Out and About (Sort of): Look to Annapolis by Howard Freedlander

Share

About this time every year, I suggest that readers pay attention to the deliberations of the annual 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly. It may not be as dramatic and absurd as the goings-on of the U.S. Congress and our deeply flawed White House occupant—but, nonetheless, its impact is easily felt from Oakland in Western Maryland to Crisfield on the Lower Eastern Shore.

I must admit that state government may be the last refuge for consistently significant legislative initiatives that often draw bipartisan agreement and even a degree of comity among state senators and delegates who are as diverse as Maryland, with its urban and rural enclaves and varied political viewpoints. So, pay heed to the state’s 439th General Assembly, now nearly a week-old.

Before I offer my take on the critical issues facing our 188 legislators, which includes 60 new members, I must express my prayers to Sen. Mike Miller, an Annapolis legend who has served more than three decades as president of the Maryland State Senate. Diagnosed with an advanced form of prostate cancer, Miller, a wily master of the legislative process and political cunning, will continue to preside over the 47-person State Senate while undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

As a prostate cancer survivor, I have some inkling of Miller’s fraught medical prospects. Because his cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, the gentleman from Southern Maryland lacks the option for surgery or radiation, the normal choices for those of us whose prostate cancer had not metastasized. As he said last week, Miller will be in good hands at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Many of us on the Eastern Shore with serious diagnoses of many types feel fortunate that one of the greatest hospitals in the world is roughly 90 minutes away. It is an invaluable safety net.

To keep this week’s column to a manageable length, I will focus on two issues that particularly interest me, If the spirit moves me, I may seek readers’ tolerance and write a follow-up next week.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan will try to persuade the Democratic General Assembly to debate how to draw up Maryland’s congressional districts in a fair way. Our state’s gerrymandered districts are a farce.

Democrats are awaiting a decision by the U.S, Supreme Court to uphold or negate a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals that the boundaries drawn for the 6th Congressional District are unconstitutional.

Hogan has recommended the creation of a nonpartisan commission that would oversee redistricting, beginning after the 2020 Census. I think the idea is a good and necessary one

I feel particularly strongly after the recent election in our 1st Congressional District here on the Shore and parts of Baltimore and Harford counties. I watched with dismay as Jesse Colvin, a Democrat, waged an energetic campaign against incumbent Representative Andy Harris, a Republican who has held the office since 2010—when the district was drawn to create a safe seat for a Republican while redesigning the 6th District in Western Maryland to make it more favorable for a Democrat.

Despite an all-out effort by Colvin, a first-time candidate who brought Republicans and Independents into his camp (not enough) and raised more money than Harris, he lost by 22 percentage points. Harris has a hold on the 1st District. As he said, he didn’t create a district favorable to him or any other conservative Republican; the Democrats did.

When a district is gerrymandered, no longer fairly representing voters at both ends of the political scale, democracy suffers. In the 1st Congressional District, for example, Democratic voters feel they are unrepresented by Andy Harris, who needs only to cater the needs of those who gave him a commanding victory. That is not to say that Harris would not help a Democratic constituent with personal concern, i.e. a passport or Social Security claim. The perception is that he feels no need to seek goodwill from Democrats.

Let’s take this one step further. Call it realpolitik. When Rep. Harris considers a congressional bill or regulatory action, he need not adopt a centrist position that would satisfy both Republicans and Democrats. He can vote with the ultra-conservative wing of his party, because he fears no retribution. Not when you win an election by double-digit percentage points.

Political observers of both stripes bemoan gerrymandering. They believe, as I do, that Congress is stuck in an uncompromising quagmire because senators and representatives represent extremes. The middle is increasingly unpopulated. Ignoring for the moment that members of Congress ideally represent the country’s interest, I realize that political science, as many of us studied in college, is based mostly in fantasyland.

Re-election is the primary goal. Maybe once in awhile the greater good becomes the primary objective, but not often.

I said nine paragraphs ago I would write about two subjects. As you can see, gerrymandering and its nefarious implications drew my passionate attention.  I will write next week about the minimum wage, which the General Assembling is considering raising from $10.10 to $15 an hour. An economist friend has provided me a reasoned analysis. I just need more time to digest it.

I hope that the General Assembly will think beyond parochial concerns and determine that a nonpartisan commission for the redistricting of congressional district makes sense for all voters. Currently, 21 states have some form of a non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission.

