For all the throw-the-bums-out fever and emergence of anti-establishment candidates, the upcoming primary election in Maryland offers very few hotly contested races and an even smaller number of threatened incumbents. That is, unless one heads west on Interstate 70 and into Washington County.
In the state’s Second District, one of Maryland’s most scenic -and historic – settings, there lurks a campaign for the State Senate that features more “hard knocks” than the HBO series of the same name.
The rivals – veteran State Delegate Christopher B. Shank and incumbent State Senator Donald Munson – have been trading digs since January’s General Assembly session, when Shank questioned the senator’s “thumbs-up” voting record when it comes to the state budget.
In fact, Munson’s voting record is what resonates with increasing volume among Shank supporters. Those in the delegate’s camp will quickly tell you that the sitting senator has voted with the majority Democrats nearly 50-percent of the time, and swiftly point to the support Munson receives from high-profile democrats such as Ulysses Currie (D – Prince George’s) and Senate President Mike Miller (D – Prince George’s/Calvert).
In this election year, when it is perceived that a candidate is ‘not left enough’ for progressives or ‘not right enough’ for conservatives, those perceptions could potentially fracture the voter base.
In Red State parlance, ‘not right enough’ translates as RINO (Republican in Name Only), and more than a few Washington County republicans have saddled Munson with that moniker.
Munson, detractors insist, is Maryland’s version of Arlen Specter; an elephant in donkey clothing that has sold his soul in Annapolis in return for backyard pork that has done very little to help the economy of Washington County.
According to a recent article in The Baltimore Sun, Washington County is one of the areas hardest hit by the recent economic downturn. In June, on the heels of both Northrup Grumman and Kongsberg Automotive announcing they were closing their doors, the unemployment rate for the county stood at 10-percent – three-percent higher than the state average.
If the economy is the top talking point for the 2010 elections, discussion of the immigration law is close behind.
CASA de Maryland, an immigrant services organization, has come under fire recently for the use of state tax dollars that Delegate Shank says, “aids and abets illegal immigrants and actively works to undermine agencies that enforce federal immigration law.”
Senator Munson, conservatives point out, voted for the funding ($1 million) that went to CASA as part of the 2009 Budget Bill. Munson, claiming he was voting on the budget bill as a whole, told Hagerstown’s Herald-Mail that had the CASA funding been separate he would have voted against it.
Munson’s statement, however, came back to haunt him when it was disclosed that the senator, in a separate vote on a floor amendment, voted against striking the $1 million for CASA. Munson was the only Republican to vote against the amendment that was offered by Senator Andy Harris (R – Baltimore County/Harford).
Munson, quoted in the Herald-Mail article, said he is against illegal immigration, and accuses Shank of doublespeak given the delegate has also voted affirmative on budgets that included funding for CASA.
Shank told the Herald-Mail those votes were for the entire capital budget, which he also noted funded – among other projects – schools, hospitals and prisons, and said his criticism of Munson stems from the senator’s vote on the Harris floor amendment.
Munson, intent on giving Washington County conservatives more fuel for their fed-up-with-government fire, then wrote the newspaper a letter “clarifying” his position on CASA, and proceeded to claim his vote was simply to help renovate a “real Maryland treasure,” the Langley Park Mansion – the site of CASA de Maryland’s Multicultural Center.
“I just screwed up,” Munson said, referring to his vote on the Harris amendment.
It is those screw-ups that have raised the ire of Washington County Republicans, and that anger has apparently outgrown the borders of the Second District.
This week, the anti-Munson oratory was elevated an octave when a number of had-enough-voters started a letter writing campaign urging Maryland GOP chairwoman Audrey Scott to seek Munson’s resignation from the Republican Party.
David “Augie” Aughenbaugh, a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, sent one of the more notable correspondences. Aughenbaugh wrote that Munson had “lost his way,” and called on the chair and GOP officials to “expose the ‘self preservation’ of some [Munson] at the expense of ‘values and principals’ of others.”
Thus far, Ms. Scott has avoided the fray, and did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Audrey Scott isn’t the only high-ranking Republican side-stepping this political family scrum. When Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich visited the county in July he gracefully avoided officially endorsing either candidate – unless one is shrewd enough to read between the lines.
“I’ve worked with both, obviously, over many years,” the former governor said. “I served in the legislature with Don and have great respect for him. Chris is one of the hot young stars in the Republican Party. We’ll let the people of Washington County decide this race, but clearly Don has his view concerning what the job should look like and it’s more of an accommodation view, if you will, with Mike Miller and the Democrats.
“Chris has a more aggressive view concerning standing firm on some principles and establishing that comparison and contrast between what he views where the Republicans should be, as opposed to Mike Miller and the Democrats.”
Makes one think that a debate on the Antietam battlefield would be quite apropos.