Gerrymandering and Maryland’s 6th Congressional District

Monday night’s panel discussion on gerrymandering and the recent Supreme Court case involving Maryland’s 6th Congressional district, which includes Washington County, featured Randy Barber, Chair of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee (speaking only for himself), and Len Lazarick, Editor of MarylandReporter.com. Amie Hoeber, former Republican candidate for the CD 6 seat, had been scheduled to speak but regrettably was unable to attend due to an emergency. Washington County Republican Central Committee Chair Jerry DeWolf did not respond to requests for participation.

Lazarick, who has been covering Maryland politics for many years, spoke about the current and historical context for the legal challenges to Maryland’s redistrict following the 2010 census. Barber advocated for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, a proposal similar to that put forth by Governor Hogan, but added that national action is needed. He said that if Maryland, where the gerrymandered districts favor Democrats, were to redistrict in a nonpartisan manner while other states remain gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, it would be tantamount to “unilateral disarmament.”

Coverage of the meeting by WDVM can be viewed here.

CAP’s next meeting, on Monday, May 20, will be on economic development in Washington County. Everyone is welcome!

 

Ethics Changes in Washington County

Last week’s vote by the County Commissioners to form an ad hoc committee to review the county’s ethics ordinance represents important progress on one of CAP’s top priorities. We fully support the Commission’s decision, and urge them to adopt changes that will strengthen the ordinance and give the Ethics Commission meaningful authority to enforce it.

Commissioner Cort Meinelschmidt discussed ethics changes in the county at CAP’s meeting on March 25 at the American Legion in Williamsport. You can watch that meeting here:

CAP Hosts Panel on Diversity in Local Government

What can citizens and voters do about under-representation in Washington County government?

On February 25th, Citizens Above Partisanship hosted a panel discussion of this question at Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown. The event was attended by CAP members and concerned Washington County residents and was covered by local media.

CAP believes that our local leaders must be representative of the diversity of the entire population in order to understand the diverse challenges we face. Increasing diversity in local government is one of our long-range priorities, and hosting this discussion was a step toward being in a position to encourage and support a diverse and qualified pool of candidates for the 2020 election and beyond.

Panelists included:

  • Harry Jones, former Democratic candidate for County Commissioner
  • Sandra Oblitas, Director of the Kasandra Cultural Center
  • Andrew Barnhart, former Green Party candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates
  • Donna Brightman, former Chair of the Board of Education and Democratic candidate for County Commissioner

In the nonpartisan spirit of our organization, the discussion was moderated by Scott Bryan, former Republican candidate for County Commissioner and current CAP Candidates and Issues Coordinator.

Asked about the effects lack of diversity has on communities in Washington County, Jones pointed out that elected officials rarely engage with communities outside their own once elected. They don’t take the aches and pains of those communities seriously, he said, because they are not their own aches and pains. This leads to a lack of understanding of the challenges different communities face, and a failure of confidence among voters that government will work for their best interests.

Brightman and Barnhart both talked about structural barriers to broader participation in government, including the party-based primary system and the plurality voting method. Open primaries, ranked choice voting, and districted County Commissioner seats were all discussed as possible ways to overcome those barriers. Brightman also pointed out the newly formed Diversity Commission as a hopeful sign.

Oblitas, who immigrated from Bolivia in 2002, talked about the need for better communication channels to reach potential voters who may not understand the value of voting. She admitted that she would like to see a member of the Latino community in elected office, regardless of party affiliation, because such a person would understand the needs and concerns of that community in a way that is difficult for people outside of it. Both she and Brightman also lamented the lack of women in local government, with Brightman pointing out that there have been only three female County Commissioners in the county’s history.

The panel concluded with audience Q & A and a discussion of what citizens might do to encourage more diversity in local government. Jones summarized the answer to that question nicely with a call to get personally involved, saying, “in order to get change, you have to be willing to make change.” We agree – democracy takes work, and we’re grateful to all our panelists for taking the time to work with us.