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.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Out and About (Sort 0f): Southern Migration by Howard Freedlander

Share

They travel south by car, car train, recreational van and plane. They travel alone. They seek warmth and comfort as rewards for lives spent working and rearing families. They are intent on escaping cold weather, snow and ice.

Some view Florida as ideal. Some don’t. Some prefer South Carolina. Some seek Caribbean islands or the southwest. They nestle down either in second homes or rental units (or RVs).

They consider the Eastern Shore their home base. Yet, they have roots and friends in their winter communities. They seem content. They don’t look back, except at weather maps to confirm their winter choices.

Of course, I am describing snowbirds who flock annually and mainly to southeastern United States. They make no notable noise as they leave their primary residences. They welcome friends to visit them and vacate, albeit briefly, the winter “up north” and its sometimes miserable weather.

Like actual birds, snowbirds from a geographic area in fact do flock to the same town or even the same housing community, as I’ve learned. Call it a nest, an oversized one, where the human birds savor familiarity as well as pleasant temperatures.

Simply, longtime friends spend all year together. I’d like to think that transitional visitors would make new friends, and maybe they do. Common bonds provide the glue that brings and keeps friends together, regardless of the locale.

Does it sound like tribal instincts? It feels that way to this home-bird.

Readers may wonder why I care enough about the snowbirds to spend so many words on them? Who gives a darn? Life isn’t static.

In my retirement career as a non-profit volunteer and status as a full time, all-weather Shore resident, I miss the snowbirds. Yes, I admit it. They sometimes call into meetings. They sometimes fly in for medical appointments—and then vanish again. Conversations that I would like to have with them are consigned to emails, texts and mobile phone calls.

Now, I’m not complaining. I’m just observing an annual anthropological phenomenon. A passage, as it were. Movement can define life.

Did I say I’m a bit jealous, particularly during snowstorms and accumulation of annoying ice? Easy to discern, I bet.

The term “snowbird” became commonly used in 1979, though used first in 1923 to describe seasonal workers who went south for the winter.

In recent years, when I have visited Florida, I’ve noticed a large number of Canadians. Understandably so. I can’t imagine enduring freezing temperatures when you have the option to spend four to six months in Florida.

Last year, when a friend, Paul Cox, and I traveled to Dunedin, FL, near Clearwater and Tampa, we watched the Toronto Blue Jays play thrice, including once in Sarasota against the Orioles. In the latter instance, I was struck by how much louder was the Canadian anthem than our Star-Spangled Banner, as sung by fans in the stands. Those north of the border have staked their claim in Florida, mining it for a respite and recreation.

Supposedly, Canadians comprise the largest percent of winter visitors in Florida.

Two years ago, as Paul and I watched the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros play in a brand new shared ballpark in West Palm Beach, including a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, I was amazed how many retirees wore team jerseys. Gray hair and paunches around the middle don’t hide a childlike enthusiasm for baseball.

Hometown loyalties are alive and well, however much money one has spent relocating to the complex state of Florida. You can’t forget your roots, right? Sports generate lasting loyalty.

Retirees are an economic development force in Florida. That’s been true for at least 100 years. According to the Aging and Research Center of Broward County (Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood), senior citizens’ spending power is $135 billion, $15 billion more than residents 49 and younger.

Unless Florida sinks underwater, it still will be an irresistible draw. Miami must cope with surges of water caused principally by global warming.

This trend has grown with the retirement of the baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. I missed the outset by a year. Nonetheless, I still qualify, I think, at least by association with my younger wife.

The snowbird migration began for some in December, even earlier. They are settled by now in their comfortable nests. Friends are nearby. Life is good. Temperatures are pleasant. Snow and ice are in the rear view mirror.

Keep in touch, my friends the snowbirds. Do not send pictures. Try not to gloat about awful weather back here.

Godspeed.

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.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Desert Christmas Still Resonates by Howard Freedlander

Share

Today, 28 years ago, I celebrated Christmas with a hardy group of Maryland National Guard troops and feisty desert flies in Saudi Arabia. We were there as part of Operation Desert Shield, which preceded the 100-day combat action, commonly called Operation Desert Storm.

We were near Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia.

