By Jan Greenhawk – Radio Free Oxford
Local Maryland Politics in 2022 is More About Manipulation by a Few Than Facts
The Reset Lakeside Movement is connected to the Talbot Integrity Project (TIP) and it’s a farce and distraction to keep Republicans off the Talbot County Council.
Background: Talbot County, a small county on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has a population of about 37,500 people. One of the wealthiest counties in Maryland, it wasn’t always that way. My husband, who has lived his entire life in our town of Oxford, came from one of the many families who depended on a life on the water to survive. They weren’t rich. They weren’t the privileged waterfront residents on the main street of town or the water’s edge on the Strand. They didn’t even have indoor plumbing until the 60’s. Like so much of Talbot County back then, they were working people who would be called poor in today’s world. And they were good, God-fearing people who worked hard and mostly stayed away from the elite world of politicians.
Sometime in the late 60’s early 70’s, the DC/Baltimore/New Jersey/New York crowd made their way to our county. With them they brought million-dollar homes and Progressive attitudes. They drove the average working homeowner out of small towns like Oxford, St. Michaels, and now Tilghman. All while claiming to want to “preserve” Talbot County’s rural nature. As usually happens, when people leave one place to go to a place they like better, they end up making their new home like their old home.
This year, progressive Democrats in Talbot County, in the guise of “bi-partisanship” and the preservation of our lifestyle, want to manipulate an election so they can force progressive attitudes on voters by using a hot button issue of a development named Lakeside. Those who benefited from development just a decade or so ago, want to use it as a cause to truly change our county, and not for the best.
It’s a clever and manipulative political ruse. It’s also one created out of the arrogance and sanctimonious attitude of those who think they are superior to the common folk residents of Talbot County.
First, the issue. It’s a development in Trappe, Maryland called “Lakeside.” Ultimately it will be a development of approximately 2500 homes of Route 50 in Trappe. The development is meant to take place in five phases. The first phase, which has been approved,is to build 120 homes. Once that happens, building is paused because subsuquent phases will add homes only after the developers go back to square one and resubmit additional building for approval. It is the kind of development that can stir the emotions of anyone living in a small, rural community. It’s the perfect distraction and farce being used by a small group of people to manipulate this election to elect Progressives to the County Council. They are convincing voters that a Progressive council will save Talbot from evil land developers like those creating Lakeside.
Next, add a person who has manipulated elections before. His name is Dan Watson and despite his claim of “bipartisanship” he seems intent on assuring that Republicans don’t get elected to local office. In 2018, heading up a group “Bipartisan Coalition, he worked to get a Talbot County Council President out of office. Here’s an interview with Dan on that effort:
It worked. The Council President lost the election in what many have described as one of the dirtiest examples of a smear campaign they had ever seen locally. Did I mention she was a Republican?
This time, he’s going after a bigger prize. He not only wants the current Council President, Chuck Callahan to lose, he wants to assure that all of the local Progressive Democrats get elected and none of the Conservative Republicans do. To do that, he has created a deceptive narrative.
The Lakeside Development will be the focal point of his tactics to get that done. Enlisting a small group of 100 citizens, most of them wealthier property owners in the county who came to Talbot County from across the Bay Bridge, Dan has created a group called the “Talbot Integrity Project.”
Prior to the primary elections, this group invited candidates to sit through an interview with them. Of course, the interview was about Lakeside. Some of the candidates went to the interview, some didn’t. Those who did were immediately given an “endorsement” from the TIP. Those who didn’t were not. The transcripts of those interviews were not available to the public, nor were recordings available. One would think that the larger group would want to know why certain candidates were endorsed. A generic statement that they fit the TIP mission doesn’t cut it on the transparency scale. But transparency doesn’t seem to be the point. Here is the questionnaire sent to candidates after the primaries.
I don’t know about you but it seems that this group is asking questions about much more than just one issue. In fact, I had people who said they didn’t have to answer such an intrusive set of questions when they applied for high security government jobs.
Transparency and truth is not the mission. Political manipulation and power politics is. If it was truly about educating people on the positions and beliefs of the candidates on Lakeside and development, then there would be a posting of the candidate statements on the internet allowing people to think for themselves and make decisions about who to vote for. But that’s not available.
This is about creating a bumper sticker slogan campaign that will sway uniformed voters to vote for Democrats.
Almost all of the Democrats and only the most liberal, weak Republicans were on the endorsement list which went out on a mailer sent to all voters in the county prior to the primary election. These same candidates are currently on a big TIP sign.
The mailer alone was certainly a huge expense. There was a GO FUND ME account to support the TIP. It collected approximately $40,000 of its stated goal of $500,000. Dan Watson was listed on the mailer as the treasurer of the non-profit TIP. One thing most of us recognize is that political campaigns cost a lot of money. The “campaign” from the TIP is no different. But you can’t just go out and spend this money without abiding by election laws.
What is the legal designation of this group?
Inquiries to the State Board of Elections have not shown that this group is NOT registered as a political action committee. It is registered as a 501c4:
Here are the regulations for 501c4 organizations:
In short, there are regulations regarding political activities of these groups:
The IRS places specific restrictions on 501c4 organizations.
The chart below compares seven federal tax law attributes of two common types of tax-exempt organizations:
|Federal tax law attributes of two common types of|
|Receive tax-deductible charitable contributions||YES||NO|
|Receive contributions or fees deductible as a business expense||YES||YES|
|Substantially related income exempt from federal income tax||YES||YES|
|Investment income exempt from federal income tax||LTD*||YES|
|Engage in legislative advocacy||LTD||YES|
|Engage in candidate election advocacy||NO||LTD|
|Engage in public advocacy not related to legislation or election of candidates||YES||YES|
Reg. 1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii) provides that the promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate …
The extensive mailing of campaign materials promoting certain candidates and the creation of signs, cards, etc. seems to violate those rules.
