Tuesday, November 29, 2005

And they're off...

Following recent announcements from councilmen Chris Merdon and Ken Ulman, the race for county executive is, I guess, underway. Both have said they would campaign on issues and leave partisanship aside, which shouldn't be too hard on the local level where party labels are all but useless, at least in my opinion. The anti-partisan campaign theme received a boost at Merdon's coming out party, where he said:

"This is not a race about party labels," (Merdon) said Saturday. "In order to represent all the people, the county executive must transcend all party lines. And I have a record of doing exactly that. In fact, the district that elected me to the County Council two times is a Democrat district."

During the same speech, Merdon went on to outline several key issues--notably, zoning reform and strengthening schools--he would address if elected. Meanwhile, Ulman has been preemptively responding to criticism over his vote to increase taxes a few years ago (when a slumping economy resulted in budget shortfalls at all levels of government) and is touting his leadership on issues, particularly the charrette.

So far so good, right? Nobody's tossing around cliched partisan rhetoric; no one's making baseless attacks; we're all sticking to the issues, right? Uh...no

With both men last week announcing their intentions to seek the county's highest office in 2006, Republicans began casting Ulman, a Democrat, as a tax-and-spend liberal whose personality is too brash to win election to the seat.

In turn, Democrats charged that Merdon, a Republican, doesn't financially support the county's services and is too timid to lead.

Key to the debate is a 30 percent income tax increase the County Council's three Democrats, including Ulman, passed in 2003, after voting down an alternative proposed by the council's two Republicans, including Merdon, that would have cut the proposed budget by $24 million, several observers said.

Ulman is "fiscally irresponsible," said Jim Oglethorpe, president of the Howard County Taxpayers Association, a citizens group that opposes tax hikes, including the 2003 increase. "He fleeced a large tax increase on us."

Howard Rensin, the chairman of the Howard County Republican Central Committee, agreed. "Ken Ulman is very quick to raise taxes," he said, while Merdon "is fiscally mature."

But County Council chairman Guy Guzzone, a Columbia Democrat, made the opposite charge: That Merdon's alternative budget in 2003 irresponsibly attempted to cut key services.

"Clearly, Mr. Merdon has done his best to try to make cuts in the school system and in libraries, cuts in the police department," Guzzone said. "Fortunately, none of them passed. He has, in my opinion, not done the difficult things to ensure that we maintain the quality of life that we all enjoy."

That's right, liberals just want to steal citizen's hard earned money and use it to further bloat a bureaucracy and conservatives view government as the root of all suffering in this world. It certainly didn't take long for the veneer of civility to wear off.

It is unfortunate that national politics and ideologies are going to dictate the course of our local election, where the distinctions between Democrats and Republicans are all but nonexistent. If Merdon and Ulman really want to base their campaigns on issues, they can call of the attack dogs. However, it seems fairly evident, even at this early stage, that party labels will play a major role in this election. And for that, we're all worse off.

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