become.  Added to their stance against women’s rights, gay marriage and meaningful immigration reform, it is no surprise voters are leaving the Republican Party in record numbers.
President Obama’s proposal to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 is not only needed, it is not enough of a raise.  Tying automatic increases of the minimum wage to the consumer price index to keep pace with future inflation is also necessary.
The Republican Party mantra that an increase of the minimum wage would lead to job losses and higher unemployment is just not true.
Rather, there is a stimulus to the economy that occurs and businesses benefit by the increase in spending.
There is a universal acknowledgement that the present federal $7.25 per hour minimum wage is not even a living wage.  Paying rent, food, clothing and other expenses with less than $300 week after taxes, is a huge strain on even the most frugal individual, let alone family.
It is widely known and documented individuals who exist on minimum wage earnings will spend the increase they receive, which in turn, benefits the economy.
Republican obstructionists in the U.S. Senate kept an increase to $9.00 per hour from happening a year ago and it is likely they will follow suit this year in spite of the push by Obama and his inclusion of this issue in his state of the union address.
In a midterm congressional election year, Republicans would be wise to heed a January 8, 2014 Quinnipiac poll that shows 71% of American voters support an increase. 
Further illustrating the mood of the electorate, states are not waiting for the federal government to act and a majority of them have bills that will be acted on this year to increase the minimum wage.  This follows the District of Columbia and five states that passed an increase last year.
The state of Maryland is one of those states that are not waiting for Congress to act.  Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) supports raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 and tying future increases to inflation by 2017.
Meanwhile, impatient individual counties in Maryland, reflecting how states are reacting to a slow moving congress, are already passing their own increases in minimum wage.  Montgomery County and Prince George’s counties have passed legislation that will lead to an $11.50 minimum wage by 2017.
Democrat Karen Young, who is running for Maryland state delegate in district 3-A sent me an email saying “After extensive research on this topic, I have found that there is little, if any, historic data that ties a raise in the minimum wage to increased unemployment. To the contrary, economists suggest that an increase in the minimum wage will have a stimulating effect on the economy by increasing purchasing power. 
Most importantly, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce the number of people living in poverty by 4.6 million, according to a recent study by University of Massachusetts – Amherst economist Arindrajit Dube”.
It has been reported Maryland senate president Thomas “Mike” Miller (D) feels it is more likely for the senate to pass regional wage hikes as opposed to a statewide increase in the minimum wage.
Republicans in the Frederick County state delegation have made their opposition to an increase in the state minimum wage known.  In an earlier interview, state senate minority leader David Brinkley (R) told me he felt a raise in the minimum wage should come from the federal government and not by the states.
Roger Wilson, another Democratic candidate for Maryland state delegate in district 3-A, told me “Increasing the minimum wage is both responsible and logical. It is a Win, Win. Let's use the example of Henry Ford.
Henry Ford paid his workers a living wage. Ford understood that by paying employees a living wage the employees could then afford to buy Ford motor cars. The same would hold true today for any company... Increase purchase power, buy more, sell more, build more, and the economy improves”.
Gene Stanton(D), who is running for Maryland state delegate in district 4 wrote in an email "Increasing the minimum wage is the right thing to do, for employees, employers and most especially, for Maryland taxpayers. In addition, it is the right thing to do morally. Maryland taxpayers benefit with increased income tax revenue and fewer people collecting public assistance and the business community benefits with happier employees that have money to spend on their products. Its a win-win situation for Maryland."
It is past due to increase the federal minimum wage and $10.10 is still insufficient for an individual or family to live in America today, regardless of what state they live in or what region within a state they reside.  Arguing against this makes little sense and government failing to act is a travesty.
Keeping a class of Americans in poverty and tied to government assistance is hardly representative of the “American Way”.
We can and must do better.  Demand your representative in Congress support an increase in the federal minimum wage and let your Maryland state legislator know you support a statewide increase in the minimum wage with automatic future increases tied to inflation.
Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When will the pendulum swing stop in Frederick County?

George Wenschhof
Frederick County, Maryland voters decided on a change to charter government by referendum in the 2012 election, but the issues remain the same.
Yes, power structure will change with the election of a strong county executive and council in the 2014 election versus the current five member board of county commissioners.  But, the pivotal issues will remain the same and one of two distinctly different philosophies on how to manage growth will prevail come November.