Radio Free Oxford attended a rally of about 30 supporters of the TIP on Sunday. The founder, Dan Watson, spent twenty minutes detailing his version of the Lakeside development history and the recent developments from the Maryland Department of Environment, an agency the TIP has sued. Several candidates for County Council were there, Pete Lesher, Lynn Mielke, David Montgomery and Dave Stepp. Mr. Watson seemed somewhat surprised to see Dave Stepp there since he is not one of the endorsed candidates.
After Mr. Watson finished his spiel, he then explained the next steps in their cause. He exhorted people to keep putting up their signs but also to wear stickers and hand out stacks of cards listing which candidates to vote for. He told them to each take hundreds of the cards and hand them out in parking lots and to their neighbors. He said they had tens of thousands of them. Another huge expense supporting certain candidates.
Don’t get me wrong. I have lived her forty years and I don’t want over development in this county. However, if we are going to fight over development, we should do it with truth; not exaggeration and falsehoods. And people should be able to think about the facts and what the candidates are actually saying, not some judgement made by a group of citizens who are accountable to no one. I also know that the Progressive Democrats and RINO’s on the TIP signs will not do what is best for this county in so many areas including law enforcement, education, and taxes. But I don’t think this group cares about those issues.
I believe Dan Watson cares more about Progressive ideology than he does actual areas that concern the citizens of Talbot County. While he blithely says that there are other issues, he asserts that this one development is the mother of them all. He ignores the other pressing issues facing our citizens; support of law enforcement, academic decline in our schools, higher taxes, the destruction of small business, and even housing for a younger, working population. He vainly tries to tie all of these issues to a development in Trappe. One development in one small town.
I don’t believe he is being honest about the candidates who didn’t accede to his manipulation. In fact, the very candidates who he didn’t endorse are the ones who will be the strongest knowing rules and regulations, investigating costs, and standing up for us. They won’t be like Progressives and operate on emotion and personal interests.
Dan and his group are also not being honest about what should happen if a new council should get in and suddenly stop the Lakeside Development. (Which is not possible but let’s play along for the sake of argument.) The lawyers for the developers would immediately sue and the years of legal action could cost the county close to a half a billion dollars. Who would foot that crippling bill? If residents think taxes are getting higher now, the cost of supporting the county’s time in court for this issue would make Talbot unaffordable for everyone.
Someone asked me why Watson would do this? I can’t say for sure but what I see from the outside is a man who wants to control what goes on in our county. He wants to manipulate council members. If he can’t manipulate them, he doesn’t want them elected. This why he is not supporting independent candidates like Dave Stepp and Wade Strickland. These candidates have studied the issue and understand the process and the law.
Dave Stepp For Talbot County Council – From his page: “Dave believes growth in Talbot County must be smart growth. Growth without preparation, insight, and proper infrastructure only benefits a select few. Dave wants to ensure smart growth benefits everyone in the form of good jobs, affordable housing, and small business development. Dave believes in preserving the natural beauty of Talbot County so that countless future generations can live, work, and play here.”
Home | Mysite (citizensforwadestrickland.com): “As a Talbot County native, I am passionate about improving our community and preserving its beauty for our future generations.“
Somehow, their statements didn’t fit the TIP bill. Is it because they didn’t specifically highlight Lakeside? Quite frankly, as an issue that is under the jurisdiction of the town of Trappe and the Maryland Department of Environment, why would they? Is it because they didn’t do what he and the group wanted them to do? I know that Wade actually responded to their questions:
I personally support both Dave and Wade, but I post this information for you to read and use for your decision. Dan and his group didn’t want that to happen. They want to think for you.
As for Chuck Callahan, Dan has made Chuck out to be the “boogie man” in this affair, citing actions Chuck took on the Lakeside Development. Has Dan bothered to let anyone understand the legal facts Chuck knew about the development when he voted? Doubtful. He just wants Chuck out.
Like 2018, it seems Dan and his group want to continue to remove conservative Republican candidates from the County Council. The two Republicans listed on the TIP sign are there as decoys. They were the two candidates who got the least number of votes and made it out of the Republican primary. People question if they would have gotten through without TIP manipulation. Now he wants to take out all Conservative Republican candidates running for office. Seems as though it is a strange goal for the leader of a “bi-partisan” group.
I think it’s time, as we head to the last week of the voting cycle, that people start questioning this group, it’s leader, and their actions. We need to look at their connections to other political and activist groups. We need to know why the answers of endorsed candidates were NEVER posted for the public to see and judge for themselves. We need to know why they don’t care about other issues in this county. We need to know that this action may have violated election laws. Most of all, we need to know the truth about Lakeside and not some imaginary horror story.
Stop looking at their slogans and start thinking for yourselves!
Questions people have asked:
Don’t you care about the environment? This is about the environment: No, it’s not about the environment. The first speaker in Sunday’s “Reset Rally” said he didn’t want a development with fountains and other decorations in Talbot. He just doesn’t want our county to “look like Myrtle Beach.” So does he really care about the environment? Also, isn’t the Maryland Department of Environment the agency that controls these projects? I would also suggest that some of the landowners protesting have homes and properties that could be considered damaging to our environment with pollution. Things to think about.
Why didn’t the candidates just do the interview? Lack of trust. Why would a candidate do an interview with a group controlled by Mr. Watson when he has proven that he is biased against Republicans? As we have seen in several online interviews done by a local publication, the tendency is to take these interviews, misquote and unfairly edit them, and then use them against the candidate. And, by the way, the TIP already knew who they were going to “endorse.” The interview was a sham.