The recently deceased George Herbert Walker Bush was President.  He initiated the first Persian War against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. General Norman Schwarzkopf led the Allied forces in 1991 in a fast-moving, lightning strike against the overwhelmed Iraqi troops.

My memories of Christmas Day in 1990 are crystal-clear. The Guard troops were amazingly resilient as they enjoyed Christmas devoid of decorations, gifts, family and festive music in deference to Muslim strictures. They simply sat around picnic tables telling jokes and filling the time with laughter and goodwill.

Though forbidden to display any holiday decorations in a Muslim country, the troops resisted in creative ways. For example, early in the still-dark morning, a soldier dressed up as Santa Claus strolled around the desert post. That same day, I saw a Christmas tree on top of a barrack. The village elders demanded that the tree be removed. And it was, sadly.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the troops smuggled in the Santa Claus costume and the tree. I marveled at American ingenuity—and devotion to a holiday so important to our nation, notwithstanding the outward aspects objectionable to the religious traditions of Saudi Arabia.

I smiled at the rebellious action in a country that we were protecting in an upcoming war.

An incredible experience overcame me on Christmas Eve. I attended a service conducted by a Lutheran chaplain. I felt comfortable. I felt warmly embraced by God. My secular sense of Judaism was forgotten for the moment.

My journey to conversion to Christianity took root in a Muslim country.

I learned on that Christmas Day, more than 6,700 miles away from home and family, that simplicity can be mystical and meaningful, without our normal accoutrements. I’ve never forgotten that fulfilling experience.

To Spy readers busy today celebrating Christmas, I wish you, your family and friends a joyful and healthy holiday.  Christmas, whether simple or ornate, brings hope, a soulful yearning for peace and friendship and kindness.

I am saddened, unfortunately, in this season of hope by our alarming lack of competent and moral leadership in the White House. No amount of holiday cheer shields me from concern about a great nation that has lost respect among allies and friends in a world that formerly depended on the United States as a reliable partner.

I could not end this column without tempering my normal optimism and eternal hope in response to the degraded state of a country led by a person unable to make reasoned decisions and retain top-quality advisers, such as the soon-departing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

Mattis is a man blessed with honesty and character. He’s a learned man. A retired Marine Corps general, he was a warrior. He understood that war should be a last resort. He realized that peace is possible only with trusted allies. He harbored an understandable distrust of Russia, China, Syria and North Korea.

Christmas is special. It celebrates the birth of a person whose personal qualities were out of this world. He changed how we viewed ourselves and others. He offered us belief in our better selves in a way that threatened the status quo. He preached forgiveness and love of others, particularly the impoverished.  He extolled fairness and faith.

I trust that our country can return to the type of simplicity and goodness I experienced in a military outpost in Saudi Arabia. Naïveté aside, I believe that selfless leadership and moral behavior can make a difference in our complicated world.

Merry and Happy Christmas.

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. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of: What’s In A House? By Howard Freedlander

Share

After spending another wonderful Thanksgiving week in a big, old house in Rehoboth Beach, DE, surrounded by family, I wondered: what makes this structure different from any other?

I’m likely neither the first nor the last person, musing philosophically, who has asked this question. It prompts reflection about “community,” a group of people, related or not, who inhabit a house and give it life and personality.

Rehoboth Beach House

A house large enough to accommodate comfortably 10 people and provide a venue for mostly harmonious fellowship over several years becomes a special place. It’s not merely a cedar-shingled building with a cedar-walled interior; it’s a home containing wonderful memories and hosting additional good cheer and warm connections—over four generations.

Maybe it’s my age, but I’ve learned to appreciate a place, or places that bring consistent happiness.

For the most part, family members, ranging in age from five to 73, carry pleasant moods with them. They linger only briefly in crankiness or frustration. We always have to factor in human nature.

The ocean sits 200 feet away. It projects calm and peace, particularly in late November. Geese fly over honking all the way. Crowds of people are four months in the past. Thank goodness.

With the house as an anchor, children, parents and grandparents seem driven to avoid drama and celebrate togetherness. It takes effort, but it’s worth it.

Bear with me as I now take a leap of faith.

I believe too in the soothing, introspective space of a house of worship. For me, it’s a safe place to pray and connect with non-family members. It yields peace and self-awakening. Ill feelings disappear at the kneelers. Prayer dominates.