The twenty year plus pendulum swing between county commissioners labeled as favoring a more balanced and sustainable approach to growth versus those labeled who favor development is once again poised to take place in the 2014 election.
Connected by their views on growth and not political party affiliation, they view each other in a detestable manner with a mutual lack of respect. They mirror the current repugnant manner displayed in the U.S. Congress between far right conservative Republicans and more progressive Democrats.
Unfortunately, the current Congress illustrates that the combative nature of these types of relationships often results in dysfunctional government.
Locally, as suspected, Democratic former president of the board and three term county commissioner Jan Gardner is running for county executive and her opponent is likely to be Republican board of county commissioners President Blaine Young.  Both Young and Gardner serve as lightening rods for opposing views on growth management.
If Young begs off a run for county executive, Republican county commissioner Billy Shreve is likely to run for the newly created position. 
A name, not previously mentioned, who may run is former Frederick County state’s attorney Scott Rolle (R).  A mostly mum Rolle told me recently he is seriously considering a run for office.  In addition to county executive, possibilities include state delegate in district 3-A or Judge of the circuit court.  The latter, appearing to more closely reflect his past experience. Interestingly, he almost won election to state delegate in 2010 after his withdrawal came too late to remove his name from the ballot. He said he will make his intentions known next week. 
Republican county commissioner David Gray is also running.  But, as an ally of Jan Gardner and one who already gave up the gavel to her in the 2006 election, do not look to see him face Gardner in the general election.  His candidacy is only meant to be a distraction for Young, should he run for county executive.
The filing deadline for candidates in the 2014 election is February 25.
Behind the scenes, much work has been underway by both groups to recruit sympathetic candidates to run for the seven member hybrid county council.  Five of the members are elected by districts and two at large.
In the 2006 election it was the self named “Dream Team” consisting of two Republicans; David Gray and John “Lennie” Thompson and two Democrats; Jan Gardner and Kai Hagen who won election.
They followed their election with pursuing actions, including an update of the county comprehensive plan and down zoning of properties to reflect their vision of how growth should take place in Frederick County.
However, it was actions that took place during their term that spawned the revitalization of “pro-growth” candidates led by Republican Blaine Young.
Blaine Young and company trounced the 2010 version of the “Dream Team” led by Democrat Kai Hagen and have followed their election by rezoning properties that had been down zoned by the previous board and proclaiming “Frederick County Open for Business”.
Young and Company have spent the next three plus years implementing destructive and reckless policies centered on the privatization of government services and reducing the size of government.
This has led to the return of Jan Gardner to the local political scene and the resurrection of the “Dream Team” faction.
Leading to yet another confrontational county election, focused once again on growth policies.
Voters deserve choices and a change from the current Blaine and Company regime is called for and needed.
However, Gardner if elected will need to be mindful of the actions taken by the previous board she presided over that led to the election of Young and Company and the irresponsible actions taken by a brash Blaine Young who has often stated “I am doing what I told the voters I would do when I ran for election”. 
Should she repeat these same actions, it will merely perpetuate the pendulum swing.
What is needed in Frederick County and the country is a more pragmatic approach to governing that focuses on bringing people together to obtain desired results that will endure sure to come changes in elected officials.
Volatile rhetoric and campaign tactics used to divide the community and unite enough voters just to win election is not what is needed and is a strategy that voters are tiring of.
Reflecting this sentiment, the fastest growing group of voters across the country is those who are unaffiliated with a political party, clearly signaling dissatisfaction with politics as usual.
Having seen many different representative democracy systems in place at the local level across the country, I am convinced it is not the system that guarantees effective government. 
The change to charter government alone will not be the savior or answer to more effective government for Frederick County residents.
Instead, it is the people who are elected and increased involvement by the people they represent, that will make the difference between good and bad government.
The focus by the county executive should be on bringing people together and implementing effective government services to reach a shared vision for the community.
Also needed is meaningful campaign finance reform to ensure fairness and that one vote is not worth more than another vote.
Frederick County voters deserve reasonable, fair and effective government. When choosing who to support for county executive and county council, voters should look past rhetoric and focus on those candidates dedicated to working together with other elected officials and with the residents they represent to implement a shared vision. 
