A potential power grab?

In 2004, Wicomico County voters adopted a system of government that would be led by a county executive, scrapping the former system where County Council had both legislative and executive powers. One reaction from this: all four of the incumbent Democratic members of County Council opted not to run for re-election in 2006; however, the first County Executive elected was Democrat Rick Pollitt.

In 2014, we had the first transfer of power between parties as GOP standard-bearer Bob Culver ousted Pollitt, who was running for a third term. At the same time, County Council maintained the 6-1 GOP edge it had received in 2010 – that was an increase from the 4-3 control they won in 2006 with only two members from the previous Council surviving the election.

So you can perhaps chalk it up to management style, or maybe the turnover on County Council over the last eight years has placed a crop of people on there who long for the old system, but Wicomico County voters are facing a bewildering array of issues on their ballot. So let’s start with the no-brainers.

Question 1 is a statewide issue that compels the Governor to appoint a new Comptroller or Attorney General from the same party as the one most recently elected and provides for a special election in a Presidential year if the vacancy occurs soon enough.

You’ll notice that this was never a problem until a Republican was elected to the governor’s chair. In fact, the last time the state had a Republican AG was in the term of Republican Governor Theodore McKeldin (1951-1959), who appointed Edward Rollins to the post to finish out the term of Hall Hammond, a Democrat elected in 1950 and promoted to the state Court of Appeals. As for Comptroller, it has exclusively been a Democrat’s position for well over a century. But maybe we could use a Libertarian as Comptroller or a Constitution Party member as Attorney General – until either can break the two-party duopoly, though, we would likely be stuck with liberal Democrats.

So because of the cynicism in addressing a problem (that really wasn’t) for strictly partisan reasons, I urge a vote AGAINST Question 1.

Question A, for Wicomico County voters, addresses the composition of the Wicomico County Board of Education. For years I have advocated for an elected school board, and after eliminating the political obstacles in the 2014 election, the path was cleared for voters to address the issue in the first three-way referendum in recent memory. Option 1 is to maintain the current appointed system, Option 2 is for a fully elected board, one each representing the five County Council districts and two at-large elected by all county residents (the same makeup as our current County Council), and Option 3 is for a hybrid board of five elected (one from each Council district) and two appointed by a locally-created board with confirmation from County Council.

Once again the cynical local Democrats have cast their lot with the fully-appointed Option 1, which provides no shortage of irony considering it’s the least democratic process. It seemed more logical that they would be for Option 3, which was the fallback position many preferred in the hearings conducted in the summer of 2015, before the enabling legislation passed earlier this year. But to maximize accountability, the best choice by far is Option 2 – a Wicomico County Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members elected at-large.

Now it gets very confusing. There are nine county charter amendments on the ballot, and to me their net effect seems to be that of reducing the power of the county executive and shifting it to County Council. I wasn’t here for the 2004 vote, but it seems obvious to me that the county wanted a strong leader and a legislative County Council.

Let’s begin with Question B and its related cousin, Question D. Both would require a special election: Question B to fill a vacancy in the County Council, and Question D for the County Executive. However, either vacancy would only be filled in this manner if it occurred within the first year or so of the term, which seems to me a rather pointless change. Having gone through this process as a Central Committee member back in 2011 (to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Bob Caldwell) I can tell you that a special election would do no better and cost the taxpayers money to boot. Thus, the proper vote is AGAINST both Question B and Question D. (Editor’s note: Councilman Marc Kilmer clarifies the intent of these questions in comments below, but I still think the ballot language is misleading. Their idea of a “special election” coincides with the scheduled primary and general elections, which is not made completely clear in the ballot summary.)

Question C deals with vacancies as well, but it’s a common-sense measure to extend the time allotted for filling positions from 30 to 45 days and have them submitted at a legislative session. This extension makes sense as County Council only meets twice a month, and having gone through the Caldwell vacancy the extra time is good for getting things right. Vote FOR Question C.

Question E removes the authority of the County Executive to select a temporary successor and assigns the task automatically to the Director of Administration. While it’s likely he or she would do so anyway, the option should remain open for the head of our government to choose. We do not have a vice-executive here, so why create one? Vote AGAINST Question E.

