Republicans and Democrats in Howard County each held their annual party dinners last week, and they were a study in contrasts in this presidential election year.
The GOP Lincoln Day Dinner at Turf Valley on May 18 drew about 160 people, who saw the featured speaker, former gubernatorial candidate and 16-year House of Delegates member Ellen R. Sauerbrey, give a nonpolitical presentation.
Until her appointment expired in January, Sauerbrey had spent the past two years as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. She presented a slide show of her travels to deprived refugee camps, from Kenya to Bangladesh, where thousands of Burmese languish in squatter towns. Sauerbrey, who narrowly lost to Parris N. Glendening in Maryland's 1994 gubernatorial race, explained how the United States and nongovernmental agencies are trying to help.
County party Chairwoman Joan M. Becker urged that Republicans rally behind Sen. John McCain, the party's presumptive presidentiala nominee, because, she said, Democrats favor "a socialistic government."
The Democrats drew nearly 300 people Tuesday night to Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville, where they heard a single theme repeated.
"Enthusiasm among Democrats is at an all-time high for this presidential election," party Chairman Michael. C.A. McPherson told the crowd.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the keynote speaker, told the crowd how he drove into a gas station on U.S. 40 in Catonsville the previous Saturday night to find himself moments later holding Carlos Santay 19, who was bleeding heavily and dying of stab wounds after an aborted street robbery. Santay's wife, Claudia Sales, who was in labor and waiting at home to go to Howard County General Hospital, gave birth to a son at the hospital hours later, on Mother's Day.
The point of the story, he told the crowd, was that Americans have to make this country live up to the shining ideal that drew Santay to come here to start a family and make a better life.
"He came to America because America is the greatest country in the world," Cummings said.
Cummings urged the audience to forget petty differences and get over the tensions of the presidential primary contest between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
"I want you to keep your eyes on the prize - controlling the White House," he said.
The congressman also praised Howard County Executive Ken Ulman for moving quickly to make his prosperous county a model for what government can do, noting the Healthy Howard plan that starts this fall to provide uninsured residents access to affordable health care.
The next day, Republicans issued a news release criticizing Ulman for spending too much county money, pointing to Healthy Howard as an example. Party Vice Chairman John W. Bailey urged that the program be delayed for further study.
Picnic for poll judges
Spending a 13-plus-hour day working as one of Howard County's 1,100 election poll judges can seem a relatively thankless task - especially during Maryland's March presidential primary, when icy weather forced the polls to stay open an extra 90 minutes.
Ever eager to encourage more people to be judges, county election administrator Betty Nordaas has scheduled an appreciation picnic lunch June 6 for 35 judges from three polling places chosen as the most efficiently run precincts in the county. Seven of the honored judges are ages 17 or 18.
"We rated them on performance," Nordaas said, using a seven-point formula. "We're trying to motivate all of our election judges to do better."
The rating survey can help by alerting judges to what they are doing well, and what needs improvement, she said.
Susan Flaesch, 45, chief Democratic judge at a precinct in the gym at Elkridge Landing Middle School, and Susan McConnell, 57, chief Republican judge at the precinct in the gym at Lisbon Elementary in western Howard, said they appreciate the acknowledgment. The third top-performing precinct was in the gym at Clarksville Middle.
"It's nice to have excellence recognized," McConnell said. "It's also nice to have the arduous work we do recognized. It's a very long day at the polls."
Nordaas said judges earn $165 for the day, while chief judges get $220.