Asti and Kiessling win county circuit court seats

Republican challenger Alison L. Asti captured a seat on the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court last week, booting out one of two recent gubernatorial appointees.

Asti will take the place of Ronald H. Jarashow. She joins Democrat Laura S. Kiessling, who ran as a team with Jarashow, in winning a 15-year term as a judge.

"My message was about the importance of an independent judiciary," Asti said. She said she tried to keep her message positive and focused on presenting herself to voters.

The Pasadena resident also said that people she met appreciated her roots in the county and her willingness to challenge sitting judges.

"I think what the people care about is whether you are going to make a fair and impartial decision," she said.

She said she does not know when she will be sworn in.

The vote count Tuesday night gave Kiessling nearly 40 percent of the vote, Asti almost 34 percent and Jarashow about 27 percent in a contest in which the rhetoric was dramatically heightened as Election Day neared. Absentee and provisional ballots continue to be counted but are not expected to change the outcome.

Throughout her campaign, critics said Asti had little to no courtroom experience and limited other experience, politicized the judicial contest and sidestepped a gubernatorial appointment process that includes vetting by lawyers and other groups. Her response was that state law does not say what kind of legal experience an attorney seeking to become a judge should have; that her years in commercial law and in running the Maryland Stadium Authority included contracts, zoning and many other matters; and that the appointment process itself has grown increasingly political.

It is the second time in six years that a Democratic governor's appointee to the county's bench failed to win voter approval in the conservative county. Despite a Democratic registration edge, Arundel voters regularly put many Republicans in office.

But Dan Nataf, who heads the Center for the Study of Local Politics at Anne Arundel Community College, said that alone does not explain Asti's win.

Voter interest and available information are low in judicial contests, he said. At the same time, the amount of campaign noise about other political issues, such as the governor's race and the slots question, is high.

Ballot position — it's alphabetical, so Asti was first — and gender — women typically garner a few percentage points for being female — probably had a role, he said.

Kiessling may have had some name recognition from her 19 years as a county prosecutor, and "prosecutors go in with a certain advantage because they go in with a presumption of being against criminals," he said.

Judges are not identified by political party on the ballot. Nataf speculated that voters saw Asti's signs near those for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who was seeking to win back his old job, and who, though he lost the election to O'Malley, was favored by Arundel voters.

"She was identifying herself in a partisan way that others did not," Nataf said.

Jarashow, considered by his supporters to be an excellent lawyer who left private practice for the judgeship, apparently did not stand out the way the women appear to have, despite a flier that went out late in the campaign advertising his longtime community involvement, Nataf said.

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