08.16.10 Throw the Bums Out?
In my post of three days ago, “Incumbents Cabal?”, I discussed the unseemly survival pact constructed by the four at-large county council candidates, ertswhile enemies March Elrich/Duchy Trachtenberg and Nancy Floreen/George Leventhal. In his coverage of this issue, Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch reasonably blames the dysfunctional council of the past four years on the incumbents and asks “Isn’t it time for a change?”
The rather obvious answer is “Yes!” Imagine having a county council that was more focused on doing “the people’s business,” than maneuvering for political advantage. Imagine nine members who enjoyed working together and marched in cooperative lockstep toward a better future! This is indeed a lovely pipedream, but reality gets stubbornly in the way, making “throw the bums out” a far cry from being a practical political program (or actionable advice for voters).
First, only a very small number of council members can possibly lose their jobs this year, given the lack of competition in District 3 (Phil Andrews), District 4 (Nancy Navarro), and District 5 (Valerie Ervin). Even in the at-large race, there are only seven candidates of any viability for four spots. No informed observer can envision a scenario where more than one incumbent gets knocked out. The only certain change in next year’s council lineup results from the retirement of Mike Knapp in District 2. So the most likely outcome of this year’s election will be one, maybe two, new faces. Would that be sufficient to change the personality of the council? My own guess is that any newcomers would join right up with one of the existing factions and business would continue as usual.
The more important objection to a “change for change’s sake” platform is that — unless one is indifferent to policy outcomes — it actually matters who is being kicked out and and who is being ushered in. Pagnucco longs for the good old days of the 2002-2006 End Gridlock council, because (according to him) everyone got along so grandly. I hardly consider those days rosy, given that council’s servitude to the development industry and the unions. I’ll take today’s council theatrics over a repeat of the End Gridlock council any day.
So, am I going to support at-large challengers Hans Riemer and Becky Wagner just because they are fresh and new? Of course not. Wagner’s allegiance to big business tells me that she would line up with Floreen, Leventhal & Co. in returning us to pave-it-all policies. Riemer’s unwillingness to deal in specifics or alienate anyone, means a vote for him is a roll of the dice. (I just can’t buy that his “freshness” is of any particular value, absent policy specifics, or that his promises to single-handedly unify the council are anything but hogwash.)
Even to the extent that I might find Riemer or another at-large challenger more attractive than some of the current gang, in a vote-for-four election, I don’t get to decide what actually takes place. Sure, I’d rather roll the dice with Riemer than stick with Floreen. But what if his ascension to the council only succeeds in knocking off someone better?
I’m in a state of cognitive dissonance. It is hardly my style to align with established powers. I love supporting underdogs, in general, and I rarely find myself rallying to a save-the-incubments battle cry. (A prime reason for quitting my post as Democratic Precinct Official four years ago was my disgust with the party as incumbent protection society.) Yet, I see no challengers in this year’s council races who deserve my support, on their merits.
Bottom line: I’d sure like to throw certain bums out of the county council, but some of them aren’t in my district, some are running unopposed, and some who are at-large can’t be picked off one-by-one. Every voter in the county is in this same boat, alas.
©2010 Keith Berner