While I’ve heard Episcopal priests at Christ Church, Easton declare that those churches are just structures—that a prayerful venue can be anywhere—they also say it promotes community, enabling parishioners to support and befriend each other. For me, it’s a vessel for me to reach out to a higher power to seek intervention for those ailing or grieving and to express thanks for health, happiness and wisdom in our fragile, fractious world.

My prayers may be too ambitious.

My point is that bricks-and-mortar projects do matter. They do encourage, if not expedite an enduring sense of humanity, marked hopefully by unselfish relationships.

Just recently, as I listened on NPR to a woman whose house somehow escaped the devastation wrought by the horrendous Camp Fire in Paradise, CA, I learned about the intrinsic value of community. While this woman kept her house, she lost all of her neighbors; their homes were destroyed. She understandably wondered and worried about the loss of place; it had disappeared, at least for the present.

What makes a house become a home? The obvious answer is the presence of people. More sublimely, it means relationships. Hopefully understanding ones.

The big, old house in Rehoboth is more than a monument to cedar walls and shingles, a splendid fireplace and a superb view of the Atlantic Ocean.

To our family, it connotes closeness, fueled by love, humor, empathy, noisy grandchildren and plentiful food. Stories of family parties abound. My in-laws figure prominently.

Christ Church and Emmanuel Church in Chestertown are more than places of worship defined by Episcopal priests and ages-old liturgy and practice. It encompasses parishioners drawn not only by a shared religion but a sincere compassion for each other. I see it continually.

And then when I view the destruction by a raging fire in Paradise, CA, I see a town that is no more. It’s questionable whether former homeowners will return to an area where a sense of being vanished quickly in the wake of an unforgiving fire.

Is a burnt out town, resembling the worst of a war zone, recoverable? Is there sufficient human will to recreate a place special to its residents? It’s happened before throughout the world. I think about parts of New Orleans. I think about cities destroyed in recent years in Syria, or the French city of St. Lo during World War II.

Were I standing at a pulpit—or merely occupying this Spy space—I now would tout the constant goodness and grace of community defined by family or friends or neighbors, or faraway people and non-profits learning about terrible devastation. But I won’t do that.

It happens naturally.

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.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Sandy Rules by Howard Freedlander

Share

As Thanksgiving approaches in two days, with visions of a hefty turkey leg engaging my taste buds, I feel thankful for Sandy, our delightful dog.

Nearing her 10th birthday in January, she has captivated my wife and me for two-and-a-years. She is loving and lovable. This is not my first attempt at framing words to describe an affection that I never anticipated enjoying.

This Yellow (mostly white) Labrador Retriever is a natural people-pleaser. I realize that I am not the first person to express love for an animal that demands nothing but constant attention and gentle stroking.

Sandy Freedlander

Every walk around the neighborhood and throughout the town of Easton with Sandy is a pleasant adventure. Inevitably people stop to pat her and talk about a Labrador or other dog they once owned or still have. Some are near tears as memories of a deceased dog rise to the surface.

When Sandy and I encounter a person still grieving the loss of a prized pet, we both feel the sadness. Sandy seems to linger, quietly accepting kind pats and soothing talk.

I put a lot of slack in her leash. We need not hurry. Dogs bring happiness, albeit briefly, to a passerby.

Being around Sandy gives me a sense of peace. I relax momentarily. I marvel at how a dog can bring so much comfort and calm. I watch her wag her tail as a form of gleeful playfulness. She doesn’t hide her joy. Humans often do.

As I may have written previously, I never had a pet as a child. My mother did not like animals. She didn’t trust her sons to care for and about a dog. She lacked even a smidgeon of good feeling toward a dog. She had many strengths; being a dog lover wasn’t one of them.

My childhood home was devoid of unconditional love for a four-legged creature.

I rue the day when we have to give up Sandy to old age and death. She has filled our lives with pure happiness, a substitute of sorts for our children who are embracing adulthood and parenting.

Though my wife and I have owned two dogs and briefly adopted another one in nearly 43 years of marriage, I’ve never experienced the total joy and love stimulated by our chunky, enchanting Sandy.

I feel thankful to Sandy for prompting this prose and providing respite and relief from the daily dose of absurdity and nonsense emanating from our nation’s capital. I promised myself I wouldn’t write the prior sentence, but so I did. I couldn’t keep my literary tongue from wagging.