 

CAP Outlines 2019 Priorities

With the 2018 General Election behind us, Citizens Above Partisanship has outlined its priorities for 2019. In keeping with our mission to promote cooperative politics for the benefit of all Washington County residents, we have identified three main priorities for this year. These priorities all support our core value of ethics, education and the economy.

Priority 1: Diversity Among Local Elected Officials

One of CAP’s long-term priorities is to improve diversity among local elected officials. CAP endeavors to ensure that not only the most ethical and most qualified individuals serve in office, but also that elected officials are as diverse as the residents of the county. We will address this priority in 2019 by reaching out to members of traditionally underrepresented groups to identify issues of concern to those communities & how they fit in with CAP priorities. We will publicize and address those issues via speakers and topics at our meetings, social media outreach, and outreach at local meetings and events. Our intent is to be in a position to encourage and support a diverse and qualified pool of candidates for the 2020 election and beyond.

Priority 2: Ethics and Transparency in Local Government

A continuing CAP priority is to raise the ethical standards and transparency of local government. We strive for a culture of inclusion, competency, and trust. We must ensure that our elected officials treat everyone fairly and without bias and that there are clearly stated and enforced policies regarding ethics. We are concerned about the number of closed meetings and the lack of public review of some decisions, and in 2019 we will attend County Commissioner meetings, Board of Education meetings, and other municipal meetings to ensure that these issues are being tracked and the public made aware of them.

Priority 3: Economic Development and Education

Our third major priority for 2019 is to raise awareness of economic and educational issues in the county. A strong economy is crucial for any healthy, thriving community, as is an educated electorate. A community with low unemployment whose citizens are employed in quality jobs has lower rates of crime and illegal drug use. Education is closely tied to both economic success and a healthy, thriving community. In 2019 we will connect with local business and educational leaders about both the challenges they face and about positive trends, and bring those things to a larger audience through our meetings and our outreach efforts.

Democracy takes work. Let’s get to work.

Citizens Above Partisanship Releases Campaign Finance Analysis

CAP has analyzed the data from campaign finance reports filed with the state by candidates for County Commissioner in the 2018 election.

The report includes:

  • Top Contributors: Who donated the most money to whom?
  • Contribution Breakdown: Who had the most funding?
  • Geo-location: Where did contributions come from, both in and outside of the county?

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL REPORT

CAP on A Miner Detail Podcast

Citizens Above Partisanship’s participation in a panel discussion at The Flying Camel on Sunday, February 3 was a clear indication that CAP is making progress for cooperative government in Washington County. The event was moderated by Ryan Miner of A Miner Detail and broadcast through A Miner Detail Podcast. Panelists were CAP board members Kira Hamman, Ken Buckler, and Scott Bryan. There were more than 20 people in attendance and more than 200 viewers of the online podcast, plus many online comments. CAP members had an opportunity to discuss CAP goals and core principles – ethics, education and the economy – and talk about the recent election and the state of local politics. Click here to listen to the conversation.

Kira Hamman, CAP Chair, pointed out that Republicans have a plurality in Washington County, but not a majority; there are a lot of third party and unaffiliated voters. Therefore, the community is poised for change, and the response to CAP has been visceral. CAP is working for a more cooperative democracy in which politicians work across political differences for the common good. Hamman added that CAP is not against partisanship, but above partisanship, meaning that the organization stays out of partisan politics and puts the community above party affiliation. She also criticized hyper-partisanship and the demonization of parties other than one’s own, which she said has no role to play in local government.

Communications Director Ken Buckler mentioned that the last two election cycles saw a lot of fear-mongering.  He said that on social media, there was a sentiment that supporting the Governor and the President necessarily meant supporting local Republican candidates and actively opposing Democratic and third-party candidates. CAP is working to counter that idea. Buckler also made the important point that CAP has many new people coming to meetings, and that our focus is on providing information and content that is not only educational but also highly engaging. CAP is on Facebook and Twitter, has a website with articles about local issues and a calendar of relevant local events, and will soon launch an Instagram feed. When citizens engage with the organization via any of those channels, or by coming to meetings, they become more invested in the community and in cooperative government.

