GOP still rules in Carroll

Despite county wins, Republicans face harder time in Annapolis

November 12, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Democrat Dennis E. Beard, who finished a close fourth for Carroll County commissioner, said he knows how Lt. Gov. Michael Steele feels.

That's what he told Steele at a groundbreaking event in Howard County just weeks ago.

"I said, `You know, sir, you're hoping that someday you're going to see the true two-party system in the state of Maryland,' " Beard recalled. "I said, `As a Democrat, I would love to see the two-party system in Carroll County.' He smiled, `cause I think he knew what I was talking about."

Just as the Republican lieutenant governor lost the U.S. Senate race, Beard came up short in his bid to be the first Democratic Carroll County commissioner elected in 12 years.

Conservative Republican Michael D. Zimmer edged out Beard by 1,400 votes for a seat on the three-member board.

Although Republicans had a clean sweep in Carroll's local elections, with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s defeat, the county commissioners and re-elected members of the state delegation will have fewer allies in Annapolis.

"For once, four years ago, Carroll County was rewarded for being strongly Republican," said Tony Roman, an adjunct political science professor at Carroll Community College.

"We were in step for a little bit, but now we're back out again. By voting for all Republicans, we've now lost influence on the state level," Roman said.

In campaigning against a code home rule referendum that would have given more local control to the commissioners, Republicans have given control of the county to Democrats in the General Assembly, said Martin A. Radinsky, chair of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

"Now when the commissioners give the delegation a bill for Carroll County, it's going to be Democrats making that decision, not Republicans," Radinsky said.

Incumbent commissioners Julia W. Gouge and Dean L. Minnich - who were re-elected by strong margins - voted in August to put the code home rule referendum on the ballot. Some local control advocates said the full muscle of charter government should have been pressed instead.

About 55 percent of voters turned against code home rule last week, which, if approved, would have retained the commissioner form of government, but would have given county officials control to enact most local laws.

Minnich said the board should now refocus on implementing five commissioners to be elected by district, as voters approved in a 2004 referendum.

Advocates of charter government could push that issue, perhaps in time for the 2008 presidential election, Minnich said.

Although Republican crossover votes didn't deliver victory for Beard, he did receive a larger percentage of votes than any Democratic commissioner candidate since 1990.

Gouge and Minnich, both GOP moderates, refused to support Zimmer after he called for their ouster before the primary.

Gouge, Minnich and Zimmer at least agree on one thing: They foresee many 2-to-1 votes as a new board.

Zimmer said he could help repair strained relations among the commissioners and Carroll's conservative legislators. Sen. Larry E. Haines, Del. Tanya T. Shewell and Sen. Allan H. Kittleman were among Zimmer's supporters who have butted heads with Gouge and Minnich.

A Mount Airy attorney, Zimmer said he plans to travel to Annapolis frequently to support the delegation. He said he will scale back his work and may stop practicing law.

The 6,000 absentee ballots that were counted Thursday secured Zimmer's victory. But in an unusually contentious election, about 2,400 of the 56,800 voters who cast ballots on Tuesday didn't vote for a commissioner candidate, according to county board of elections director Patricia K. Matsko. In addition, 17,007 other commissioner votes were partially completed by residents who voted only for one or two commissioner candidates, Matsko said.

Almost 13,000 voters, including those who cast absentee ballots, appeared to have no strong opinion on the code home rule question. That number of voters left the question blank on their ballots, according to Thursday's results.

A code home rule referendum failed twice, in 1968 and 1984. Voters also rejected two efforts to establish charter government in the 1990s.

Carroll's provisional ballots will be counted Monday, and a second batch of late-filing absentees will be counted Friday, but those shouldn't alter election results, Matsko said.

Meanwhile, Democrats are re-examining their role in Carroll County politics.

The county's election perfectly embodies former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill's saying that "all politics is local," Roman said. "If national politics trumped local, Beard should have gotten in. It was close, but the Democrats have probably lost a bit of gas."

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