Thursday, January 31, 2013

Confirm Chuck Hagel.

I am sitting here this morning, watching the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the confirmation of Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense. I am not a defense guy; never spent any time in the military, don't work for a government contractor, don't live and breathe defense policy. I do however have a special interest in the intersection between politics (and especially elected political leaders) and defense.

The possibility exists that Chuck Hagel might be a reasonable Pentagon chief. The Senators in the committee room this morning, want to encourage a view of the world that is strictly black and white, and they want to see which side Hagel falls on. The Senators' lines of question can make a reasonable man seem as though he is wavering, inconsistent, flip-flopping. But as a nation, what we have learned over the past sixty years or so, is that nothing in global affairs is black and white; there are very few cases when the sides of good and evil are as clear as they were in Europe in 1941.

Military policy is complex stuff, with a long horizon for impact. The seeds of the Vietnam War were sown at least a decade and a half before the United States committed declared combat troops to the Southeast Asian nation. One of our allies from World War II became a sworn enemy for 45 years immediately after the war's conclusion, and our relationship with that country today remains murky, at best. Our backing of the Afghan forces against the USSR throughout the 1980s helped to give rise to Osama bin Laden. Eleven years ago, we went to war in Afghanistan, and we remain there today. We extricated ourselves from Korea in the 1950s and Iraq in the 2000s, without clearly defining what it is we had accomplished in those two very different countries. 

It is easy for Senators to disparage Hagel, to insist that he make black and white declarations about things that are many shades of gray. It is easy for members of Congress to be reflexively pro-war, because if and when war is indeed made a reality, few will remember the individual members of Congress who rattled their swords, and wars almost always lay at the feet of the presidents who wage them. But clamoring for war, whether in Iran, or Syria, or anywhere else, from the safety of the Dirksen building is not a particularly courageous act.

What Chuck Hagel did during his time in the United States Senate WAS courageous.  Hagel voted his conscience, not the party line. He took the time to consider how his votes would impact America's interests abroad, and importantly how his votes would impact the lives of those who would be sent in to harm's way as a result of Congressional action. Whether those votes were "wrong" or "right," a judgement that is abstract and largely in the eye of the beholder, Hagel is the kind of deliberative official that the United State government would benefit from. I am confident that Hagel will provide the most honest advice he can to the President, without the rose colored glasses that have gotten Defense secretaries in a lot of trouble in the past. 

A long time ago on this blog, I wrote about how the Department of Defense was akin to a sacred cow in Congress. It is viewed by many of our elected leaders, far too many in my opinion, as untouchable. This notion was reiterated today as Senator Jeff Sessions appeared to question Mr. Hagel's potential willingness to reduce the number of nuclear submarines in the Navy's fleet. It was reiterated again when several senators characterized the impending sequester (an across the board cut to most federal government accounts of about 10% that this same Congress itself passed to avoid a fiscal and economic catastrophe that it created in the first place) as meaning disaster for DOD.

The idea that the Pentagon should not be included in the budgetary belt tightening this nation so badly needs is wrong-headed, and should be rejected. Without cuts to Defense, this nation will never be more than half-committed to real fiscal reform. I believe Hagel has the ability and the desire to take a tough look at his department, and make sure the cuts that need to be made are made in such a way that is appropriate and wise. 

I think Hagel will be confirmed, but the fact that someone like John McCain, who once was so proud of his reputation as a maverick that it was the basis for two presidential campaigns, is willing to vote against Hagel for being his own brand of independent, well, that just typifies the insanity of current day Washington DC, and how little these people are actually doing to move this country in the right direction.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Conversation with Queen Anne's County Commissioner David Dunmyer

Recently, I sat down with Queen Anne's County Commissioner David Dunmyer, for a look back at his last two years serving on the Board of Commissioners, as well as a look ahead at the next two years. 

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of being a county commissioner?

In my two years as a county commissioner, I have had the great opportunity to learn a lot about the place I call home, and that has been, and continues to be, extremely rewarding. Learning about the county naturally started during my campaign in 2010, meeting people and learning what folks cared about the most in the different parts of the county.

A close second to that is the feeling that I am giving back in a way that is meaningful to the community. My whole life, I existed like everyone else: job, family, worry about paying the bills; and it can be easy to not pay attention to anything happening in the community around you. But, and I guess this is obvious, stepping out as a public servant requires you to get and stay engaged, and to give back as a leader in your community. So from a personal standpoint, being elected a county commissioner has been incredibly rewarding. 

Third, is having greater access to higher levels of government. Not everyone can pick up the phone and get a meeting with the senator or the governor, but that new found access has been very helpful in getting Queen Anne’s County priorities on the radar of decision makers at the state and federal levels. 

How has that increased access to higher levels of government helped the people of QAC?

The state and the federal government are taking an increasing interest in many issues that Queen Anne’s County is grappling with. Whether it is cleaning up the Bay or attempting to make smarter decisions about growth, the state and federal levels of government are trying to coordinate a response to important issues that cross county and even state boundaries. Being able to have the access to state and federal officials, means I can communicate with them directly about these issues, and ensure that the concerns of Queen Anne’s County and her citizens are always being considered. 

Of course, there is a lot of dysfunction perceived between local government and the state and federal governments, a lot of talking past one another and failure to really communicate. Those that can cross party lines and cross lines of government, can get things done for the county and I think that is what I have been able to do. 

Do you think there is ignorance at the state and federal level about how counties work? 

Actually, I think it is the other way around. Many in state government started at the county level; but local officials don’t know how state government works, and assume that there is a hostility towards county interests. But it is up to county officials to work with state and federal folks to make sure our interests are always considered when these broader decisions get made.  

