RINOs Threatening to Subvert Maryland's Most Conservative County
Three years ago, five newly elected commissioners in Carroll County, Maryland set precedent by taking a bold stand against Agenda 21 in this dark blue state. They abolished the county “Office of Sustainability” and began extricating Agenda 21 planning concepts from the county master plan. They were also the first governmental organization to revoke membership in the U.N.’s International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – the vehicle through which Agenda 21 is injected into local planning without our knowledge or consent. The commissioners’ leadership set an example that many local governments ultimately followed. In 2011, ICLEI boasted 600 U.S. local governments as members. Today there are 450, a decline of 25%. Nine states have now considered or enacted laws against Agenda 21. Once an obscure issue, it is now widely recognized for the Trojan Horse it is.
The board accomplished many firsts, some of which made national news. Following passage of Maryland’s unconstitutional gun laws, Commissioner Richard Rothschild proposed to make Carroll the first-ever Second Amendment sanctuary county. He reasoned that if Governor O’Malley could break both federal and state law to make Maryland an illegal alien sanctuary state, then Carroll County could take a constitutional action to protect the Second Amendment. Commissioner Robin Frazier argued early on for tax cuts and got them through. Frazier was also the commissioner who refused to stop invoking Jesus’s name in pre-session prayers, despite threats of arrest. Her story made national news and was featured on Fox’s Megyn Kelly Show. Carroll was one of many counties that benefited from the Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which affirmed the unfettered right to opening legislative meetings with prayer.
This is precisely the kind of leadership we need. But all was not as it seemed. Commissioners Rothschild and Frazier were the only voices on the five-member board who consistently favored spending restraint, cutting taxes, reducing government, supporting education choice, protecting property rights, and freedom. They were almost always the innovators. The power of their arguments often won the day despite the fact that Commissioner Haven Shoemaker and Board President Doug Howard soon revealed themselves to be RINOs. They would fight Rothschild and Frazier tooth and nail, but when public opinion went against them, as it frequently did, they took up the cause and claimed credit. The last commissioner, Dave Roush, was moderately conservative but usually took the least controversial vote.
Doug Howard, Secret Democrat?
In 2012, Howard started a group called “Carroll 2030,” a sweeping planning agenda for the county straight out of Agenda 21. It is Howard’s private group – his own idea – but frequently viewed as a county initiative, and inexplicably hosted on the government website. While their 2013 meetings are listed on the website, these were not open meetings, the public was not welcome to attend, and the participants were all handpicked by Doug Howard.
A belated statement of purpose, posted in August 2014, professes to invite the public to participate, but a December 2012 letter made clear that Howard had already accomplished the “visioning” before the “visioning” meetings even began (emphasis added):
We will begin the [January] meeting by doing some visioning exercises in order to ensure that we are capturing ideas from the leadership team Commissioner Howard named to develop a vision for Carroll 2030.
“Visioning” includes the following priorities: more public transportation, low-income “affordable” housing, “diversity,” high speed internet, public transportation, and public educational opportunities – all at little or no cost. And everyone will be paid a “fair” wage. Who could object? But who will pay for it all?
The plan implies open-ended spending and a heavy centralization of power. Carroll 2030 also hints at moving to an executive form of government. Howard likely envisions himself in the county executive slot. County, municipal, and state government employees, the superintendent of schools, and business and non-profit leaders have been working on Carroll 2030 behind closed doors for two years, with no input or authority from the rest of the board or everyday citizens.
This is a classic leftist tactic. Investing this much time and energy in an idea – any idea – gives that idea an irresistible momentum. County government has whole departments whose job it is to develop such plans. They are paid healthy full-time salaries to do so. Howard’s Carroll 2030 circumvents these legitimate processes entirely. By having a carefully constructed, ready-made plan, Carroll 2030 will be a fait accompli.
But that vote must await the November election. The current board would never approve it.
In 2013, Howard and Shoemaker began to act as though the county were theirs. Without notifying the board, they held town hall meetings in each district to discuss, primarily, the education budget, raising unfounded fears of school closings and putting out misleading information on education spending. They received accolades from the left-wing Baltimore Sun for doing this. When Frazier learned about these meetings, she wanted to participate, but they attempted to bar her and Rothschild from attending.
When they tried this tactic again in 2014, Frazier and Rothschild forced them to allow other commissioners to participate. The haughty press release announcing the next meeting stated that Howard and Shoemaker “are also willing to accommodate the commissioner representing the district in which the meeting will be held… to make a brief presentation if they would like.”
