By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun
May 1, 2010
In this year of hyper-partisan political rhetoric, County Council chairwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat, has struck a different note in her re-election campaign.
Cindy Ardinger, the campaign manager whom Watson introduced at her hotel fundraiser April 23, is a Republican, as were some of the guests rubbing shoulders with county employee union leaders and liberal Democrats such as County Executive Ken Ulman and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes. Watson, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, is from a swing district where voters have elected both Democrats and Republicans.
Watson has a well-known opponant this year in former state delegate and Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, who is campaigning but has not yet filed for the office, but she never mentioned politics to her supporters.
She said her job is 20 percent legislative, 20 percent zoning and 60 percent constituent service, and helping individual people solve problems is what she loves.
"We don't get special license plates, scholarship money to give out or hotel rooms when meetings run late," she said, describing a few perks of General Assembly members. "It's not glamorous. We solve the annoying daily problems out in the neighborhood," she told the crowd. "I love to do that. I had a great time in the snowstorms," she said, helping get plows to people's streets and solving their weather-related problems.
As a community activist on school issues and later as a school board member, Watson worked closely with former councilman Christopher B. Merdon, a Republican. "I'm in local government. I represent all parties," Watson said later about her approach. "We are going to stay away from overheated political rhetoric" during the campaign, she said.
An old Watson ally on school crowding problems, Ardinger said a political party is not her top priority, either.
"I support the person. Courtney and I go way back," she said.
Cheering them on
"Big surprise announcement! All of us are running," Del. Gail H. Bates joked to the 40 or so Republican true believers gathered in the damp grass and overcast chill Sunday on Brent Rutley's 50-acre ornamental tree farm in Woodbine, within sight of Interstate 70.
The gathering was both a formal kick-off for the four Republican incumbents in Howard who are seeking re-election, and a plea for more Republican reinforcements in public office come November. None of the party's candidates running for other county and state offices appeared. Dennis R. Schrader, who is to announce his candidacy for the County Council seat held by Democrat Jen Terrasa on May 5, said Sunday is prime door-knocking time he didn't want to give up.
Bates spoke for herself and the three other elected Howard Republicans, fellow Del. Warren E. Miller, State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who is also senate minoirty leader, and county councilman Greg Fox.
Being such a small minority amid majority Democrats, Bates said people often ask her, "Why do you do it?" Republicans in Maryland don't have the strength even to block unwanted bills without Democratic help.
"It's a challenge, but it's a responsibility of our party to question everything," she said, invoking the name of Glenn Beck, the histrionic Fox News entertainer who has urged viewers to do that very same thing.
Still, Kittleman cheered the partisan crowd with hope for success in November.
"This is going to be a transformational [political] year in Maryland," Kittleman said. Democrats Jon Weinstein and Maryann Maher are also runnig for the two District 9 delegate seats and Jim Adams is opposing Kittleman.
The themes for all four Republicans were familiar — that Democrats are spending the state into peril; that higher taxes are just around the corner if Democrats win; and Democratic victories and more regulations are bad for business. "Maryland's going to go downhill," Kittleman warned.
As Miller put it, "Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle won't listen and don't want to improve things." Kittleman added that Republican reinforcements are badly needed to make the GOP a force to be reckoned with in Annapolis, though he said Fox has been "the most effective council member of all five. The victories we get are amazing."
Fox said he was successful in enlisting enough council Democrats in 2007 to block a two-cent increase in the fire property tax for rural areas, and to stop the Ulman administration's plan to buy a floor of a proposed office condominium building in Oakland Mills. The building was never built.
Kittleman singled out State Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat, former county executive and county police chief, for voting in favor of a bill that increased the minimum auto liability insurance requirements for Maryland drivers, which will boost premiums for some.
"Only the trial lawyers supported it," Kittleman said, acknowleging that most Howard residents have more than minimum coverage, but warning that "citizens of Owen Brown and Long Reach [in Robey's district] will be hurt" from higher insurance premiums.
Robey said later "it wasn't a partisan issue," He supported the bill, he said, because at the minimum requirement of $20,000 for one person and $40,000 for multiple people injured, "there's not sufficient coverage there" to pay for care after serious accidents.The law would raise the minimum to $30,000 to $60,000.
But three Republican delegates, Rick Impallaria of Baltimore County, and James J. King and Donna Stifler of Harford were among the bill's co-sponsors. Among Howard's delegation, Democratic Dels. James E. Malone, Steven J. DeBoy and State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, the senate majority leader, voted against the bill along with Kittleman, Miller and Bates, according to state records.
Give and take
Kittleman might have little but criticism for most Democrats in the General Assembly, but not when it comes to Kasemeyer, who represents parts of Howard and Baltimore counties.
At a Howard Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast in River Hill on April 21, Kittleman, who represents Howard and south Carroll counties, blew a political kiss at the low profile Kasemeyer, who sat a few tables away.
"If [Senate President Thomas V.] Mike Miller retires and the Democrats retain control of the Senate, we'd be very fortunate to have Sen. Kasemeyer as president of the Senate," he told the crowd. The camaraderie didn't last long, though.
Kasemeyer later marveled at how "nice" it was of Kittleman to mention him as a possible future Senate president.
At the breakfast's end, Kittleman managed to irritate Robey by warning that federal stimulus money was "designed to get us through the elections. It was designed that way," he said, implying that the federal money helping to keep the states afloat this year was intended to benefit Democrats. "Think about that when you go to the ballot box," he said.
An annoyed Robey arose, ready to fire back.
"I'm scared to death about all this" anti-tax and spend rhetoric, he told the chamber members. "Just remember to go to the damn ballot box and vote. I don't care who you vote for," he said. "Maryland is in better shape than most other states. If we start giving up all the successes we've had, we won't be Maryland any more. We'll be Georgia or Mississippi, where they lay off cops and teachers" and have "rat-infested" public buildings.
Kittleman's rhetoric, Robey said later, "is a fear tactic" merely designed for political advantage. "They preach that sermon every day," he said, but no one knows now what will happen to taxes next year.
Amid the political sparks, a frank Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore County and Elkridge in Howard, said what some others may be thinking. Now that the 2010 legislative session is over, he said, he has just one focus.
"My number one priority right now is to get re-elected," he said.
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