Together, Frederick County can become the community that everyone desires.
Stay tuned.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Maryland Race for Governor Remains Fluid

George Wenschhof
In the solid blue state of Maryland, there is no clear leader in the race to succeed term limited Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley. With the candidate filing deadline of February 25 rapidly approaching, there remains talk of more candidates who may file for Governor.
Maryland 6th district Democratic freshman congressman John Delaney is the latest to consider running in a race where no clear leader has emerged.
Five Democrats, two Republicans and one Libertarian have filed for Governor with Republican Larry Hogan announcing recently he is running for the office.
Among the Democrats running; Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, state Attorney General Doug Gansler and state delegate Heather Mizeur are the main contenders battling for the party nomination resulting from the June 24 primary.
Adding intrigue in the race is the possibility of voters electing the first African American governor or woman and openly gay governor with Anthony Brown and Heather Mizeur on the ballot.
Larry Hogan, a former cabinet member of the last Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich and leader of the political organization Change Maryland, has quickly risen to the top among the Republican candidates and is the favorite to win the Republican primary.
The traditional early jockeying for statewide support by the leading Democratic candidates has included the naming of Lt. Governor Candidates, political endorsements and the boasting of fundraising prowess.
The Brown campaign moved quickly to announce Howard County executive as his running mate, removing a potential rival from the race and adding to his campaign coffers.  The Gansler campaign, hampered by three changes in campaign manager, countered with naming Jolene Ivey, an African American from Prince Georges County, one of the top four counties a candidate must win in a statewide election.  The Mizeur campaign followed by announcing Prince Georges pastor Delman Coates as her running mate.
So far, Democratic candidate campaign sniping at each other has dominated the news. Leading some Democrats to worry this could result in a similar outcome as the 2002 election when Republican Robert Ehrlich upset Democrat and Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
The Gansler campaign came under fire early on from presumably the Brown campaign or ones sympathetic, with leaks surrounding statements from Gansler about the Brown campaign using the race card, state trooper gate and photos of Gansler at a party where underage youth were consuming alcohol.
The less than stellar rollout of the state health care exchange for the Affordable Care Act has brought criticism to Lt. Governor Anthony Brown who was tasked by Governor Martin O’Malley to implement the program in the state.
This criticism, that questions his management ability, has severely impacted the Brown campaign that came out of the gate strong as the heir apparent to O’Malley. The Brown campaign focused on announcing the elected official endorsements they had received from O’Malley and many other elected officials in the state, including powerful state senate president Thomas “Mike” Miller and Representative Steny Hoyer.
Meanwhile, state delegate Heather Mizeur, who was considered a long shot to win the Democratic nomination, has mounted a strong grassroots effort appealing to progressives across the state.  Mizeur, who supports legalizing marijuana, recently announced the endorsement from the NORML political action committee. She also has received the endorsement from women's group Emily's List.  
January 8 campaign fundraising reports show the all important cash on hand to be: Brown - $7.1 Million, Gansler - $6.3 Million and Mizeur - $750,000.  The Brown campaign was aided by the $2.1 Million Ken Ulman, who had also considered a run for governor, had on hand.
Democratic representative John Delaney is a multi millionaire who spent millions of his own money in winning the 6th district race in 2012, where he upset the anointed Democratic candidate state senator Rob Garagiola. Delaney went on to dislodge Republican Roscoe Bartlett who had served for twenty years.  His victory was aided by gerrymandering of the district by the strong Democratic leaning state legislature.
Interestingly, the campaign manager of the Brown campaign is Justin Schall, who managed Delaney’s successful 2012 congressional campaign.   
Republican Larry Hogan, who just announced his candidacy, is expected to be aided by funds from his political organization Change Maryland.  The real estate broker has said his campaign will focus on the economy.
During an interview with Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) last week, I asked him if he had second thoughts about not entering the race for Governor. Franchot, who has not endorsed a candidate for governor, told me “I love my job as Comptroller and look forward to serving another term”.
The recent news Larry Hogan will be running and Delaney is considering a run, clearly shows the fluidity of the race for Governor of Maryland.
Lost in the jockeying and sniping to date by some candidate campaigns has been a solid debate on the issues. 
Let’s hope from this point on, all of the candidates for Governor of Maryland focus on their position on the issues important to voters.
Stay tuned.