I attended a candidates’ forum on Sunday, October 9th at the Avalon Theater in Easton. It was sponsored by the TALBOT SPY. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the County Council race, but I learned interesting things at the Forum.
- It is vitally important to get experienced moderators at political forums. Even though the moderator, who was a former member of the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations, was obviously a well-connected, well-spoken man, he was not a good moderator. He seemed totally clueless or indifferent to the many topics that needed to be covered in the forum. He only asked about one or two issues. He said in the beginning that he had chosen the questions and the order. That would be fine if he actually covered a variety of topics and limited candidates to their time constraints, but he didn’t. This led to long rambling responses from some candidates that didn’t answer anything.
- If you tell the audience NOT to do something, then you must make sure they follow your directions. The moderator told people not to respond after each candidate’s response, but they did anyway. In a highly partisan crowd, this led to some very disruptive and ugly responses from members of the audience. All while the moderator and sponsor gave lip service to civility. Not a good look.
- If you claim to be non-partisan, then make sure you are actually non-partisan. Quite honestly, knowing the Talbot Spy and its political leanings I predicted that the forum would be highly partisan, and it was.
- Require candidates follow the time constraints on answers. This was clearly not done as some candidates repeatedly when beyond their time limits despite having a clock in the back of the theater.
Those were organizational issues. Here’s what I learned about candidates:
- Scott Kane has no business running for Talbot County Council. From his first answer to his last, it was clear that Scott, former Mayor of Chevy Chase and the owner of the Solar Lane Company since 2012, has no clue or connection to the realities facing people of the Eastern Shore. He has not lived here that long. I’m sure his green energy agenda with his proposal to have ” a solar panel on every roof” and everyone in Talbot County driving an electric car might play well in deep blue Montgomery County, but it doesn’t here. It also seems to be a huge conflict of interest. That along with the many incorrect statements regarding books that have been banned and who is in charge of our schools shows him to be out of touch with our community. This makes sense since he feels the County Council has “no place in the public schools.” I guess he doesn’t know they approve the public-school budget.
- Michelle Dappert I’ve met and talked to Michelle. She graduated with my daughter. She seems like a nice girl. But her disdain for people who disagree with her would not be productive on a council that represents everyone in Talbot County, not just the people she agrees with. She was dismissive and snarky about many of the people in the room and several running for office. Michelle’s status is as a self-proclaimed “activist.” It’s clear by her comments and expressions that if you don’t agree with her, she doesn’t respect you. I chalk this up to her being in her 30’s and lacking life experience and humility. From her postering over DEI and planning to hire companies that fit her “DEI” agenda to her claim that she was instrumental in bringing computers to Talbot County Public Schools classrooms, it’s clear that she has a far-left agenda that she will promote regardless of what is best for the county. Especially when it comes to budgeting. While I am all for youth in government, it needs to be someone who doesn’t think she knows it all. Based on her giggling and scoffing at the opinions of others, Michelle not only thinks she knows it all, but she also thinks others know nothing.
- On the other side of the age spectrum are David Montgomery and Lynn Mielke. David, who is a lifetime D.C. bureaucrat, is obsessed with one issue, the Talbot Boys Monument that he visits in Virginia. He focuses on this while ignoring the problems that impact the lives of real people here in Talbot County; people who live outside his exclusive elite self-proclaimed intellectual followers. Interesting that as soon as he was endorsed by the Talbot Integrity Project, he began pandering to them claiming that despite their Democrat leanings, he would use them because ” the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” David has no vision for the county beyond a hunk of metal in Virginia. Lynn Mielke, who is a former defense attorney, offers solutions for the county such as creating various cumbersome committees to oversee the schools and almost everything else. This is something we already have in the Talbot Board of Education, County Council, and Town Governments. It’s also the philosophy that has grown out of control National, State and Local governments. Her opposition for big box stores was clear, but her only answer for that was generic economic support for local businesses and distance work. As another TIP endorsed candidate, she closed with a statement to appease them. Both are token Republicans put forth by the TIP because they are extremely weak and will only pull votes from strong Republicans and Conservative Democrats. And they, like the TIP, don’t seem to understand that towns have control over development in their town limits, not the county. Neither should be anywhere near our County Council.