Question F deals with the idea of “acting” appointments, and limits their term to 90 days unless Council chooses to re-appoint them. Since the idea of “acting” is that of being temporary, this proposal makes more sense than most of the others. Three months is generally suitable to find a permanent replacement, or determine that the “acting” head can handle the job, so go ahead and vote FOR Question F.

The final four questions seem to me very nit-picky, and obviously County Council’s reaction to not getting their way on various issues.

For example, Question G gives a specific definition to “reorganization” which is much more restrictive toward the County Executive. As I see it, this is a separation of powers issue and it’s strange that we went nearly ten years without ever having to deal with this problem. So I call on voters to say they are AGAINST Question G.

Questions H and I most likely are a reaction to the County Council’s desire to have its own lawyer. Currently the County Attorney represents both the County Council and County Executive, but Council wanted to change that. I see no reason to do so, nor do I see the logic behind forcing the County Executive to recognize a personnel system established by Council as authorized by this change. Thus, we should vote AGAINST Questions H and I. (Editor’s note: Again, see Kilmer’s comments below. By charter my assertion is correct in who the County Attorney represents; but in the county today there is an “acting” County Attorney while Council retains its own, which they are entitled to do. I see no reason to change the system if Question F is passed.)

Finally, we have Question J, and that’s the one I was most on the fence about. But what weighed my decision in the end was that the County Executive is responsible for the budget, so if County Council decides to cut something out it should be the County Executive’s call as to where the money goes rather than simply placed in a particular account. For that reason, a vote AGAINST Question J is the appropriate one.

So this is the monoblogue-approved ballot for Wicomico County voters. We all face the same questions and issues.

  • For Presidentwrite in Darrell Castle/Scott Bradley
  • For U.S. SenatorKathy Szeliga
  • For Congress – I did not make a formal endorsement. If you like Andy Harris, vote for him; if not, vote for the Libertarian Matt Beers.
  • Judge – Based on the fact Dan Friedman was an O’Malley appointee, vote AGAINST his continuance in office.
  • Question 1 – AGAINST
  • Question A – Option 2, the fully elected school board
  • Question B – AGAINST
  • Question C – FOR
  • Question D – AGAINST
  • Question E – AGAINST
  • Question F – FOR
  • Question G – AGAINST
  • Question H – AGAINST
  • Question I – AGAINST
  • Question J – AGAINST

For those of you across the line in Delaware, I weighed in on your state races as well.

Before I wrap up, I just ask that you all pray we make the best choices. We all have to live with what we decide, so choose wisely. After the election, it will be time to create the understanding many among us lack when it comes to making these selections because, in a lot of cases, we all have botched the process badly.

A nation divided against itself cannot stand.

Regarding the Delaware Congressional race

No, I do not have a vote in this one; however, since our family makes most of its living in the First State this race is worth my trouble to talk about. Plus I have a fairly decent contingent of readers residing north of the Transpeninsular Line who actually will have a voice.

Unlike the Maryland First District race I covered a few days ago, this one will be an open seat. (In fact, thanks to term limits, vacancies, and primary election results I believe all of Delaware’s statewide races are open-seat races this year.) I will do this in a similar format as the Maryland races, although perhaps with a little less detail. We will begin with the candidates on the ballot, and in alphabetical order it means the minor parties go first.

Scott Gesty (Libertarian Party)

Key facts: For the third consecutive cycle, Gesty is the Libertarian nominee for Congress. In the previous two renditions, he finished fourth of the four just slightly behind Green Party nominee Bernard August. Gesty advised the Delaware Libertarians that this year would be his last run. Gesty is 46 and is a licensed CPA in Delaware.

Key issues: National Debt, Taxation, Education, Personal Privacy, Foreign Policy, Health Care

Thoughts: Gesty’s philosophy and run seems to me very similar to that of our local Libertarian Congressional candidate Matt Beers. They both have a relatively straightforward adherence to the Libertarian line of smaller government, a more isolationist foreign policy, and reticence to discuss social issues on their websites. Unlike the First District, though, Delaware has a Congressional district which tends to lean left (as a statewide district, it includes the urban environs of Wilmington) so the Libertarians don’t fare as well there. I give kudos to Gesty for maintaining his stance (and limiting himself as opposed to becoming the dreaded perennial candidate) in the face of all that.

