Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Classiest Race in MoCo

This blog has covered with some amount of hand-rubbing glee the political cat-fights of MoCo. Consider Saqib Ali’s repeated broadsides against Nancy King. Or Ilaya Hopkins’s negative emails against Roger Berliner. Or the increasing edginess in the District 19 Senate race. Or… well, look at most of the close races going on in the county. Perhaps these tactics are justified and perhaps not. (They sure give us lots of material!) But it is time to recognize the two women who have given us the classiest race in MoCo:

Senator Jennie Forehand and former Delegate Cheryl Kagan.

Jennie Forehand may be the county’s least pretentious politician. She is humble, gracious, soft-spoken and polite without fail. We have never heard her raise her voice in public. Her courtly manner recalls a distant time when politicians acted like servants of the public rather than ego-driven attack dogs. Forehand’s low-key demeanor may not always work well in the Senate, which is controlled by Machiavellian taskmaster Mike “Big Daddy” Miller. But it does lend a cordial atmosphere to Forehand’s public appearances and dealings with constituents that have earned her many loyal supporters over the years. Younger candidates should heed Forehand’s example: dignity can still pay dividends in politics.

Cheryl Kagan is known as a hard-driving candidate who occasionally had sharp elbows during her time in Annapolis. (Just ask Maryland State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone, whom Kagan hounded over software and voting machine issues for years.) Kagan has certainly worked VERY hard over the last year, but she has always put her best face forward. The truth is that she was born to campaign, with a million-dollar smile, crisp delivery, boundless enthusiasm and an uncanny ability to work a room. Kagan is in a one-on-one race against an incumbent, and your author would normally hold that a challenger in such circumstances needs to articulate the incumbent’s firing offense. But Kagan has drawn a contrast with Forehand in a rather indirect way, discussing the need for a “champion” in Annapolis rather than openly attacking Forehand. This strategy may be a product of necessity as nobody likes someone who beats up Grandma. And Kagan has been a sporting opponent, even including Forehand’s opening statements in her debate videos.

Why have Forehand and Kagan stayed above board? Perhaps it is in their mutual interest not to fight. Perhaps the district is not conducive to it and would punish anyone who went negative. The two women do not lack for competitiveness because both want to win badly. But whatever the reason, both candidates have mostly kept the peace.

If every race were as respectful as this one, bloggers would have little to write about. But constituents would be well served by a politics of civility, dialogue and constructive engagement. That’s a tradeoff that even your pot-stirring author would take.