When I contemplated retirement seven years ago, I didn’t envision a life softened by the presence of a tail-wagging canine that seemed so easy to please, so darn lovable. I well realize that so many, many people are equally blessed with a devoted pet.

The late Thom Jones, an American author of mostly short stories, wrote, “Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling the emptiness we didn’t even know we had.”

To continue my overly effusive description of our Yellow Lab, I feel privileged when I return home and find her waiting for me at the back door. She demands nothing but a cheerful hello and playful cuddling. She sits by my feet while I write my weekly Spy column. As if I needed any more inspiration.

I wish my “Spy” readers a joyful Thanksgiving. I hope this wonderful holiday brings delicious food and family togetherness. Like many, I find this holiday so much more enjoyable and stress-free than the universal and often hectic Christmas celebration.

I suspect that Sandy will be patrolling the family meal table looking for some tidbits (but no bones or mashed potatoes) that fall on the floor, typically from grandchildren’s plates.

Sandy is part of our family. She probably senses that.

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.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Praying for Vets by Howard Freedlander

Share

Letter (not email) to God:

Dear Lord, I pray you will consider the following requests, realizing that millions come your way daily, making it difficult to prioritize, but today is particularly special (you’ve probably heard that before) and meaningful:

I pray you will enable our veterans and their families to feel proud and appreciated for their service, oftentimes performed during dangerous foreign combat and the war on terror.

I pray you will comfort those suffering from the loss of their buddies and dealing every day with nightmares, cold sweats, guilt and chronic emotional stress.

I pray you will imbue families and friends with patience and understanding as they live with husbands, wives and children suffering from the physical and mental ravages and scars of war and acts of terrorism.

I pray you will give hope and solace to veterans coping with homelessness and estrangement from their families and friends.

I pray—and this well might be impossible—that you inspire common sense, compromise and compassion among nations and diverse civilizations—and their leaders—to preclude mortal conflict and the resulting veterans who have survived it.

In other words, Dear Lord, I pray for peace, repeating an entreaty that you have heard incessantly, and I must and do understand you can only do so much to alter the quarrelsome nature of the human condition. Though you must become frustrated with the frequent calls for peace and nearly impossible odds to achieve it, I humbly submit my sincere, well-intended request. I pray you won’t dismiss it as futile.

I pray, as I noted previously, that you will suffuse not just American but all leaders, wherever they rule/govern, with the ability to seek and embrace the proverbial “common ground” and assign the possibility of conflict to a list of undesirable, unhealthy options.

I pray, Dear Lord, that as the world approaches the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons, that you accept prayers for peace with simultaneous courses of grace-filled action to propagate harmonious relationships. Not just during this festive, open-hearted season, but throughout the year.

Dear Lord, please excuse my digressing and turning my attention away from our treasured veterans, as I pray that they rightly receive the spotlight, praise and comfort they so richly deserve.

I pray that the veterans will accept the public’s gratitude, though I know that it’s tough to acknowledge thankfulness from folks earnest but often uninformed about the challenges of serving our nation both in peacetime and wartime.

I pray that our nation pauses to think about our veterans and their families and understands that service to our nation not only is life-threatening but demanding in terms of constant discipline and teamwork, in many ways so different from civilian work.

Finally, dear Lord, I pray that you will continue to watch over and guide us flawed human beings to live peacefully and tolerantly and view grace and generosity as virtues that are never-ending and well worth nurturing.

Just one more prayerful request, Dear Lord: never allow us to ignore that peace and compassion matter far more than war and hatred, that love and understanding contribute to a better world.

I pray that we are wise enough to exclaim your goodness and watchfulness.

Thank you, Dear Lord.

Amen.

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.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): He’s Right: Trump’s On Ballot by Howard Freedlander

Share

On Election Eve, after months of political combat, I think about climate change as wrought by our win-at-any-cost President, who cares little about the effect his overheated words and bombastic manner have on our verbal environment and basic decency.

Donald Trump has mastered the art of stirring a surge of bigoted passion by focusing his silly but destructive talk on immigrants. They are his scapegoat for all that he thinks is bad with our nation. His sense of wrong is a false reality.

He sows bias and loathing because it serves his purpose to bring attention to himself.

How dare we admit people yearning for democracy and seeking safer lives, as waves of immigrants have done in our nation’s history since our founding?

