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Alternate title: The thinking voter’s guide to selecting their next Council Member (or Executive?)

Different ‘pitches’ appeal to different voters—but here is what does and does not appeal to me personally. Perhaps my sharing will help candidates adjust their message in the closing days before the primary. Perhaps it will also help voters better evaluate their candidates.

Absolute requirement:  Keep it local, local, local and in the Here and Now. You are not running for US Congress or Governor NOW, even if that is your ambition or ultimate goal. Running for office is equivalent to interviewing for a job. Match your pitch to the job for which you are applying NOW not the one you hope for 8 or 12 years from now.

Skip the National Party Platform Platitudes. Discard the national talking points which don’t relate to your powers in the office you are seeking. Educated voters are well aware that a County Council member has no more jurisdiction over funding of women’s healthcare decisions than they do over national defense spending! And please, can we just leave hate out of this?

I have no doubt you all support world peace, the end of world hunger and homelessness– but what specific ideas do you have to assure quality schools without bankrupting us, adequate public facilities before more growth, and leaving some open space in Howard County?  And lest we forget—generally protecting the health and safety of residents?

I apologize for providing some advice that sounds like a cliché, yet some old adages are very appropriate:

*Talk is cheap.  (especially if you are parroting, rather than choosing you own words based on experience and interactions with the electorate)

*Actions speak louder than words. As a candidate what efforts have you already made to date as a citizen to further those causes you espouse? Did you submit letters or testimony? Participate in a community or cause-based group?

*Half the battle is just showing up (but only half!) I’ve been scanning the Council Chambers since January for which candidates are present—and engaged. If I’ve never or rarely seen you testify at Council meetings or the Planning Board or the Zoning Board or attend a work session, I’m not going to have a lot of faith in your ability to formulate and evaluate legislation, communicate specific arguments and ideas, listen and judge opposing arguments.

*Where have you been all my life? Why have I never heard of you or seen you participating prior to this campaign cycle?

Don’t go overboard telling me about your endorsements. Frankly I get suspicious if the bulk of your endorsements are simply different local branches of your own political party group or the support of your Central Committee. I’m voting for individual people, not the party line. I distrust “the machine.”

I’m also suspicious of union endorsements. As a public school educator for 18 years I learned not to just accept the endorsements of my teacher’s union after realizing candidates were always picked from a single political party and reflected the opinions of “the union leadership,” not the rank and file educator who may strongly disagree and resent their dues being spent on political campaigns rather than improving working conditions. I have no reason to believe this is any different among the unions for the police, fire department, etc.

I also don’t blindly vote from other organizations’ list of endorsed candidates. For all the public knows, their selected candidate could be only from responses received by a certain deadline, rather than from the entire field.

A quick list of additional things which don’t impress or sway me:

  • having animated, glitzy features on your website
  • the number of ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ or ‘followers’ on your Facebook page
  • populating your website, Facebook page, or mailers with pictures of your new baby, children, or pets.
  • filling your website or Facebook page with inspirational quotes, etc. rather than specifics on your positions and IDEAS
  • how long you’ve lived in Howard County
  • which HCPSS schools you or your children attended
  • whether you’re a new parent or a single parent (Caution: this could prompt one to ponder whether you’ll be abandoning that child, or your elected duties when trying to juggle both)
  • previous commissions, boards, or task forces you’ve served on (unless you’re able to define exactly what the positive outcome of that service was. If your appointment resulted in a report placed on a shelf never to be read again, it’s not that impressive.)

Let me be clear, I want you working for ME-– not the party, not the union, not a special interest group (whether it’s gender or racially based, or artists, cyclists, or developers). How can you convince me of that in words and deeds?

Voters may ask, “Where can a citizen find meaningful, unbiased information on candidates?” Obviously one can’t stop with just the candidate’s on-line or print presence. Look in the following places and report back:

Campaign Finance reports. Who are they accepting donations from? Does it include Developers? Are there a lot of out-of-county donors? Who’s donating the maximum allowed? Are they totally self-financing? Does their rate of spending show a lack of fiscal responsibility?

  • Reviewing videos of Council meetings at or testimony submissions at will clarify/quantify Current Participation in County Processes. Are they frequently seen at Council hearings? work sessions? planning board sessions? local community meetings? DPZ/Clarion Development Regulation Assessment meetings?  Have they ever testified on any of my top issues or what is most relevant in your district, like: adequate public facilities (APFO), the budget, Industrial mulching, the downtown TIF, route one revitalization, affordable housing, special taxing district for 1000-unit development at North Laurel Station, others.

Whether or not they have testified publicly, have they published their opinions on these hard-fought issues in blogs or position papers? Can one readily tell where they stand? Do they demonstrate an ability to analyze complex and financial information to support a decision? Do they demonstrate the ability to analyze budgetary concerns?  Or is ‘the Party’ running their campaign and advising them to just remain silent on issues since the Party will tell them how to vote once elected?

This is clearly more work than most individuals would consider. But let’s share the load. I’d love to see folks in each of our five districts share factual “Comprehensive Candidate Comparisons” to aid fellow citizens in making intelligent, thoughtful choices based on what is most important to them. I’m attaching a sample blank spreadsheet to assist with some uniformity—and invite your submissions for publication here at How Come?  For now, let’s limit our efforts to primary races where there are multiple candidates within a Party.

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Being an INFORMED voter is far more important than being an EARLY voter—take time to know as much as you can about each candidate—and meet me on the high road,