What has been the most frustrating aspect of being a commissioner?

That one is easy, always being on the two end of a 3-2 vote is frustrating. It can be tough, when you know it’s going to be that way for four years, to get excited about going to the commissioner’s meetings. We’ve been able to have some small wins on noncontroversial things, but not everything should have to be a battle. But it is very frustrating that the majority of the board thinks in a polar opposite way than I think, despite the fact that we were all elected by essentially the same people.   The biggest factor in the Republican sweep of 2010 that brought me into office wasn’t so much a statement about local values, but rather was a message about national politics, and yet our five commissioners cannot come together around common goals. It is my hope that the election results of 2012, when the people of Queen Anne’s County roundly opposed major changes to county code that would have made rapid, large-scale development easier, that the priorities of our county’s citizens will become clearer to the Board of Commissioners.  

What single issue do your constituents contact you about the most?

Not about what I would call the “big” issues, certainly. What I hear about most from my constituents, and this is understandable, are the minor issues, the things people confront every day.  Maybe it is trash blowing around their neighborhood or the shoulders of the road aren’t getting mowed. Those are the types of things that fill up my inbox. The major land use issues, budgets, taxes, don’t seem to get as much attention as the minor things, like when are you going to fix the pothole in my road?  

What one issue do you wish your constituents paid more attention to?
I would have to say growth. People come out and provide their input on the comprehensive plan, and on issues like the federal facility in Ruthsburg, and the ballot questions about growth. But the fact of the matter is a million smaller decisions about growth are made all across this county, in planning commission meetings, zoning board of appeals meetings, town council meetings, and of course, county commissioner meetings, and those decisions are made largely without input from all but those most directly impacted.  If citizens care about growth, and I believe strongly that they do, they need to let their elected officials know about what they think. I’m a firm believer in the smart growth policies that the state is trying to implement, and they apply to QAC perhaps more than any other county, where the vast majority of our citizens moved here for the quality of life. But just trusting five people to protect that quality of life, without checking in to make sure they are actually doing the job with their votes, will prove dangerous. 

Explain to the readers why you are still a Republican?
I am a Republican because I still consider myself a conservative. Government should be more effective, efficient, and accountable. As local officials we have a different type of responsibility, a boots on the ground type relationship with our citizens, and we have to represent all of them Republican, Democrat, or Independent. We have to get things done, and cannot afford to dream up crazy proposals only aimed at solidifying the base. Managing the county on a day to day basis is not a partisan task. And what I think is wrong with national politics is that those who don’t follow the party line are called RINOS [Republicans in Name Only], or DINOS, and they are cast aside, eaten by their own. The fact that you have to ask me that question is indicative of how politics is now. I don’t tow the GOP line on every issue, therefore I am considered by some a “bad” Republican. That’s a shame because there are lots of good Republicans that aren’t around anymore because of their independence. 

What do you think about the Republican Party in QAC?  

As Queen Anne’s County Republicans, we still want good schools and good roads, and generally a high level of service from county government, but we want it done as efficiently as possible.  I think people understand that growth in the county means growth in the county government, and growth in the county budget, both of which can likely lead to growth in their tax bill. 

Now the local leadership, central committee members, I think they spend too much time on national issues and not enough time on local issues. Most of their activities are focused on national politics. And I will say that, despite being an overwhelmingly Republican county, I do not think that the average Queen Anne’s Republican voter agrees with the GOP Central Committee on issues pertaining to growth. Several members of the QAC Republican Central Committee are real estate agents, or have a vested interest in development. I think they should set aside those personal interests and get in line with the average county Republican, who voted against the Central Committee line on growth issues back in November. Simply put, there are many Republicans that do not believe what the GOP central committee is selling on growth in this county, even as they vote the Party line on many other issues. 

What about QAC have you learned over your time that has been most interesting?

QAC has quite an array of business that people know very little about. Even businesses that are industrial and manufacturing in nature that might be tucked off the beaten path; people say we’ve got no manufacturing but I’ve learned that we have a lot going on. The statement is often made that businesses don’t want to be here, but that is just not true. 

There are these pockets of employment here that not enough people are aware of, like Chesapeake Burial Vaults with 30 or so employees in Barclay to Groco with 45 employees in Stevensville. These are the kinds of economic development projects that make sense for the future of Queen Anne’s County, and they are fascinating.

What personally makes you care so much about cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay? 

When I was elected, there was a ton going on in terms of the Chesapeake Bay, starting with the President’s Executive Order on the Chesapeake, to the beginnings of the Watershed Implementation Plans. I jumped right into that when I became a commissioner, because I saw that people all across the watershed were thinking of creative ways to do their part in cleaning up the Bay, and that was a discussion I wanted to be a part of, and something I really thought I could lead on.  As county officials, we can either fight this kind of stuff, or we can help to make it work better for the people we represent. I chose to do the latter. 

My passion for the Bay comes from the fact that I grew up here in Maryland, a really unique place. The Bay is a part of our everyday life, the seafood that we eat, the great times we have on the water. Most states don’t have what we have, and I fear that we won’t realize what great benefits the Bay provides until they disappear. It’s up to today’s leaders to make sure future generations have the same and hopefully even better opportunities to enjoy the Bay as we do. 

What keeps you motivated?
I don’t want to lose what we have. I moved here 18 years ago, to get away from overrun, overdeveloped sprawl, and clearly I wasn’t the only one. But driving my truck to work and seeing how much the county has changed, you don’t have to look far to see the massive changes that have come to our county just in the last decade or so, and how much it is starting to look like what we moved away from. I don’t think I am alone in feeling that way. That daily visual reminder is all I need to stay motivated to make sure the next twenty years don’t look like the last twenty years.