By Ed Okonowicz
You know it’s going to be a hot political season when crowds of voters start showing up very early in an election year. On the evening of February 3, a packed room of more than 150 persons attended the “2010 Congressional Candidate Forum” for Maryland’s First Congressional District, held at the Perryville American Legion Hall.
This well-organized event was sponsored by Cecil County Patriots, a local group loosely associated with the national grassroots Tea Party movement. The newly formed, non-partisan organization conducted the forum as part of its effort to promote information about local and statewide political issues, and inform the voting public of candidates’ positions on important issues.
Responding to questions presented by moderator Nick Cusmano, a member of Cecil County Patriots, was State Senator and Dr. Andy Harris, Republican candidate from Cokeysville, Md.; Jack N. Wilson, Sr., Independent candidate from Arnold, Md.; and Dr. Richard Davis, Libertarian candidate from Hurlock, Md. Missing from the list of distinguished speakers was current U.S. Congressman Frank Kratovil (Democrat), who declined to attend, explaining he had to remain in Washington to vote.
Certainly, the positive responses by members of the audience to all of the candidates’ remarks throughout the evening left no question that the speakers and voters were in favor of smaller government, stronger immigration enforcement and tighter border security. They also agreed on less environmental and educational control by the federal government, a new, start-from-scratch attempt at health care reform and strict fiscal discipline, involving spending cuts, dramatically reducing the federal deficit and serous action to get the federal budget under control and balanced.
As expected Dr. Davis, who operates a private dental practice, shared the Libertarian view that the federal government’s role in state and individual affairs should be limited to national defense and disputes between the states.
Senator Harris suggested that members of Congress work “part-time,” thereby reducing their year-round presence in Washington, D.C., forcing them to spend half the year living among their constituents. This was probably the most novel, and sensible, new idea of the evening.
Mr. Wilson, a semi-retired businessman, was the most entertaining of the three candidates, responding to the litany of questions with a mix of humor and common sense approaches. Despite the early evening instructions that the audience should refrain from applause, Wilson’s twenty-minute segment was interrupted often by audience laughter and clapping—prompted by his straightforward and rapid replies.
The organizers included a questionnaire in each program. Before leaving, members of the audience were asked to provide their thoughts on: their most important issues (from spending to health care, from the environment to fiscal policies), whether anything was learned during the evening, and who was the “winner” of the debate.
As I looked around the hall, at the wide range of genuinely interested citizens—representing ages from late teens to working parents to retirees—I decided the winners were really those seated in the audience, even more than the three men who had appeared on stage.
Some may think it’s a long time from February to November’s Election Day. But today’s interested voters are eager and interested to have their say. They don’t pull the big levers anymore, following the party line. They’re thinkers and independent and angry—and they expect answers, especially when they come out to evaluate what those applying to work for them have to say.
Following the unbelievable “Massachusetts Miracle,” and Democratic candidates turning down campaign appearance offers from the one-termer in the White House, could leftist Maryland start to turn from blue to purple to red? Hang on, this should be a whirlwind of an election year.
Note: For more information about the Cecil County Patriots, visit the web site: http://cecilcountypatriots.com/ / The group’s next monthly meeting is Wednesday, February 10, from 7-8:30 p.m., at the Chesapeake City VFW Post.