Thursday, February 05, 2009

Special Elections and the Legacy of Marilyn Praisner

It is ironic that the final thoughts of Don Praisner included a recommendation to appoint his successor. That goes against one of the greatest achievements of his predecessor, the great former County Council Member Marilyn Praisner.

Section 106 of Montgomery County’s charter provides that the County Council will appoint new members to fill vacancies. In 1997, Republican County Council Member Betty Ann Krahnke (R-1) called for a charter amendment (Question C) to allow special elections for Council Members. Mrs. Praisner, then in her second term, supported the idea. The voters passed Question C in 1998 by a 190,283-21,615 (90%-10%) vote.

It now fell to the council to draft implementing legislation. The task became urgent as Krahnke was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1998 and was having trouble performing her job by early 1999. Krahnke and Mrs. Praisner then began to draft the special election process. One item of contention was whether to have one election or two (a primary and a general). The Washington Post reported the following on 3/17/99:

Krahnke has argued that primaries should be eliminated in a special election, saving the county as much as $400,000. But a council majority intends to keep the primary because that is the way Montgomery elections have always been staged.

Council President Isiah Leggett (D-At Large) yesterday called the single-ballot system the “David Duke ballot,” after the former Ku Klux Klan official who has done well in Louisiana elections run that way. When a council colleague noted that Duke is not planning to run in Montgomery, Leggett shot back:

“But we have Robin Ficker.”
Mrs. Praisner agreed with Leggett and her implementation bill called for two elections. It passed by a 7-2 vote, with Krahnke and Republican Nancy Dacek (R-2) voting against it. Leggett (who now wants an appointment), freshman Phil Andrews and Mrs. Praisner voted in favor.

In January 2000, Krahnke announced she was leaving the council. Republican Howard Denis then defeated Democratic primary winner Pat Baptiste in the special general election. One of Krahnke’s aides, Joy Nurmi, later became Chief of Staff to both Marilyn and Don Praisner. Montgomery would not go on to have another special election until the 2008 District 4 race.

Mrs. Praisner was the champion of special elections in Montgomery County. She designed the system that operates today. And the concept of special elections was approved by 90% of the county’s electorate. Any call for appointments goes against the legacy of Marilyn Praisner – and the will of the voters.