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.