Candidates running for office would be wise to pay attention to a political storm that is brewing. As with all long-range forecasts, it could have an impact on voters on Election Day or it could be nothing more than a passing tempest in the proverbial teapot. But make no mistake, candidates who avoid the signs will do so at their own risks.
Facing candidates is a growing tide of political dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement. Nationally, the seeds of discontent have been sown by political bickering and party extremists who have forgotten the art of compromise. It's hard to find that kind of rancor here in Howard County, but there have been cases lately when citizens have found reasons to feel like government is not their friend — and that's fertile ground for political fallout.
Take the case of the group Citizens Working to Fix Howard County.
This group formed ostensibly to gather petitions to stop certain development projects in the county. After receiving some reassurances from the county Board of Elections that the wording of their petition was acceptable, the group collected more than enough signatures to get their petition on the 2014 ballot. But later, the BOE threw out the petition, saying that the wording wasn't fair and accurate.
Now, nearly a year later, the case is tied up in the courts and attorneys for the county, because they are defending the BOE's decision, are on the same side of the argument as attorneys for developers in trying to invalidate the group's petition drive.
But any group that can gain more than 5,000 validated signatures is not to be ignored, nor can the fact that one of the petition leaders, Lisa Markovitz, finished a surprisingly strong second in the race for the Democratic nominee for County Council in the 1st District.
Another group that can't be ignored are the teachers who are at an impasse with the school system on a new contract. While the teachers' union might be solidly behind candidates, there's no telling how the members feel. To a lesser extent, there are pockets of voters who have taken issue with the ban on sugary drinks and downtown Columbia development plans. To be fair, there are many who are happy with how things are going now, so assigning a level of dissatisfaction is impossible: Certainly, there's no known polling data that can quantify it. But those who remember their political history will recall the 1990 election, when some elected officials, including Howard County Executive Liz Bobo, were tossed out of office during a time of voter unrest.
The clouds forming over Howard are not nearly as dark as those nationally, but as political candidates know, the months before an election is the worst time to get caught up in issues that upset voters.