One of the recurring themes at the League of Women Voters of Howard County's candidate forum was how best to manage growth.
Having conducted research on behalf of economic development organizations in regions that are trying to rebound after years of decline, I know of many municipal and county officials who would love to swap their problems for ours.
I've spoken with residents in areas facing truly tough times: dwindling populations, tighter budgets, higher crime rates, crumbling roads, major employers shutting down or cutting back...leading to diminished job opportunities. They love their communities too, but many are debating the wisdom of staying. They want to be part of a turn-around story but they have kids to raise or they simply want to be able to walk around their neighborhood without tensing up when they hear footfalls on the sidewalk behind them.
They want a quality of life similar to what we have in Howard County.
So the questions posed to the County Executive candidates dealt with such matters as the impact of growth on transportation and our infrastructure, on our school system, on housing.
[Before I go any further, I feel the need to disclose that I support Courtney Watson for County Executive. So if you are expecting a consistently impartial, non-partisan analysis, you are in the wrong place.]
But back to the thread.
First, the County Executive race. Strictly from the vantage point of performance: both County Council member Watson and State Senator Allan Kittleman did well. I would have been stunned otherwise. Both are smart, capable public officials.
It really comes down to who has the best experience for the position and best vision for the County. This is where Watson's service as a member of the County Board of Education is hugely important. Howard County public schools have a reputation for excellence and there is a concern that growth will put pressures on our education system. As the Republican candidates for County Council (District One) noted during their panel discussion, our schools attract families and businesses, this drives economic growth and helps create the highly desirable communities that we have in Howard County. Thus, having the in-depth understanding that Watson possesses on educational matters is an incredibly important attribute and a key point of differentiation between her and Senator Kittleman.
Moreover, when given the opportunity to make closing statements, Sen. Kittleman chose to talk about his father's work on civil rights, which was both commendable and courageous. Again, putting on my political consultant hat, voters generally prefer to hear about the future than the past. Tell us what you plan on doing. So when Watson spoke about keeping Howard County a "great place to live, work and play" and how she was poised to "help solve the challenges of the future" - I believe her forward-looking orientation is more aligned with voter concerns. Kittleman should have pivoted from talking about the past to his vision for the future, but he did not do so. At least I don't see anything like that in my notes.
I really wanted to cover the County Council - District One discussion in this post, but it looks like we are going to have a trilogy.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.