Better to characterize Central Americans as criminals and awful people in the shallow, conniving mind of Trump than appreciate what new and past immigrants have brought to our once respected country—and then seek to influence mid-term election results by inspiring fear and hatred on the part of his base and protect his presidency against potential impeachment by a Democratic House of Representatives.

He cares little about the damage he is wreaking on our country.

He takes no responsibility for his actions and the violent reactions they might wrought.

It makes me want to vomit.

When a Jew-hating shooter killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh, PA synagogue, Trump expressed sympathy and then opined that security might have prevented the terror. He also condemned anti-Semitism. That was commendable.

I’ve noticed that when Trump expresses empathy, it’s usually through a TelePrompTer. Not his words. Genuine empathy is not one of his strengths.

Amid election hysteria, despite my revulsion at our stunted President, I don’t blame him for the synagogue murders. That’s a road too far for me. As I said at the outset, I do hold him responsible for hastening the degradation of our verbal climate.

His CO2 level is off the charts.

While Trump might dispute scientific evidence of global warming, he cannot simply claim rationally that the media is the culprit for our corrosive national discourse and divisive environment.

Trump has the pulpit. He shrewdly and malevolently manipulates the media to ensure he is on center stage. Then he fires away with comments and claims that make sense only to him and his base. It matters not that truth is a casualty.

He cares little about inciting violence though his support of pugnacious behavior. He’s in the boxing ring fighting imaginary enemies. His conceit is strength, rooted in deep insecurity.

What would I like to see in our public arena? Words that come readily to mind are unity, tolerance, and rationality.

When President George W. Bush spoke about 9/11 on the site of the unimaginable destruction, he sought to unify and boast our terror-stricken country. He hit the right note.

When President Obama spoke after the Sandy Hook school tragedy as if he were a father who lost his children to a crazed shooter, his words expressed the anguish felt by all of us.

Both Bush and Obama spoke for the country. They found words of unity and compassion.

They understood that occupying the Presidency means claiming the high ground.

A few weeks ago while attending Christ Church, Easton, a scripture passage drew my attention. An excerpt follows from the Book of James:

“And the tongue is fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

These words seem rather appropriate in today’s America. Unfortunately so.

When voters in Talbot, Queen Anne’s and Kent counties fill out their ballots tomorrow, November. 6, I urge them to vote for decency and civility, for use of the tongue to spread goodness, not gracelessness. I know that sounds vague and mushy. I know it sounds mired today in fantasy and make-believe thinking.

Trump has traveled the country telling his followers that this election is about him. His record and rhetoric are stamped on the ballots. In this one instance, I think he might be right, despite his obnoxious narcissism.

Granted the veracity of Trump’s assertion, I think then that public servants such as Gov. Larry Hogan, Sen. Ben Cardin, Congressional Candidate Jesse Colvin, Attorney General Brian Frosh, State Sen. Addie Eckardt, Del. Johnny Mautz, Talbot County Council Candidate (and Easton Town Councilman) Pete Lesher and Orphans Court Candidate Phil Foster deserve readers’ votes.

These people are good, worthy people. There are others. They represent all that Trump doesn’t: they seem driven by the public good and selfless service. Words matter to them.

Elections have consequences. The misguided, race-baiting presidency of Donald Trump illustrates that truth, painfully so.

We can do better as a nation, state, region, and county. Vote for a kinder, more tolerant way.

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.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Colvin for Congress by Howard Freedlander

Share

Barely more than a week away till the general election, the 1st District Congressional race has proved to be reflective of others throughout our nation: a young Democrat and veteran facing off against a strong Republican incumbent who occupies a “safe” seat supposedly unwinnable by a Democrat.

Gerrymandering has created this situation where the 1st District is structured to favor a Republican. This tilt is true throughout the state and country, favoring Democrats and Republicans alike.

Since December 2017, I’ve watched former Army Ranger Jesse Colvin grow as a first-time candidate. In recent weeks I’ve spent hours listening to Congressman Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist, and came away impressed with his breadth of knowledge and intelligence.

I’ve listened to Colvin speak numerous times. I’ve questioned him repeatedly. And, as noted, I’ve listened to Harris at a debate and Spy interview. I’ve informed myself.

I believe that the 1st District needs a change in Congress. It needs a person whose military experience during four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan has given him insight into a mission-first mindset, one that will enable him to reach compromise across party lines. He will be flexible, not doctrinaire and rigid like his opponent.

