It has been a hectic and (potentially) extremely productive 24+ hours.
I couldn't attend the most recent Howard County Executive forum in person, but I followed it via live stream. The feed was a little choppy and there were some shampoo commercials interspersed between the back-and-forth (frankly, the candidates should have done live reads, Allan Kittleman pitching Prell in front of an audience - in the middle of his remarks - would have been a hoot). But here are my primary takeaways:
1) I can't speak to the atmosphere in the room, but the debate sounded mostly positive and issue-focused. While some have been decrying the supposed horrific negativity of this campaign, I heard a forum that was largely civil and focused on substantive matters. I can't recall any low blows or mudslinging. It was a fact-driven discussion. Sure, there was some comparative activity occurring, but nothing under-handed. Just a frank exchange of ideas on two governing visions by two candidates.
2) Who won? Strictly in terms of such esoteric debate criteria as controlling the space, rhetorical abilities, and appearing confident vs. defensive (going to the "strong leader" attribute), I believe there was a winner. In my estimation, of the two, Courtney Watson came across as the more serious, policy-driven, collected, and better prepared to take on the challenges of the position. In short, Watson won the forum. By contrast, I thought that Kittleman sounded a little thin-skinned when answering certain questions (this was particularly apparent during the assault weapon discussion, he might have been going for "emphatic" but i think he veered closer to "aggravated" than he intended during the course of his reply).
Further, I think he lapsed a bit into Annapolis-speak (similar to Beltwayese) during his education response.
3) Kittleman made the biggest unforced error of the night, one that undermines his argument about his ability to work across party lines. During the re-zoning/referendum conversation (this occurred around the 18-minute mark of the forum), he drifted into a discussion about how Maryland has a "one-party system" in Annapolis and how if his name had been off a bill that he sponsored, it probably would have passed instead of stalling in the House of Delegates, which is what happened.
So if he faces these obstacles as a Senator, who serves in Annapolis, won't these same obstacles exist for him if he was elected as our next County Executive? How would these political realities impact his ability to represent our citizens? To work for our interests? I think these are legitimate concerns.
This opened the door for Watson, in her closing remarks, to point to her 93% success rate with her primary sponsored bills passing the Howard County Council, compared to Kittleman's 8% success rate with his primary sponsored bills passing the General Assembly.
Building consensus is important in representative government. Ideas don't become policy by themselves, it takes skillful collaboration to shape them into legislation that can win the votes necessary to take effect. Watson has a much stronger record of achievement in this regard. And this skill-set matters - it impacts the ability to craft effective solutions on education policy, on public safety, on job creation, on environmental concerns, and a host of other policy matters.
I believe Watson demonstrated, once again, her readiness to work for Howard County.
I hope undecided voters have the opportunity to watch the debate, as well as the League of Women Voters forums, as they make their choices in the days ahead.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.