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.

After the Election

By Greg Murray, Treasurer to the Donna Brightman campaign

What can we say about the election? Well, we knew from the beginning that it would be difficult to get a female Democrat elected to the Board of County Commissioners in Washington County. Even so, the goal was to get the message of change out to the public and help shed light on all the issues that any candidate would need to address. That happened. Washington County is the better for it.

Looking at the vote tallies it’s obvious that the party line carried the day, but what did that say? First, the five Republicans were followed by two female Democrats – Donna Brightman and Elizabeth Paul. Their voices were heard. Second, two new Board members were seated – Cort Meinelschmidt and Randy Wagner. And third, the voters overwhelmingly chose a new president for the Board, with the potential that the vice president will be one of the new members rather than an incumbent (pending final tallies, and of course the new Board must actually elect the new officers). Change carried the day. The voters wanted a different direction on the Board and they got it. Again, this is good for Washington County.

After 40 years as a Republican (I hear many of you groan), I saw in Donna Brightman someone who really understood the need to get the county back on track, and she helped make that happen. The outcome may not have been everything we wanted, but it also was not unexpected. We wanted to make change, and change was made.

Now it is up to the new leadership to carry that change forward for the betterment of Washington County. We support them in that. Hopefully we can put the nonsense aside and truly get back to business.

General Election Endorsements

In keeping with our mission to promote cooperative politics for the benefit of all Washington County residents, Citizens Above Partisanship endorses the following candidates for local offices in the 2018 General Election:

John Krowka for Board of Education

John believes in smart school spending and the need for community engagement in public education. He is a strong advocate for career and technical education, particularly in agriculture. John has a PhD himself but recognizes that career readiness doesn’t always involve a college degree. “In education, one size does not fit all,” John says, and we agree.

Donna Brightman for County Commissioner

Donna has been involved in local government for over a decade, and she knows what it takes to get things done in Washington County. As a member of the Board of Education, Donna advocated for education to benefit all children in Washington County. She has served as President of both the WCBOE and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and can work across differences to move the county forward. Donna’s bipartisan campaign is an outstanding example of what Citizens Above Partisanship stands for.

Cort Meinelschmidt for County Commissioner

A small business owner in the county himself, Cort believes in smart economic development that brings career opportunities, and not just jobs, to Washington County. He is committed to combating the opioid crisis in our county on multiple fronts, beginning with quality education for our children and including cooperation with law enforcement, community organizations, and healthcare professionals. Cort’s nuanced approach to complex issues is one of the reasons we support him.

Elizabeth Paul for County Commissioner

Elizabeth has a long history of bipartisan cooperation, having worked for both Republican and Democratic elected officials at the state and national levels. With roots in rural southern Washington County, she is an steady advocate for the agricultural community as well as our emergency services personnel. Above all, she believes in transparency and ethical leadership, both of which are sorely needed in Washington County government.

 

Upcoming Candidate Forum

Candidate Forum
Monday, May 21
6:30-8:00 p.m.

Room 334
Washington County Free Library
Fletcher Branch
100 S. Potomac Street, Hagerstown

Featuring the candidates CAP is endorsing for
County Commissioner and Board of Education:

Donna Brightman
Scott Bryan
John Krowka
Cort Meinelschmidt
Elizabeth Paul

Everyone welcome!

To submit a question for the candidates to address at the forum, please complete the form below:

Kickoff Celebrates Political Cooperation

Citizens Above Partisanship’s extremely successful Meet the Candidates Kickoff party at Bulls & Bears on Thursday, May 10 was concrete evidence that Washington County is ready for cooperative, nonpartisan government. The event was attended by four of the five candidates CAP is endorsing in the 2018 election and by more than 50 community members and supporters. Attendees enjoyed food, drink, and animated conversation about the future of Washington County. Overheard were discussions of education funding, tax policy, and economic development, as well as spirited debate about candidates for statewide office. These conversations were certainly energetic, but they were also mutually respectful, with an eye toward how to best serve the common good.

Each candidate addressed the crowd briefly, talking about their support for CAP’s mission of nonpartisan cooperation and about their individual campaign objectives. John Krowka, candidate for Board of Education, led off by talking about smart school spending, career readiness that doesn’t always involve a college degree, the need for community engagement, and the fact that “one size does not fit all” in education.