Mark Perri (Green Party)

Key facts: Perri is making his first run for Congress but was the Greens’ gubernatorial candidate in 2012, finishing third of the four on-ballot candidates. He is one candidate who does not have his own website, which is unusual as he is listed as the web admin for the Delaware Green Party. He is a 56-year-old PhD who works as a clerk, oddly enough.

Key issues: Perri describes them as C.O.R.N. – Climate Crisis, Overpopulation, Racism, Nuclear War

Thoughts: In reading through some of the items on Perri (again, a slow process because he doesn’t have a typical political website) he is another who fits the Green Party mold of radical statist government – a belief system that everyone will give up their freedom to advance for the false assurance that outcomes can be equalized. One quote that struck me was, “Encourage immigration, but we Americans must learn to consume less (by a factor of 2 or even 10) resources and energy.” Why? We are the economic driver of the world, and our leadership and innovation has raised the global standard of living. That may not be a popular sentiment in Green Party circles, but I believe it to be true. I believe in American exceptionalism – not because we are necessarily better people, but we live under a better system despite the best efforts of leftists to knock it down several pegs.

Hans Reigle (Republican Party)

Key facts: Reigle has spent his career in the aviation field as an Air Force Reservist, commercial pilot, and until recently was the assistant director of the aviation program at Delaware State University. He also has served as a councilman and mayor of the town of Wyoming; this is his first run for a statewide office. Reigle is 52 years of age.

Key issues: Job Growth, Education Reform, Spending, Security and Immigration

Thoughts: Reigle seems to have a fairly moderate-to-conservative approach to issues, which begins to border on “tinker around the edges” territory. I don’t see any radical changes in government here, although he does advocate for a modest reduction in the federal budget over time. He’s been billing himself as an “outsider,” which is true, and has a unique combination of military and political experience that has long been a training ground for potential Congressmen.

Lisa Blunt Rochester (Democrat Party)

Key facts: Her career has primarily been spent in government: a caseworker for Congressman Tom Carper, she eventually served as the state’s Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Labor and state Personnel Director. She is 54 years old, and while she’s been involved in government for much of her life this is her first try at federal office.

Key issues: Jobs, Equal Pay for Equal Work, Women’s Health, Preventing Gun Violence, Affordable and Accessible Education, Campaign Finance Reform and Expanding Voter Rights, Social Security/Medicare, Protecting Obamacare, Public Safety

Thoughts: She gives the game away when she mentions “Lisa’s election in 2016 would mark the first time The First State has sent a woman or person of color to Congress.” I didn’t realize there was a quota to fill. And it’s patently obvious by the subjects she chooses to highlight that she is in favor of a larger, more intrusive federal government – perhaps not to the extent of the Green Party that seems to exist to make Democrats look moderate by comparison, but more than would be healthy for the First State. If voters are wise, they will wait until a more qualified “woman or person of color” enters the Congressional race at some future date.

There are also four write-in candidates: Robert Nelson Franz III, Rachelle Lee Linney, Campbell Smith, and Scott Walker. Of that group I found in a little bit of research that Franz bills himself as a “conservative Democrat,” and Walker is a 65-year-old Milton resident who is a landlord and wants to address discrimination as Delaware’s Congressman. He ran and lost in the Democrats’ primary to Rochester. As for the other two, they are not obvious on the World Wide Web.

If I were a Delaware voter, it’s quickly obvious that my choice comes down to Reigle vs. Gesty. Yet one important area for me isn’t addressed, and that is social issues. Certainly I prefer the limited government ideas of Gesty, but I also have to be mindful that Libertarians tend to be very liberal on setting those boundaries. (They sometimes forget that liberty is subordinate to life for a reason, because to have liberty you must have life. And there is truly no other measuring stick to determine when life begins than conception; thus the unborn’s right to life trumps the mother’s so-called “right to privacy” that some consider a form of liberty.) I saw Reigle supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, which is in his favor, but Gesty didn’t return the survey.

So I don’t feel like I have enough information to make a formal endorsement to my Delaware friends, but if I were to make a guess at this time as to how I’d vote I would still lean toward Scott Gesty. It’s almost like my heart would be telling me to vote for Gesty but my head would say to vote Reigle because he has a more legitimate shot at winning. Let’s just say you have two good choices on the ballot and leave it at that.

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