In this year of hyper-partisan political rhetoric, County Council chairwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat, has struck a different note in her re-election campaign.
Cindy Ardinger, the campaign manager whom Watson introduced at her hotel fundraiser April 23, is a Republican, as were some of the guests rubbing shoulders with county employee union leaders and liberal Democrats such as County Executive Ken Ulman and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes. Watson, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, is from a swing district where voters have elected both Democrats and Republicans.
Robert L. Flanagan, who is campaigning but has not yet filed for the office, but she never mentioned politics to her supporters.
She said her job is 20 percent legislative, 20 percent zoning and 60 percent constituent service, and helping individual people solve problems is what she loves.
"We don't get special license plates, scholarship money to give out or hotel rooms when meetings run late," she said, describing a few perks of General Assembly members. "It's not glamorous. We solve the annoying daily problems out in the neighborhood," she told the crowd. "I love to do that. I had a great time in the snowstorms," she said, helping get plows to people's streets and solving their weather-related problems.
As a community activist on school issues and later as a school board member, Watson worked closely with former councilman Christopher B. Merdon, a Republican. "I'm in local government. I represent all parties," Watson said later about her approach. "We are going to stay away from overheated political rhetoric" during the campaign, she said.
An old Watson ally on school crowding problems, Ardinger said a political party is not her top priority, either.
"I support the person. Courtney and I go way back," she said.
Cheering them on
"Big surprise announcement! All of us are running," Del. Gail H. Bates joked to the 40 or so Republican true believers gathered in the damp grass and overcast chill Sunday on Brent Rutley's 50-acre ornamental tree farm in Woodbine, within sight of Interstate 70.
The gathering was both a formal kick-off for the four Republican incumbents in Howard who are seeking re-election, and a plea for more Republican reinforcements in public office come November. None of the party's candidates running for other county and state offices appeared. Dennis R. Schrader, who is to announce his candidacy for the County Council seat held by Democrat Jen Terrasa on May 5, said Sunday is prime door-knocking time he didn't want to give up.
Bates spoke for herself and the three other elected Howard Republicans, fellow Del. Warren E. Miller, State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who is also senate minoirty leader, and county councilman Greg Fox.
Being such a small minority amid majority Democrats, Bates said people often ask her, "Why do you do it?" Republicans in Maryland don't have the strength even to block unwanted bills without Democratic help.
"It's a challenge, but it's a responsibility of our party to question everything," she said, invoking the name of Glenn Beck, the histrionic Fox News entertainer who has urged viewers to do that very same thing.
Still, Kittleman cheered the partisan crowd with hope for success in November.
"This is going to be a transformational [political] year in Maryland," Kittleman said. Democrats Jon Weinstein and Maryann Maher are also runnig for the two District 9 delegate seats and Jim Adams is opposing Kittleman.
The themes for all four Republicans were familiar — that Democrats are spending the state into peril; that higher taxes are just around the corner if Democrats win; and Democratic victories and more regulations are bad for business. "Maryland's going to go downhill," Kittleman warned.
As Miller put it, "Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle won't listen and don't want to improve things." Kittleman added that Republican reinforcements are badly needed to make the GOP a force to be reckoned with in Annapolis, though he said Fox has been "the most effective council member of all five. The victories we get are amazing."
Fox said he was successful in enlisting enough council Democrats in 2007 to block a two-cent increase in the fire property tax for rural areas, and to stop the Ulman administration's plan to buy a floor of a proposed office condominium building in Oakland Mills. The building was never built.