In 42 years on the Eastern Shore, I’ve never seen a Democrat who has garnered such enthusiastic support from Republicans and Independents as Colvin. His moderate, sensible personality and policies have drawn support from a politically diverse swath of people in the 1st District. He listens well and speaks deliberately.

Colvin is gutsy and strategic. He has mounted a challenge against a seasoned politician who, up to recent months, likely thought that the young veteran would be easily vanquished. Colvin’s campaign has shown that District voters yearn for change despite the uphill struggle. They want a voice that will question ill-advised policies spewing firth from the chaotic White House.

Colvin is a pragmatist; partisan differences will play second fiddle to “mission-accomplishment,” to passage of laws driven more by common sense and needed empathy, than by mean-spiritedness and pettiness.

Obviously, I’m referring to immigration policies that have destroyed families and sacrificed human sensitivity. I’m referring to tax legislation that seemed driven to please the rich and ignore the middle class. I’m referring to health care and the ridiculous number of attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Most of all, I’m linking Dr. Harris to silence and docility, not brought on by anesthesia, but by blind obedience to an abusive, hate baiting and incompetent President. His supporters have the audacity to conjecture that Colvin would fall under the spell of Nancy Pelosi should the Democrats overcome the Republicans’ 23-seat advantage in the House of Representatives and Pelosi becomes Speaker of the House. Harris belongs to those intimidated by Donald Trump, happy to accept his amoral behavior and trumpet his conservative policies.

In the debate a week ago at the Talbot County Library, Harris proudly exclaimed he opposed the President’s plan to cut funds for Chesapeake Bay restoration. He stood up for the Eastern Shore, he crowed. And so he did. Were there any other notable instances?

In the League of Women Voters-sponsored debate, Colvin admittedly seemed stiff and heavily programmed. He assumed the role of the partisan attack dog. It wasn’t Jesse Colvin at his best. He sacrificed civility for political upper-cuts. Meanwhile, Andy Harris seemed more polished and more knowledgeable. He also seemed to acknowledge Colvin’s ascendant candidacy by his detailed comments and rebuttals.

Though I respect Rep. Harris for his 16 years of Naval Reserve, I believe that four tours of Army Ranger duty in the maelstrom of Mideast conflict and tribal rivalries has hardened Colvin and driven him to favor diplomacy over war—unless absolutely necessary to protect our country’s national security. Gung-ho military ventures are foolhardy.

If we’ve learned anything since the 2016 presidential election, our nation is poorer for the diminution of values so evident in the decision-making by our President and Congress. Transaction matters more than humane reaction.

As most Republicans remain quiescent, our nation’s leader fails to condemn immediately the premeditated killing of a US resident and Washington Post reporter by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince’s henchmen. Economic ties matter more than the primacy of human rights. Again, most Republicans remained silent during the deadly, racist demonstration in Charlottesville, VA in the summer of 2017.

Andy Harris has not spoken out. He represents his party and House Freedom Caucus, not the 1st Congressional District when he says nothing. He implicitly condones comments by Trump that sow hatred and bigotry and create a climate for violence.

As a friend wrote me, “Voting for a moderate, principled and patriotic Democrat like Jesse Colvin advances the prospect of a better Constitutional/Madisonian balance at a time of unprecedented capriciousness and egotism in the White House.” This friend has long been a Republican.

Colvin is insistent that his campaign is solely about Andy Harris and his eight-year record in Congress. He’s right, sort of. Were Congressman Harris more independent of President Trump, I would agree with Colvin. But, like his Republican colleagues, Harris has accepted the divisive and derisive comments emanating from a toxic White House and uttered barely a word.

Perhaps the highest compliment paid to Jesse Colvin is the endorsement of him by former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, a moderate Republican who represented the 1st District for 17 years before he was defeated in 2008 by Harris. Our current incumbent claimed that Gilchrest, a Vietnam veteran and former Marine, wasn’t conservative enough.

Gilchrist opposed the Iraqi War. He bucked his party at times. He was fair game for far-right conservatives.

I believe that Colvin would too be an independent voice in Congress. The Democratic Party might not be always pleased with Colvin should he become one of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. He would represent the District and Eastern Shore in the same understated, sensible and pragmatic way that characterized Gilchrest’s time in Congress. He would not be bullied by Democratic heavyweights.

