Political Pitfalls: Winning Election Is Easy Part

3 CENTS WORTH

Candidates Need Money, Backing And An Agenda

March 20, 1991|By Russ Mullaly

I've been thinking about the regional political scene and some of the developments over the past couple of months, and I've come up with a theory as to why certain situations in the county are the way they are. This theory can be applied to some of the other subdivisions in this state as well.

Remember last fall's election, when the wave of anti-incumbency hit our shores? You know -- throw 'em all out no matter how good they are? The trend didn't extend to the national level in Congress; most of the incumbents were returned to office. But itdid happen here in Howard County, if you recall, with some upsets taking place.

With the new office holders in place, we've seen bickering, legislation introduced by the newcomers shot down, and a general sense of stumbling about. This brings me to my theory. And remember -- this isonly one person's theory and it probably cant' be proven.

My gut feeling is that a number of the people who gained office for the first time did not expect to win. Oh, of course, you always should have apositive attitude that you can win at something or you may as well not even waste your time and money in the attempt.

Since some of these folks maybe weren't sure they would win their election, perhaps they had no real agenda to carry out if elected.

I think a number of them may have run on the platform: "Vote for me, I'm not the incumbent." And some added the great plank, "I can do the job better," without mentioning specific plans, only glittering generalities. After winning, I'm wondering if they said to themselves, "Now that I've got it, what do I do with it?"

I'll bet some of the new office holders are feeling a little overwhelmed with all that is facing them, especially with a faltering national economy.

Now, I'm not implying theycan't handle the offices they were elected to, but it will take thema while to learn the position. I just hope it won't take too long.

Take, for example, Darrel Drown, R-2nd, of the County Council. First, he stated in his campaign that he wanted to keep growth under control. Then, once elected, he voted to lift the cap on building permits. He next introduced a bill that would limit the terms of elected officials in the county.

This is sort of like shooting yourself in the foot, isn't it? Maybe he only wanted to serve a short time anyway. (The bill was defeated by the council.)

A bill of this nature is offensive to the voters of the county. It implies that we are stupid and need to be told how to elect our officials. If you think someone has been in office too long and is no longer effective -- as the saying goes, throw the bum out! Where reform is necessary is in the financial end of campaigning.

At the state house level, now that we havea bunch of new players, we've seen some difficulties there as well. I hope our delegation, now mostly of the minority party, will try to compromise and get along with the powers that be so that our county won't be left out in the cold when it comes to getting the money we need for services and projects. We don't want to get the guv hosed off at us and see that we don't get all the money we deserve. For that matter, we don't really want him to call Howard County by a name that wouldn't be particularly complimentary -- such as the one he gave to the Eastern Shore.

Delegate Robert Flanagan, R-14B, has already gotten in Gov. Schaefer's face over taxes. Remember, it could be a long four years without support from Annapolis.

What has to be done on the political scene is to change the way campaigns are financed. This, of course, is a national as well as a regional problem. It is something that could be attacked at the grass roots and then expanded to the national level. We could start serious campaign reform right here in our own county.

It is my opinion that the days of any citizen having the ability to be elected to public office are gone. One eitherhas to be independently wealthy or have the backing of PACs or othermajor contributors. When you are financed by contributors, you more or less owe these people favors when you get in office. There are probably many qualified people out there who could do a good job but areput off by having to be beholden to others for financing their campaign.

The biggest political problem in this country is that the most money buys the best sound bites, flashiest advertising, and the slickest, trickiest campaign managers. Style seems to win out over substance much too often.

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