We Can’t Tell Them Apart

By Adam Pagnucco.

On Saturday, your author attended a forum for the two Senate candidates and eight House candidates running in District 18.  (These are the sad things we do after football season is over!)  What did we learn?

Not a whole lot.

You see, while MoCo has plenty of demographic, cultural and economic diversity, it has little political diversity – at least among those who run for office.  Take the candidates on stage.  Yes, there are demographic differences – two are African American men and five are women.  Yes, there are differences in life and professional experience.  They include a former teacher, a former doctor, a non-profit executive, two incumbent Delegates, a Town Council Member and more.  But on issues?

Let’s see.  They all support public education.  They all want more transportation options, especially those involving transit, walking and biking.  They all want more abundant and affordable health care coverage.  They are all pro-environment.  They are all pro-immigrant.  They all oppose Trumpism.  They all pledged to run positive campaigns.  (Can you imagine if any of them did not??)  They all… well, you get the idea.

There is more political diversity in every barroom, every Thanksgiving dinner and every long line at the grocery store than at a MoCo candidate forum!

The District 18 forum at Newport Mill Middle School.  Photo by Council At-Large candidate Evan Glass.

Let’s be restrained in our expectations: no one “wins” these forums.  The candidates’ objectives are to show that they are informed and competent, that they are in line with the values of folks in the room, and that they are not banana cakes.  Upon demonstrating minimum suitability, they then meet some activists who bring up micro-issues they have never heard of while they smile pleasantly and try to avoid checking their phones.

How do candidates stand out?  There are dozens and dozens of them on the ballot – thirty in the Council At-Large race alone.  The volume of mail about to descend on the county could clear a tropical rain forest.  Is bio and life experience enough?  Will anyone ace all the endorsements (aside from the incumbents)?  Will anyone be able to outspend the others?  That may be unlikely for a race dominated by public financing, as the Council At-Large race is, in which many candidates will be raising similar amounts.  Will any candidate dare to be different when political conformity is expected and few wish to deviate from the norm?

As for issues, here are a few questions that will draw out differences between candidates.  Moderators should keep them in mind for forums so that attendees will win the struggle to stay awake.

Do you support rent control?

Should the county and/or state governments require project labor agreements on construction projects providing for union representation of all craft workers?

Should the private sector be permitted to compete with the county’s liquor monopoly?

Should master plans require infrastructure to be built as a condition of allowing new development?

Do you support tuition-free public college for everyone?

Should the county build M-83, the Upcounty highway from Montgomery Village to Clarksburg?

Should existing traffic lanes be set aside as dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit?

Should a non-partisan commission draw Congressional and legislative district lines even if it means giving more seats to Republicans?  (Just watch the incumbent state legislators squirm on this one!)

Under what circumstances should taxes be raised?

How did you serve the community before you started running for office?

Please moderators – puh-leeeeeeeze – try to draw out some differences between our candidates.  Because heaven help us, for so many of them, we can’t tell them apart.