After 44 years in Talbot County, I never would have envisioned that ten candidates, five Democratic and five Republicans, would compete for the five county seats. And so it is in 2022.
I keep returning to the same word: “impressive.” Democracy, as defined by civic engagement, is prospering in Talbot County. This self-exile feels proud, confident that residents view the county government as deserving, if not desiring, of their time and energy.
To no surprise, I have my Fab Five based upon my observations of the environment forum that I emceed on Sept. 28 on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the League of Women Voters, and the town hall, sponsored by the Talbot Spy, that I watched for 2-1/4 hours after it was streamed. All nine candidates who participated in person (Wade Strickland communicated through a video recording) were well-prepared, earnest and honest.
People who attended or watched the videos learned a bunch about the candidates, their policy positions as well as their personal idiosyncrasies. It was enlightening.
I endorse Michele Dappert, Keasha Haythe, Phil Jackson, Scott Kane and Pete Lesher. Though all Democrats, I would have selected Republican candidates had one or more risen to the same level of excellence as the five noted.
Dappert is new to political campaigning but polished, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. She realizes the extreme need to focus on land use management—and ensure that the county council never interferes with school curriculums as suggested by Candidates David Montgomery and Dave Stepp. Her youthful enthusiasm is contagious.
Haythe well understands the county in which she was raised. She is savvy. Her favorite subject is economic development; she has spent much of her career in this field, a business background that would prove helpful to the county council. She has a gravitas that is appealing. She has been relentless in seeking public office.
Jackson surprised me. I knew nothing about him. He has extensive experience in the high-tech work and community organizing. He brings a fresh outlook to local politics and policymaking. He answered questions forthrightly and clearly.
Kane, an entrepreneur now engaged in solar power, has paid his dues in chairing the Talbot County Democratic Party and delving into issues such as education, health care, land use management, affordable housing and government transparency. He approaches local issues with intelligence and deliberation.
My fifth pick is Lesher, experienced in town and county elected service and the wisest candidate running for the council. He is seeking his second term. Well-known throughout the county as the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum curator, Lesher is steady and thoughtful. During his first term, he has led a lonely life as the sole Democrat. He has emerged as the voice of reason.
I find Chuck Callahan, the current council president and Talbot County native, likable, folksy and sincere. His positions on the Talbot Boys Monument and Lakeside were ones with which I disagreed and consequently viewed him unfavorably.
While Lynn Mielke impressed me with her concerns about future development in the government and her legal background, I found her idea to form an education accountability board to review the education system’s financial decisions particularly objectionable. As one or two other candidates responded, oversight of the Talbot Public School System is the board of education’s responsibility. Would the proposed accountability involve itself in the selection of books?
Montgomery, who too supports sensibly managed growth, frankly gives me pause because of his adamant views about curtailing the teaching of critical race theory. He pulls no punches in railing against what he considers “woke” teaching, as does Stepp. The biggest mistake that a political body could do is interfere with the school system’s curriculum decisions. That possibility scares me.
I will end where I started. The county has drawn 10 vibrant candidates, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. That showing is indeed remarkable. Local elections have consequences. Citizens have ample selection. The differences are evident. So is the commitment to public service. Please vote.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.