“I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe... Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those... moments... will be lost in time, like tears... in... rain. Time... to die...” – Roy Batty, Bladerunner
When you have been in and around political campaigns long enough, you will have seen some remarkable things. Last night, the c-beams were, at best, glowing dimly at the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Howard Community College. For at that location, at that time, several public office-holders and seekers took to the stage for a League of Women Voters of Howard County-sponsored candidate forum.
I will focus on the highlights and the lowlights. Moreover, I will discuss things that voters care about, for better or worse, so I will talk about both substance and – when necessary – style.
First up were the two Democratic candidates for State’s Attorney, Howard County: the incumbent Dario Broccolino and challenger Rich Gibson. The former focused on discussing specific achievements and a turnaround narrative while the latter spoke of the importance of community outreach. Frankly, both candidates appeared qualified.
Our Register of Wills, Byron Macfarlane (D), is running unopposed for re-election. His brief statement was solid and accessible. He talked about his efforts to humanize and modernize the office. He made the work of his rather arcane office sound interesting, which is not an easy communications task. He is another very-well qualified public servant.
Four Democratic candidates running for Judge of the Ophans’ Court came next. The primary election will winnow the field down to three Democratic nominees, and they will face off against two Republican candidates in November. Neither GOP candidate appeared at the forum. A total of three judges will be elected for this Court. Two of the four present at the forum (Anne Dodd and Leslie Smith Turner) are incumbents while the other two (Nicole Bormel Miller and Shari Lynne Chase) are challengers.
Oh where to begin, perhaps more importantly, where to end?
Based solely on performance alone, Anne Dodd and Leslie Smith Turner finished in the top tier. Judge Dodd was a bit more polished/comfortable with the format while Judge Turner did well talking about her priorities, her experience and commitment to public service.
Nicole Bormel Miller is obviously very smart and is qualified to be a judge on the Orphans’ Court. Putting my political strategist hat on for a moment, I would counsel her to not talk about her combination of “youth and experience” as a key point of differentiation. I am in my 40s and most of the audience members were Baby Boomers or of an older generation. I don’t think she won many points with that line.
I can feel my blood pressure spiking as I begin this paragraph. Although we live in a relatively free and open society where people with minimal qualifications can seek public office, based on what I witnessed last night, Shari Lynne Chase has no business running for Judge of the Orphans’ Court. I did not hear her articulate any legal credentials. I did hear her utter banal sentiments about treating people fairly. Most worrisome, if elected to the office, she seems to want to strike a balance between her personal notion of a “humanistic” perspective and the letter of the law. No Ms. Chase, that is not how judges, or our courts, operate. In fact, the application of such personal beliefs, in matters of law, can undermine our system of jurisprudence.
This is why it is important for voters to pay attention to all of the races, even the down-ballot ones. It would be truly unfortunate for Howard County for a candidate such as Ms. Chase to be elected simply because of her easy-to-pronounce name or the placement of her name on the ballot. The Orphans’ Court handles very serious matters. Ms. Chase is not a serious candidate and I hope Democratic primary voters understand and remember her lack of qualifications when they enter the voting booth.
Following the Orphans’ Court discussion, the three candidates for Howard County Sheriff gathered on the stage. Rather, two assembled while one fell apart. The two Democratic candidates – current Sheriff James Fitzgerald and Captain John Newnan, appear qualified to hold the position. They covered substantive matters, ranging from collective bargaining to the need for greater diversity within the Howard County sheriff’s department.
Meanwhile the Republican candidate, John Francis McMahon, described himself as a retired, reluctant candidate who admits to being “less qualified” than the others. He said he would not be a captive of “special interests.” Overall, he seemed a bit less than present for the proceedings. I think that is all that needs to be said.
Coming up…Part Two (County Executive and County Council races).
Stay tuned, as more will follow.