Scott Bryan, Chair of the CAP Candidates and Issues Committee, emphasized that CAP is not telling people what to believe but is raising issues to talk at the local level and educating people about things that matter locally. He added that what draws him to CAP is his belief that if you want to make a difference in politics at the local level, you can do it with a group like CAP. “There is more that unites us than divides us,” he said, to an enthusiastic response from the audience.

The event illustrated that CAP’s message resonates with the community and is spreading among its citizens. We are grateful to Miner for inviting us onto his show, and to The Flying Camel for hosting us. Democracy takes work, and everyone at Sunday’s event was putting in that work.

CAP on A Miner Detail February 3

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Citizens Above Partisanship to participate in live podcast on Feb. 3

HAGERSTOWN, MD – Citizens Above Partisanship, a non-partisan group of Washington County Maryland residents advocating for candidates and issues that serve the common good, will participate in a live podcast panel discussion on February 3 at The Flying Camel in downtown Hagerstown, moderated by A Miner Detail Podcast host Ryan Miner. 

Panelists will discuss how extreme partisanship is eroding local politics and will provide solutions to transcend the partisan divide affecting Washington County. Panelists include CAP Executive Committee members Kira Hamman, Scott Bryan, and Ken Buckler.

EVENT DETAILS:

  • Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 at The Flying Camel
  • Happy Hour: 4-5 p.m.
  • Panel Discussion: 5:-6:30 p.m.
  • Question-and-Answer session: 6:30-7:00 p.m.
  • Read more here

About A Miner Detail Podcast

Launched in January 2015 by Washington County native Ryan Miner, A Miner Detail Podcast is the fusion between Maryland news and politics. It’s all about Maryland! Miner and his guests engage in a weekly no-holds-barred conversation about issues driving the conversation, featuring Maryland newsmakers and news breakers, journalists, politicos, policy wonks, prognosticators, political activists, organizers, community leaders, and more! 

Government for All Citizens: Reflections on Partisanship

By Scott Bryan

Leadership that represents all the citizens of Washington County.  When I ran for County Commissioner this year, that leadership was something I believed was needed; something that was missing among our current elected officials. It seemed to me, as a novice on the political scene, that we had a Commission that was made up not only of a single demographic, but, just as importantly, of a single mindset.

As I sat down next to Donna Brightman and Bernie Semler on December 2 to talk with Ryan Miner about the election, I wondered how representative leadership for the county would be a part of the discussion.  I had become good friends with both Donna and Bernie during our campaigns. Donna had run in the Commissioner race and Bernie for State’s Attorney. I know both of them to be honest, decent, dedicated individuals who care more about the future of Washington County than about their own personal interests and agendas. Indeed, both had made tremendous sacrifices to offer their services to the citizens of the county.

I knew that I could trust both Donna and Bernie, but I was concerned that their recent defeats – after both running outstanding and inspired campaigns – would still be fresh wounds. These were wounds that I had also felt, but mine have had considerably more time to heal since I lost in the primary four months ago. I knew the purpose of the panel was to discuss what had happened in the election, our issues and concerns, and the path forward for the county in the near future – essentially, how to get that representative leadership that I believed was missing. But would the pain and disappointment of losing that we all felt, and that I thought I had moved past, return during the panel?

I was also thinking about the fact that Ryan, as moderator, had told us that he was going to ask “edgy” questions. I know Ryan to be an honest journalist who seeks the truth and does a great job of bringing issues into the light of day. But as the only Republican on the panel, and likely with a liberal-leaning audience, would I be able to get my points across effectively and professionally? And, by the way, would anyone care what I had to say?

