Clayton Mitchell: Turnabout is Fair Play

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By Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr., Esquire

We Queen Anne’s County Democrats now have everything we asked for. All our priorities are sufficiently funded thanks in large part to two Special Session tax increases – one in late 2007 and the other just last week. In 2011, parents effectively lobbied the Republican Queen Anne’s County Commissioners and succeeded in persuading them to significantly raise local property and income taxes. Draconian cuts to the public school system were not implemented. All seems right with the world.

But it only “seems” that way.

The reaction to my latest article, “The Conservative Doomsday Masquerade”, published a few days prior to the Special Session, was huge. As one can imagine, the response was mostly from my local conservative friends. The article, however, was not the only publication that ignited their ire.

During the same week, the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners mailed a letter to local households that fully described the county’s budget and finances. The five Republican commissioners avowed that they would not raise property taxes “this year”. The letter, however, seemingly hedged all bets for the future, explaining that there were budgetary issues yet to be resolved in Annapolis that could negatively impact the county’s finances. The letter patently left the door open for another tax increase before the end of the commissioners’ current terms.

My conservative friends are furious. And in all honesty they have every right.

In the 2010 general election, the Queen Anne’s County Democratic Party’s candidates were not merely defeated at the polls – they were shellacked, losing every local office except the Register of Wills by large margins. The electoral conservative tidal wave swept Blue Dog Democrat Frank Kratovil from office even though he had his Republican predecessor’s support.

The Queen Anne’s County conservative voters earned vindication and rightfully netted a mandate to reform and materially cut the size and scope of the county’s entire government – including the public school system. Consequently, they also had a reasonable expectation that the fruits of their victory would include future property tax cuts. However, the post-election celebration was short lived. In fact, there wasn’t even a honeymoon period.

Within six months after being sworn into office, the five Republican County Commissioners betrayed their base by unanimously voting to increase taxes. In light of the election results, Republican voters reacted with rage. The message I received after my previous article was loud and clear - that although the Republican commissioners believe they have a valid excuse to raise taxes once again during their term, they will do so only in the face of the wrath of their base constituents. Local conservative groups are highly organized and they do not plan on having their voices vanquished.

I have no comforting message for my local party’s members. In fact, I assert that Queen Anne’s County Democrats have no basis to complain if there are severe cuts to the county’s budget over the next several years. You see, as a part of the 2012 Special Session plan to balance the State budget, our party voted to begin shifting teacher pension costs from the State back to local governments. Already faced with a tight budget, a bleak fiscal outlook, and anticipating an all-out conservative lobbying campaign, the Republican commissioners will be loath to “go back to the well” to increase revenues.

These local Republican representatives – contrary to their political instincts and campaign promises - have considerably raised taxes once. It is folly for any local Democrat to believe that the duly elected commission will turn their backs on their base a second time. In this instance, it is our party who inflicted this localized fiscal wound.

My last article ended with the following paragraph:

If there is to be any credibility with the conservative criticism of Governor O’Malley, it can only come after the Republican-controlled local governments have fully implemented their own Doomsday Budgets – without asking for State aid from the Democrats in Annapolis. Who doubts this will not happen?

This past week my conservative friends let me know that they are calling my bluff. They plan on asserting their considerable focused political power to reaffirm their vision for a fully-implemented austere local government. A Democrat who expects Republicans to always vote like a liberal does not understand the consequences of elections. The Republicans have learned this painful lesson on the State level; Queen Anne’s County Democrats must learn it on the local level.

Turnabout is fair play … and the 2014 campaign begins.

Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr. is an attorney in Stevensville and regular contributor to Center Maryland.
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