- Phil Jackson is clearly appealing to the Teachers’ Union and the schools. Of course, his wife is running for re-election to the school board so that could be part of the reason he said his kids all come home “well educated and well fed” each day. Well gee, Phil, do you think that might be because no one in the system wants to upset their mother who is on the school board. Or maybe because of what you claimed at a recent environmental forum, your “privilege”? Another statement that his mom was a teacher and he would never dare to question what she taught in her classroom is a clear swipe at parents who believe they have a right to question what their children learn in the PUBLIC, taxpayer supported schools. As a teacher of thirty years, I always felt like parents had that right and responsibility to ask questions and it wasn’t an insult to me or any other teacher. Unlike Phil, I knew I was an expert at teaching, but I also knew that parents were experts on their own children. They know their own children better than any teacher ever could. He said the county schools are doing “an excellent job” which indicates he hasn’t paid attention to recent test data or what MANY teachers and parents are saying. If Phil wants to be on the County Council, he should take off his union-colored glasses. Of course, he is fully on board with Dan Watson and his TIP friends.
- Keisha Haythe was one of the candidates who actually connected with people in the audience. Her answers were focused and stayed on point. In fact, it seems to me that she has much more to offer than she was allowed to share. A candidate who has lived in Talbot County her entire lives, Haythe has experience in both the private small business and the non-profit arenas. Her non-profit organization HOPE helps young women prepare to compete in the workforce successfully. While some of the candidates were focused on splinter issues, Keisha was very clear about the point of economic development as job creation so our young people will be able to compete after High School and stay here to develop careers and establish families. That’s why she is focused on retaining existing businesses, farms, and watermen in our county. One comment she made that hit home was, “When my home caught on fire, the firemen and police that came didn’t ask me what party I was in. People are the fabric of Talbot County.” She is a refreshing, non-elitist voice who pledged to be partners with citizens.
- Dave Stepp was a candidate that the organizers of this forum obviously wanted to muzzle. Not only was he placed on the end of the stage in a corner, but he was also virtually ignored by the moderator. Nonetheless, he did his best to get out his message of supporting and promoting small businesses, supporting law enforcement, monitoring safety and strengthening academics in our schools rather than curricula that support division. He spoke about listening to parents and to teachers. Dave’s summary comment was that God gave him one mouth and two ears so he could listen more than speak. He promised to listen to the community, something a few of the other candidates might want to try. He spoke well in a difficult situation.
I separated the incumbents in the forum because both of them, Chuck Callahan and Pete Lesher, were the only participants who could address what has happened in this county since they have both been on the Council. Chuck talked about all of the issues that must be decided that are not publicized. He did emphasize, correctly, that development in various towns in the county are under the jurisdiction of those towns. This clearly shows that the Lakeside issue is not one that should decide the makeup of the Council, regardless of any groups saying otherwise. This is not a single issue despite the efforts of the TIP. To say it so is dangerous. If we elect council members who are only focused on the Lakeside Development, other issues will be ignored.
Chuck talked about the new Sheriff’s office and Health Department approved by the current council as well as the $60 million dollars given to the public schools in the past year and the upcoming renovation of a county school.
Lesher focused on broadband access, clean water, and infrastructure to prevent flooding. He also talked about the effect of inflation on the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future spending, and possible tax increases that may occur because of it.
Based on the forum, the citizens of Talbot County have a huge decision in front of them. While the development in Trappe is of consequence to the citizens of Trappe, to base an election for a County Council on that issue is foolish. It’s also important that citizens look at whether or not the candidate they choose will represent all of the citizens or just special interest groups such as the Teachers’ Union and the TIP ( Talbot Integrity Project). It’s also important to make sure that we have members who will listen to all citizens with respect and not just those they agree with. We need experience, for sure, but not experience in the rarified air of the social and economic elite, but experience as small business owners and average community members. And a little humility would help too.
Note: Wade Strickland did not participate in the forum since he had a previous commitment.
*I have not included all the comments of all the candidates, only the ones I thought were indicative of how they would work on the County Council. If you want exact quotes, the video of the forum is posted online.