I’m endorsing change and a new, open-minded generation of leadership in Congress personified by young, energetic veterans like Jesse Colvin. They have learned to make decisions under stress. They focused on mission first; political considerations were irrelevant. They understand pressure, unrelenting at times. And they instinctively know they must lead and care about their troops (substitute constituents).

I already voted. Jesse Colvin was an easy selection. He’s earned support from a wide range of people.

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.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Joe Tydings by Howard Freedlander

Share

He served only one term in the U.S. Senate. He bore an illustrious surname in Maryland politics. Though born to wealth and privilege in Harford County, he was a relentless crusader determined to root out corruption in government, while often bucking his Democratic Party’s chieftains.

His career as a U.S. Senator ended after only one term because he fought relentlessly for gun control and civil rights and opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He faced consequences for charting his own course.

He was unafraid to argue strenuously in favor of controversial causes.

Joe Tydings died two weeks ago at the age of 90. His obituary, though lengthy in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post, seemed spare in my opinion. He deserved front-page attention.

Of course, he left public office in 1971. His triumphs and battles were eclipsed by time.

Why do I mourn Joe’s death? When he ran for re-election, my mother was his volunteer statewide precinct chair. She blamed his loss on his strong stand in favor of gun control. Though he hunted all his life and offered common-sense proposals, the National Rifle Association (NRA) focused its sights on Joe Tydings and contributed mightily to his defeat.

It’s almost trite to write what we all know is true in our violent nation: the NRA is nearly an unstoppable political force that few national politicians seek to oppose, except at their own peril. Just look at Tydings’ short presence on Capitol Hill.

I recently finished reading Tydings autobiography, entitled My Life in Progressive Politics, Against the Grain. His words portray a man who practiced politics with stern determination, the consequences be damned.
If he smelled even a whiff of corruption or incompetent cronyism, he reacted strongly. The party partisans never forgot. Nor did his Republican foes.

President Richard Nixon became displeased because the Maryland senator strongly opposed his nominations of Clement F. Haynsworth Jr. and G. Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nixon’s White House, according to Tydings in his autobiography, was responsible for instigating a smear article in Life magazine about alleged improper financial dealings by the senator on behalf of a friend’s construction company seeking government loans guarantees for projects in Latin America.

Though an investigation by the State Department later disproved these allegations, Tydings’ re-election campaign suffered a destructive blow.

Dirty tricks and rotten behavior still blemish American politics. Though many of us yearn for greater civility in our fractious nation, I think political combat, stretching back to our country’s embryonic years, has always involved unsavory behavior.

Competition breeds contempt. Truth is tenuous.

As U.S. Attorney for Maryland under President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s, he transformed the office into an effective corruption-fighting machine. He gained convictions against a congressman and Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, both Democrats.

As a state delegate in the 1950s, he pushed for legislation regulating the savings and loan banks. Several delegates had connections to these lucrative banks and opposed Tydings’ reforms. These delegates were Democrats. He cared little about irritating the established party.

Joe was particularly close to Attorney General Robert Kennedy and devoted to his brother, the President. Their deaths, as well as the Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination, helped motivate his futile efforts to regulate guns.

I last saw Tydings a few years ago at a fundraiser outside Easton for State Sen. Jamie Raskin, who was running for Congress. He was still bucking the establishment, to some extent, by supporting a liberal Democratic politician who had gained office as a state senator in eastern Montgomery County by beating a long-entrenched politician.

Sen. Tydings also had a local connection to Talbot County through his wonderful, devoted daughter, Mary Tydings Smith, who lives just outside Easton with her husband JT. Mary graciously brought me some months ago a signed copy of her father’s autobiography. The well-written book elicited memories of a time past when Joe Tydings was a central figure in state and national politics.

When he died nearly 50 years after leaving public office reluctantly, he had been long forgotten, except for those of us in our 70s and 80s. That’s too bad. He didn’t go along to get along.

He paid a political price for his fierce independence.

Joe Tydings’ public service didn’t end in 1971. He served for 15 years on the University of Maryland’s Board of Regents and as a member of the board of the University of Maryland Medical System. Never one to remain passive, he was a clear and constant voice for nurturing the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Joe Tydings was a stubborn fighter. He took pride in confronting the forces-to be. He was intrepid.

He served well.

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.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.