The 2014 election revealed the true agenda. Howard vigorously opposed the re-election of Rothschild and Frazier, siding with all four union-supported GOP primary candidates. Frazier’s opponent, Steve Wantz, is a Carroll 2030 participant. Wantz’s only endorsements are unions and the left-wing Carroll County Times, whereas Frazier was endorsed by many prominent conservative Marylanders, like Ellen Sauerbrey and Maryland’s lone GOP congressman, Andy Harris. Dennis Frazier, who beat Dave Roush, is an active Carroll County teacher and will have serious conflicts of interest if he becomes commissioner, as he must vote or recuse himself on education issues. But if he does this, he will be robbing his district’s citizens of equal representation. He is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Teachers’ unions used the school system to send out candidate endorsements. School Superintendent Stephen Guthrie – another Carroll 2030 participant – used the parental notification system to broadcast misleading information about the education budget. Guthrie is a lifelong Democrat who switched to vote GOP in this year’s primary. In an e-mail, the unions exhorted all Democrats to do the same thing:
We are also encouraging registered Democrats to switch parties to vote in the primary for our County Commissioners. All of our recommended candidates are registered as Republicans. You can only vote for these candidates in the primary if you’re a registered Republican. Listed below is the link to change your party affiliation. After the primary you can switch back to the Democratic Party.
The government union-backed Republicans are all compromised. Even the FOP-backed GOP candidate for sheriff, Jim DeWees, has problems. He ran Carroll County's Child Abuse and Sexual Assault team until reassigned under a cloud by the state’s attorney. Under DeWees’s leadership, overtime expenses went from an average of $2,300 per year to $30,000, with half going to one investigator; DeWees’ signature was often forged on overtime authorization forms; 71% of cases were turned in late; confessions were coerced from juvenile suspects; and the National Children’s Alliance refused to recertify the unit following multiple discrepancies. State’s attorney Jerry F. Barnes took DeWees off the job, saying “there was nothing that was running correctly… I tried to rectify the problem [over 18 months], but it only got worse.”
With floods of money, much of which came from outside the county, all of the government union-backed Republicans won except Rothschild’s opponent. The Maryland State Teachers Association bragged about its victories on its website: “Educator-recommended Republican candidates also scored significant victories for local offices yesterday, including recommended candidates winning in four out of five Carroll County commissioner races (Steve Wantz, Richard Weaver, Dennis Frazier, and Doug Howard)…” These commissioners were heralded alongside Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown and a host of union-backed democratic legislators.
Not surprisingly, Howard, Wantz, and the others are for increasing education spending, even though enrollments in Carroll County are declining and the Board of Education has enjoyed a surplus. They also favor new school construction. The sheriff would like to see Carroll replace the sheriff’s office with a police force. Wantz wants to abolish the volunteer fire department and erect a fully staffed professional one. After all, these are union men, bought and paid for.
Do these candidates really look like Republicans?
Wise Republicans are voting for the Democrat candidate for sheriff, Vince Pacelli, as the better option! Howard’s primary opponent, Cathey Allison, secured 40 percent of the vote, despite Howard’s clear advantages as a union-backed incumbent. Allison is now running a write-in campaign, as is Robin Frazier. Both felt duty-bound to at least try to prevent unions from taking over the county. Most voters seem unaware that this is happening.
Starting in 2012, Howard set the stage, agitating over the education budget and organizing his 2030 group. He has now aligned his power base for the coming four years by getting his union-backed friends elected.
Carroll County thought it was getting sorely needed new leadership four years ago. It turns out that they got a local community organizer instead. Obama would be proud
Carroll 2030 may not be illegal, but it is duplicitous at best. Before his election, Howard was executive director of Carroll Area Transit System (CATS). Records show that he remained as registered agent for CATS until 2012, a clear conflict of interest if he materially participated in the business.
In September of this year, Commissioner Howard, a Catholic with six children, announced he was separating from his wife and seeking divorce, according to his campaign website. In May, Howard hired Crystal Winebrenner, a former CATS employee, as “paraprofessional” to work for him 25 hours/week at $16/hour, with the contract set to terminate on November 30. This stirred quite some ill will, because Howard had earlier fired Commissioner Frazier’s “paraprofessional” in a secret meeting that neither she nor Commissioner Rothschild knew about. Candidate Howard had also pledged not to hire an assistant, but he immediately did so upon election. This was now number two.
Winebrenner was transferred to the Department of Citizen Services on August 1 and was terminated in September for undisclosed reasons. It was rumored she was in a relationship with Howard. Winebrenner accompanied Howard to the three-day Maryland Association of Counties August conference in Ocean City, and the pair raised eyebrows when they hit all the nightspots frequented by MACO participants. Winebrenner lives in Hanover, PA. In October, Howard opened a Facebook page announcing his new business in Hanover, “Start Up Hanover.” Coincidence?
It pains me to write about this, but as Ross Perot once famously said, “[i]f a man’s own wife cannot trust him, how can the American people?” Howard’s approach to leadership appears to be of the same dubious nature.
*Full disclosure: I worked for the commissioners on a contractual basis for a short time in 2011 and witnessed firsthand the beginning of this board’s transformation from hopeful conservatism into what it has now become.