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 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.