The crowd then heard from the candidates CAP is endorsing for County Commissioner. These candidates span the political spectrum, but while they spoke from different perspectives they voiced similar concerns. Donna Brightman asked the crowd to redirect the frustration they might be feeling about politics at the national level into meaningful action at the local level. Scott Bryan emphasized the importance of mutual trust between a community and its leaders. Cort Meinelschmidt talked about the need for a budget that meets the needs of all citizens, and praised Krowka for his emphasis on education that serves all students. Although Elizabeth Paul was unable to be at the Kickoff, a campaign representative spoke on her behalf about her commitment to ethical leadership and responsible governance.

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The breadth of support for CAP’s mission was further evident in the wide range of donations to the silent auction that took place at the Kickoff. From Fountain Head Country Club to Talon Studio Tattoo and with many, many others in between, small businesses all over the county clearly understand the necessity of cooperative government in Washington County. Other business donors included:

CAP is deeply grateful to all these businesses, as well as to the individual artists and collectors who also donated to the auction, and of course to everyone who came out to the Kickoff to support our candidates and our mission. Democracy takes work. It’s good to know that we can have fun at the same time!

 

CAP Announces Endorsements

Citizens Above Partisanship met Monday night to vote on endorsements in the races for Washington County Commissioner and Board of Education. After spirited discussion, members voted to endorse five candidates for County Commissioner:

In addition, CAP endorses John Krowka for the nonpartisan Board of Education.

In keeping with its nonpartisan mission, CAP’s County Commissioner endorsements include three Democrats and two Republicans. All are passionate about working across political differences for the good of all Washington County residents and are committed to CAP’s three priorities: education, the economy, and ethics.

Watch this space for candidate profiles in the coming weeks, and be sure to get your ticket to meet them in person at our Meet the Candidates event on May 10.

Update May 3: We are saddened to learn that Harry Jones has had to withdraw from the race.

 

Mullendore Speaks on Opioid Epidemic

Monday night’s CAP meeting was attended by about 20 CAP members and by four candidates for office in the 2018 election: Donna Brightman, candidate for County Commissioner; Kevin Caldwell, candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District; John Krowka, candidate for Board of Education; and Bernard Semler, candidate for Washington County State’s Attorney. Caldwell and Semler both addressed the group briefly and informally, speaking of their support for CAP’s nonpartisan mission. Brightman and Krowka did not speak, as they are running for offices CAP will be endorsing. Board of County Commissioners and Board of Education candidates will have the opportunity to seek CAP’s endorsement in the coming weeks, at which point candidates who support our purpose and mission will be invited to address the group at a future meeting.

The meeting’s featured guest speaker was Sheriff Doug Mullendore. The sheriff spoke extensively about the opioid epidemic in Washington County and about what is being done – and what more could be done – to combat it. A 40-year veteran of local law enforcement, Mullendore believes strongly that the county can reduce crime by reducing addiction. Many crimes related to addiction, he said, are “not so much a criminal offense as a medical offense.”

According to Mullendore, it is “absolutely not correct” that people who are addicted have made a choice to become addicts. Because of this understanding, in 2010 he requested funding from the Board of County Commissioners to start a Day Reporting Center in Hagerstown. Day Reporting Centers have been well-documented as extremely successful interventions in the fight against addiction and related crime. The commissioners denied Mullendore’s request, that year and every year for the next five years. Then, in 2016, the Governor’s Opioid Task Force visited Hagerstown and recommended Day Reporting in its resulting report. In October 2016, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Day Reporting Center was launched with a $540,000 seed grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The Center has been tremendously successful in reducing crime, recidivism, and fatal overdoses in the county. But, Mullendore said, it’s not enough. Washington County needs a detox center and an in-patient substance abuse treatment facility for non-offenders. As it stands now, people seeking treatment in Washington County must often wait days for a spot in a treatment program out of county, during which time they may change their minds, or overdose. A person seeking treatment “should never have to wait for a spot,” Mullendore said, adding that the lack of in-county treatment “costs us all, both economically and socially.”

Many thanks to Sheriff Mullendore for helping us understand more about how this national crisis is affecting us locally. The ongoing failure of the Board of County Commissioners to address the opioid epidemic in our county is an abdication of responsibility bordering on negligence. This is an issue CAP will address in our upcoming interviews with candidates for County Commissioner in the hope of electing candidates who will do something about it.