The Burden of Incumbency

August 19, 1994

You think incumbents have the upper hand for re-election? Do you have it wrong! Just listen to the Carroll County commissioners, who considered trimming their work week this summer because it was intruding on their campaign schedules.

"We all need time to do campaigning. Why give the newcomers a big advantage here?" groused Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy. "I'm vain enough to want to get re-elected." (Give him points for honesty, at least.)

Fellow commissioner Julia W. Gouge, who's busy running for lieutenant governor with Republican gubernatorial candidate William S. Shepard, suggested that the commissioners halve their meeting calendar from two days a week to one to allow more time out on the hustings. (Even though Carroll County taxpayers are still paying for her service, Mrs. Gouge's statewide candidacy precludes a county seat next time so it's not as important for her to impress county voters.) Mrs. Gouge proposed the change after learning at a national convention that some county boards take all summer off; the great ideas you can pick up at conventions, eh?

The commissioners eventually thought better of the change and decided to stick with their customary schedule. Still, their comments beg the question: Don't they think their opponents have their own work and home responsibilities to juggle their campaigns around? (Five Democrats and five Republicans are vying for their party's nominations for the three commissioner seats in the Sept. 13 primary election.)

Carroll County voters two years ago rejected a change to charter government, in part because they were not enamored of the full-time government executives running Maryland's more urban counties. Carroll can't very well have citizen-legislators complaining that they don't have ample time to be political professionals.

This board of commissioners has been bedeviled by contradictions during its term: Mr. Dell championed the worthy idea of extending Interstate 795 into the county, even though it seemed at odds with his campaign mantra to "keep it country." The board approved a forest protection law, then got hives over it. But this latest gripe over the advantage of non-incumbency had to be one of the more intriguing conundrums. If Mr. Lippy or any office-holder thinks non-incumbency is an advantageous position, the voters can oblige soon.

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