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.

Washington County’s Ethics Fail

It was with disappointment, if not surprise, that we read the findings of the county Ethics Commission released late last week.

Where to begin? With the leaking of a document clearly classified as confidential by the county’s own Harassment Policy? With the decision that said leak was not unethical because it was not for “private gain,” a caveat that is nowhere mentioned in the policy itself? Perhaps with the twin decision that misleading the public by selectively leaking incomplete information is also perfectly ethical, for the same reason. Maybe we should begin with the county’s Ethics Ordinance, which deals almost exclusively with financial disclosure. Or with the murky Ethics Commission itself, appointed by the very commissioners it was charged to investigate. Apparently the entirety of Washington County government believes that nothing is unethical unless it leads to personal financial gain. As they say, foll­­­­­ow the money.

In any case, clearly nobody wants to begin where it actually began, with the allegations of gross misconduct brought against Commissioner LeRoy Myers. Oh, a powerful man made unwanted sexual advances toward a subordinate woman? Yawn. Nothing unethical about that.

Aristotle conceived of ethical behavior as the “good action” which is necessary for living a virtuous life. Ethical judgements are complex. We get that. Nevertheless, by any measure save their own, the Board of County Commissioners is an ethical failure.

Citizens Above Partisanship’s statement of priorities calls ethical considerations “the highest, philosophical level of our democracy;” the one that guides all our other priorities. “Ethics are a manifestation of our common values and our commitment to shared humanity,” the statement goes on. The necessity of doing the difficult, messy work of making local government reflect those values and commitment has never been more evident.

We call on the Board of County Commissioners to establish a robust, confidential reporting structure for ethics violations and a meaningfully independent Ethics Commission to handle such reports. If the current Board is unable or unwilling to do so, then we call on them to step aside for candidates who will. Good government presupposes selfless commitment to a common good. If our current commissioners cannot concretely demonstrate that they have that commitment, then we will elect commissioners who can.

 

Healthy Democracy

We introduced ourselves to Washington County in a letter to the Herald Mail on October 14. You can read it here. Or you can read the unedited version:

One day not long after the most recent presidential inauguration, two friends bumped into each other at the grocery store. Over the apples, they talked of their shared despair at the state of political discourse in our country, and of their shared desire to do something – anything, really – to raise the level of that discourse. Raising it at the national level seemed an impossible task, but perhaps something could be done to raise it here at home, in Washington County. There was a time in the not-too-distant past that they both remembered fondly, when people of all political stripes would work together to make our county a pleasant place for everyone who lives here. They looked at the current state of county and municipal governments and no longer saw that cooperation across differences, and they wondered if they could bring it back.

They went home and called a few friends who they knew shared these concerns. These friends were themselves from all over the political spectrum, but they shared a desire to see rationality and civility return to politics. The friends were interested.

So one night in March, they all got together for a glass of wine and a chat. There were over a dozen of them. They talked about how best to achieve this goal of rationality and civility in politics, and they agreed that something more than wine and chatting (pleasant though that is) was called for. Something organized. An organization.

Over the next six months, they met monthly, rotating among the homes of the members. New people joined the group, friends and neighbors who had heard about the work the new organization was planning and wanted to be part of it. By August, the group numbered about 50, and it had a name: Citizens Above Partisanship. In early September, it became a registered political action committee with the State of Maryland.

Citizens Above Partisanship (CAP) is a diverse, nonpartisan, grassroots coalition of Washington County residents who are committed to working across political differences to do the difficult, messy work necessary to support a healthy democracy that serves the needs of all its members.

We value civility, collaboration, and compromise.

We prioritize ethics, education, and the economy.

We believe in facts and the unbiased interpretation of facts.

We believe that rational people can disagree rationally, and that such disagreement is a necessary part of a participatory democracy.

We believe that people are individuals and should be treated as such.

We insist on real conversation about real issues and reject antagonism and posturing from all perspectives.

We strive to listen to what people are actually saying, rather than hearing what we expect them to say.

We work together to identify obstacles to political cooperation in Washington County and remove them.

We provide opportunities for rational people from all viewpoints to work together in pursuit of policies and practices in line with our values and beliefs.

We support qualified candidates for local office who support those values and beliefs, both in their campaigns and in their work once elected.

And we act as a watchdog to call out threats to and breaches of those values and beliefs.

Democracy takes work. Will you join us?