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Friends from opposing parties [Editorial]

Editorial from The Record and The Aegis

10:09 AM EDT, September 12, 2013

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The official dedication ceremony for a new interchange at Routes 40 and 715 designed to provide better access to Aberdeen Proving Ground was lauded this week as a triumph of partnerships that have put good public policy ahead of party politics.

Indeed, Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who are as likely as not to be running against each other in the general election for governor next year, formed something of a mini-mutual appreciation society when they got together for the interchange dedication Monday.

Make no mistake, the interchange project, at $33 million, was a substantial undertaking made necessary by a net expansion of the workforce on Aberdeen Proving Ground thanks to a 2005 decision by a federal government organization that is most well known by its acronym, BRAC.

In some parts of the U.S., BRAC is regarded as the root of economic disasters resulting from the closure of military installations. In these parts, because BRAC has meant a net increase at Aberdeen Proving Ground, it is a word with rather positive connotations.

Initially, the BRAC changes at Aberdeen Proving Ground were forecast to bring prosperity on many local fronts. Then the financial crisis of 2008 hit, and BRAC was said to have kept things in Harford County from being worse than how they ended up.

All the while, from 2005 through 2010 when the Route 40 interchange with 715 was begun, relatively little was done to make Harford County BRAC-ready. This should not have been a problem. BRAC was announced in 2005 and implementation didn't begin until 2006 because it does take time to plan to move and consolidate military operations.

While military planners were working on consolidation plans, in Maryland there was supposed to have been a focus on infrastructure plans to make sure roadways and other vital public works assets were in place to deal with the change. There was a lot of talk, but not much action, and most of the blame can be assigned to the state government. After all, the state government is responsible for upgrading and maintaining major arterial roadways, such as Routes 40 and 715 as well as I-95. There's also the matter of the MARC commuter rail service that has a station at Aberdeen. But there is no meaningful public transportation link between that station and facilities on Aberdeen Proving Ground.

On these fronts, Harford County's elected representatives in Annapolis largely dropped the ball. Actually, it might be better to say they never picked up the ball. Harford County for many years has elected mostly Republicans to the House of Delegates and Maryland Senate, both of which are dominated by Democrats. Now it has been shown that Democrats and Republicans, when cut, all bleed red and when elected to public office are capable of making good and bad policies, party notwithstanding. It also has happened, from time to time, that people of different political parties can come to agreement on areas of common concern and overlapping interests to get things done.

This kind of working together, however, isn't what happened in the first years after the 2005 BRAC changes were announced, at least not among those in the Harford delegation to Annapolis. Mostly the local elected officials expressed a great deal of interest in doing battle with the Democratic majority, regardless of the issue. It also is true that the Democratic majority in the General Assembly, or at least its leadership, is rather self-impressed and possessed of little interest in getting things done for parts of the state that send Republicans to Maryland.

Thus, eight years after the BRAC expansion at APG was revealed by the federal government, the only substantial project to make Harford BRAC-ready is the interchange of Routes 40 and 715 that was dedicated Monday amid so much Democratic and Republican mutual appreciation.

As Democrat Brown referred to Republican Craig as "my partner," Craig was rather dismissive of party differences, saying, "It's never about the D or the R. It's always about making sure we get the job done, and that's what it should be."

To be fair, Craig and Brown both have been in high level executive branch offices while most of the discord resulting in no state money for Harford County schools, roads, parks and public buildings has been in the legislative branch.

Even though Craig and Brown may well have had a cordial relationship through their terms as county executive and lieutenant governor, respectively – as well they should have as adult managers of fairly large governments – it appears something more is at play in the two candidates for governor praising each other.

For Brown, being seen as conciliatory to a Harford County Republican has a lot of value. Harford County, in Maryland politics, is at once Maryland's largest small county and the state's smallest large county. The large metro counties tend to be majority Democratic or even splits on election day. The small counties tend to vote strongly Republican. Harford County is on the small side as metropolitan Maryland counties go, but is larger than the non-metro counties. It votes, however, as strongly Republican as smaller, more rural counties in the state, with some GOP candidates securing well in excess of 60 percent of the general election vote countywide.

Just putting a dent in that would be a political accomplishment for Brown.

Craig, meanwhile, would be likely to carry his home county in a general election, but to taste political success in the governor's race would have to be seen as a moderate in the Democratic dominated Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City.

In other words, the two political foes have a mutual interest in being seen as friendly and able to work together as partners.

It would be nice if the rest of those elected to public office from both parties would have a similar vested interest in working with people who have different ideas. If they had taken such an approach, maybe Harford County would be a little bit more BRAC-ready than it is after the last eight years.