As it turned out, my concerns were unfounded. Donna and Bernie and I talked openly and candidly about what we perceive to be the challenges facing our community. We discussed the effect of national politics on local politics, particularly how polarization at the national level has impacted local elections. And we agreed that although it’s difficult to have an impact nationally, we can absolutely make a difference locally. The three of us showed people that night what non-partisanship looks like and that regardless of party affiliation, personal beliefs, or positions on issues people can have meaningful discussions about important issues facing us as a community. That we can disagree, yet listen to each other and consider other points of view. Maybe we can even learn something from each other.

If there was a significant takeaway from the discussion, it was that more unites us than divides us. Anyone can indeed have an honest discussion with people who have differing points of view. Community members can ask questions of former candidates at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and the resulting dialogue may result in a widening of knowledge for everyone involved. Local politics need not be devoid of respect, dignity, and class.  Perhaps most importantly, there are people who want leadership representative of all the citizens of Washington County, and there are people willing to provide that leadership. Engagement, not disengagement, is what will move us forward.

Stay Involved. Keep Showing Up.

By Donna Brightman

The following originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Herald-Mail on November 21.

 

To the editor:

The last several months have been an incredible journey.

While the results of the election did not lend victory to our team, our message resonated all over Washington County — from Hancock to Cascade, from Boonsboro to Smithsburg, from Williamsport to Sharpsburg, from Hagerstown to Sharpsburg and Keedysville in between. The people heard us loud and clear.

We still have a voice and we will use it:

  • We will continue to push for integrity and accountability in local government.
  • We believe in ethics in our local government. We will not accept anything less than full, unabridged transparency.
  • We believe in a safe work environment for county employees, where harassment and bullying are not tolerated.
  • We believe in our small businesses.
  • We will stand by our sisters and brothers in our fire and EMS community.
  • We will champion and showcase our ag community to the rest of Maryland.
  • We will never accept corruption in government as the status quo and we will never concede an injustice. Not now, not ever.

To my family and friends: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I feel the love! To every supporter, volunteer, contributor, and well-wisher: Thank you, sincerely, for inspiring me, for believing in me and for entrusting me to be your voice.

Stay involved. Do not be discouraged. Show up, attend meetings, demand answers from your elected officials and hold them accountable; they answer to you.

Congratulations to the victors in this commissioner race: We trust you will serve with integrity, honor and humility.

Donna L. Brightman

Former candidate for Washington County commissioner

Garretts Mill Road in South County

 

We Must Do Better Than Hyper-Partisan Politics

By John Krowka

The following originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Herald-Mail on November 16.

 

To the editor:

I wish to thank everyone who supported my campaign for Washington County Public Schools’ Board of Education and also thank the nearly 15,000 residents* who voted for me. Many thanks to Simala Wright, my treasurer, adviser and friend. Having an ex-Army sergeant guiding our efforts greatly helped keep us on track. Although we did not win, together we made a difference. We stimulated discussion and awareness. My campaign platform resonated well with residents: smart school spending, preparing students for jobs, community engagement and embracing diversity. I hope that the board members will take heed of my recommendations and I wish them success.

It appears that many voters chose a straight party ticket. Given the history of elections here and the hyper-partisan politics nationally, that’s not surprising. Perhaps in the future, voters can base their decisions more on merit and policies rather than party. About 47 percent of registered voters in Washington County did not vote. We must do better.

I heard frequently that voters felt that the Board of Education lacks vision. Long-term planning is much more effective than just crisis management. Instead of only asking “What do we need to do today?” we need to also ask, “Where do we want to be in five-10-plus years and how can we get there?” Graduation rates and test scores don’t tell us how well WCPS prepares students for achievement and ability to contribute to our community. Schools, community groups, teachers, parents and others are being asked to provide more resources and services for school children. Schools are the engine of workforce development to increase our tax base by attracting new industry and increasing workers’ earning potential. County commissioners and state representatives need to be better advocates for education. We must start working together more effectively for the children. They are the future of Washington County.

 

John Krowka

Boonsboro

*As of the final vote tally, Krowka had received 16,058 votes.