Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Sun Missed Their Own Point – Watson Is the Better Choice

The Baltimore Sun showered Courtney Watson with praise in their recent editorial on the Howard County Executive race.  They referred to Watson as “an immensely gifted and dedicated public servant.” They “hope she [Watson] will find many more opportunities to share her talents with the community.”

Yet, they endorsed Allan Kittleman.  Let us examine their rationale for doing so.

They appear to give a great deal of weight to the importance of having something equating to a relative degree of parity between the two parties.  I can understand the innate appeal such a proposition would have among self-described adherents of a good government philosophy.  For such voters, it sounds inherently “fair”…something that might promote moderation and compromise. However, there can still be a “competition of ideas” within a political system where one party is stronger than the other.  Moreover, many states that have more competitive two-party systems than Maryland still witness highly divisive, highly partisan political environments.   

Frankly, their argument would have more merit if Senator Kittleman had decided to run for Governor.  First, he would have been a stronger candidate for that office compared to Larry Hogan. Second, even the Sun editorial stated that “Maryland is stronger when it has two viable political parties…” Note that.  Not “Howard County” specifically but “Maryland” in general.  Kittleman is not running statewide.  At least not in this election cycle.   

It has been established that Senator Kittleman’s voting record is more conservative than his persona.  How, precisely, is his “kind of independence” going to work out with a Democratic County Council and a Democratic state legislature?  Further, wouldn’t a Republican County Executive be cross-pressured by his base to pull to the right on economic issues?  On some social issues?  It seems to be more of a recipe for stagnation and deadlock than a path to move Howard County forward.

By labeling Kittleman a “relatively liberal Republican” and Watson a “relatively conservative Democrat,” the Sun missed two critical points:

First, both are running as progressives.  The key distinction is that Watson is closer to being a true progressive while Kittleman is highlighting certain policy stances in an effort to position himself as one…when he is really fairly conservative on a host of issues (Right to Work, education funding and assault weapons leap to mind).  Second, one can infer from their description of her that Watson is a different kind of Democrat.  Perhaps distinct enough from Mr. Ulman to provide a “fresh approach to leadership of the county?”  I believe so.

The Sun seems to accept the belief that Ken Ulman will be viewed as a good County Executive, “whose legacy will ultimately be seen as having left the county better than he found it.”

And then they use language that might be found in a classic political science tome.  They state that Kittleman isn’t running “as a repudiation of the incumbent.”  Maybe, maybe not.  The point is that if you believe that Ulman’s legacy should be built upon, why would you endorse someone from the opposing political party?  That invites the politics of “preemption,” to use Professor Skowronek’s typology.  If you want to extend his legacy, it makes far more sense to practice the “politics of articulation” and elect someone distinct from, yet affiliated with, the identity of the incumbent. 

The good news is that there is such a candidate.  Her name is Courtney Watson.

In short, I suggest that the Sun editorial board re-read their own endorsement.  Perhaps they should re-think their conclusion.  A careful review of their own editorial might prompt a new one beginning with the phrase: “On second thought….”

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

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