One of my goals, once upon a time, was to write one of those scholarly type articles that used to get reprinted and handed out to legions of college students in first level political science classes, forever immortalizing the obscure author in the annals of the irrelevant, not unlike a one-hit wonder in the recording world.
One topic I think I'd still like to opine on is what I'll call the tolerance quotient, or TQ, among voters. Is there a correlation between how long a person serves in an elected office and when voters finally become fatigued with them and decide to move on to someone else?
With the fields set in the upcoming primary elections, another opportunity arises to do a little research about TQ, especially as there are a number of long-serving Harford officeholders who are coming back for another drink at the trough.
For starters, where is the fault line - or tipping point if you prefer a more contemporary term – in terms of length of service. Is it eight years, 12, 16 or more? Or, does it depend on the individual's propensity to alienate versus the voters capability to tolerate? Also, if a candidate decides to move on to another office, does that alter their base TQ? As you can see, there could be all sorts of variables involved.
A couple of case studies worth following this year are Barry Glassman and Dick Slutzky, running for county executive and county council president, respectively.
All things being equal, both are the presumptive favorites. Glassman has won six straight elections: two for county council, three for House of Delegates and one for State Senate. Slutzky has won three straight district council elections. Both are running for offices they've never held. Both are Republicans which, since 1990, has counted a lot among Harford County voters.
The year 1990 is sort of a historical trigger point. Several veteran officeholders, all Democrats, were sent packing that year in the wake of what has become known as the Gravel Hill rubblefill controversy. One of the beneficiaries was Glassman, who won his first election that year after a previous unsuccessful try. Local Democrats have never really recovered from the 1990 debacle.
Glassman and Democrat Joseph Werner are the only candidates who filed for county executive, so there will be no primary. Werner is the quintessential unknown from the wrong party, no disrespect intended, and Glassman would appear to be a lock in this race. If Werner were somehow to win, TQ would get some serious evaluation.
Unlike Glassman, Slutzky has a contested primary with two other opponents. If he takes the GOP nomination, he'll face one of two Democrats in November for the council presidency that Billy Boniface decided to give up after two terms.
While I believe Slutzky is the strongest candidate among the five, the council presidency is contested before all the county's voters. Slutzky has never run countywide; all three of his council wins were decided among only voters in the Aberdeen and Churchville areas. One of his primary opponents is former council president Robert Wagner, who lost to Boniface in 2006 and then made an ill-advised bid to knock off Harford County Executive David Craig in the 2010 Republican primary.
Prior to his loss in 2006, Wagner had won four straight elections. He was swept into the seat Slutzky now holds in 1990 - there's that year again - won the seat again in 1994 and 1998 - when all council races were still contested countywide - and then took the council presidency four years later. One thing I keep asking myself about Wagner is did he reach his TQ in 2002?
There's another bar Wagner faces in trying to return to office: No person has ever won five terms on the Harford County Council. Wagner is one of two people to try for five terms after four-straight wins, only to be denied by the voters. The other was the late John W. Schafer, who served 16 years in the Bel Air seat (again when all council elections were countywide) before losing his bid for a fifth in (you got it) 1990. The late Joanne Parrott served 16 years on the council, the last four as president, but didn't seek a fifth term, running for House of Delegates instead. After eight years in Annapolis, 24 years in office in all, she reached her TQ, losing in 2006.
There are several other people running this year who might be in TQ situations. Among them are Dion Guthrie, bidding for a fourth straight county council term, and Jim McMahan and Chad Shrodes, both running for their third. Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti is trying for a seat in the House of Delegates after two terms on the council. Sheriff Jesse Bane is running for a third term. Win or lose, State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly, bidding for his eighth term, is the obvious TQ outlier among Harford's current political generation.
Moving over to legislative races, Del. Susan McComas is trying for a fourth term in the limited subdistrict in and around Bel Air, while Del. Mary-Dulany James is trying to succeed the retiring Nancy Jacobs in the Senate, after serving four terms in the House. Two of the western Harford delegates, Rick Impallaria and Pat McDonough, are running for their fourth terms, while western Harford Sen. J.B. Jennings is seeking a second term after previously serving two terms in the House.
Jacobs has been the ultimate survivor, in my estimation, holding office in Annapolis for an astounding 20 years but, regardless of her stated reasons for hanging it up, I think she sensed she was reaching TQ. Also bidding to succeed her is perhaps the ultimate TQ case study, Art Helton, who won an election for county council and then two for state senate between 1972 and 1982. After losing a third Senate bid in 1982, Helton has run for something in all but two elections since – with zero wins to show for the effort.
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Rare indeed is the politician like Jacobs, Boniface or Del. Donna Stifler, who is also calling it quits after eight years, who leaves of his or her own choosing, personal circumstances notwithstanding. Maybe I should label that phenomenon the RT, or reason quotient, or is it just good common sense?