Among the things Havana, Beijing and Montgomery County have in common? You know the results of a general election before a single vote is cast, at least since 2002. Once again, there were no bombshells or surprises - and no debates or media coverage of the general election campaigns in Montgomery County. Democratic incumbent County Executive Marc Elrich won in a blowout over Republican challenger Reardon "Sully" Sullivan, 71.40% to 28.04%. Every Democrat running for County Council won, as well.
Based on the current numbers, with further mail-in and provisional ballots remaining to be counted, the next County Council will consist of Andrew Friedson (D - District 1), Marilyn Balcombe (D - District 2), Sidney Katz (D - District 3), Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart (D - District 4), Kristin Mink (D - District 5), former Planning Board member Natali Fani Gonzalez (D - District 6), Dawn Luedtke (D - District 7), Gabe Albornoz (D - At-Large), Evan Glass (D - At-Large), Will Jawando (D - At-Large) and former Gaithersburg City Councilmember Laurie Anne Sayles (D - At-Large).
Democrat John McCarthy was unopposed for State's Attorney, as were Democrats Karen Bushell for Clerk of the Circuit Court, Joseph M. Griffin for Register of Wills, and Maxwell Cornelius Uy for Sheriff.
Here's what we learned from Election Day 2022:
1. How The Washington Post Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Marc Elrich
Marc Elrich is, by the numbers, the most popular politician in Montgomery County. Many residents like him. But The Washington Post, with its pro-developer and viciously anti-labor editorial board, hates Marc Elrich. They really hate Marc Elrich. And they spent months out of 2018 and 2022, and many acres of forest wood in paper, trying to defeat Marc Elrich.
The Post said Marc Elrich was the worst person in the world. They wrote that the sky was falling, and the world would end if Elrich were to win a second term. I am almost exaggerating. The County was going down the toilet under his leadership, and he had to be stopped. Montgomery County was the worst place in the world for business, and crime was rising (despite both of those problems worsening long before Elrich became executive in 2018). The Post and many others lied about Elrich's intentions and record on affordable housing. They advised Democrats to vote for David Blair.
Blair lost. By 32 votes.
And then...the Post went silent.
After spending half the year telling us there's no one worse than Marc Elrich, the Post's stated logic could only credibly stand if they endorsed his general election opponent, Sullivan. Instead, the Post made no endorsement. In fact, they made no endorsements for County Council, either. Their reporters, who are separate from the editorial board, did not cover the general election executive and council races. By contrast, the Post extensively covered the D.C. Mayor and Council races, and Arlington County board races. Why is that, by the way? That's a very interesting question we don't know the answer to.
But we do know that the Post decided Marc Elrich was not that bad, after all. They weren't alone. All of the groups who funded ads against Elrich during the primary folded up and disappeared, as well.
This only makes Elrich's victory sweeter - he not only won, but he converted his biggest enemies and opponents into supporters. Silence is complicity, as they say. Will the Post remember it loves Elrich in 2026? Probably not. But a honeymoon period is clearly in progress.
2. A majority of voters supported the pandemic policy of closing businesses and schools
The County's pandemic strategy of lockdowns, the closure of schools and businesses, was loved and loathed by different segments of the population. But among those who loathed it, opposition was loud and clear. Things became even more heated when County officials tried to extend school closure authority from public schools to private ones in the fall of 2020. Facebook groups were formed, protests held and letters written. "How do we recall Elrich and the Council?" many asked. Later, they vowed to vote out the incumbents in 2022.
In particular regard to school closures, there is now widespread agreement that the lost academic year of 2020-2021 was misguided, and had a disastrous impact on the education and mental health of the children impacted by it. Montgomery County officials, like President Biden, have since adopted Trump-DeSantis herd immunity strategies to handle COVID going forward.
Every incumbent who supported lockdowns cruised to victory last night. No great sums of money were put behind anti-lockdown challengers on yesterday's ballot. If another variant or virus emerge in the next four years, we will have business lockdowns and school closures again. This is not to say that this is a good or bad thing. Only that election results indicate that those policies were either supported, or not strongly-opposed, by a majority of voters in Montgomery County yesterday.
3. Debates are a thing of the past in Montgomery County
Montgomery County was ahead of the national curve when it came to the phenomenon of no longer having debates during elections. The last general election Montgomery County Council debates were held in 2014. And at the final Council debate that year in Olney, all of the Democratic incumbents were no-shows. Organizers with the Greater Olney Civic Association were upset, to say the least, and a packed crowd of the Council's constituents were left feeling disrespected.
In 2018, none of the civic groups that historically held Council debates that included all candidates scheduled one. Three civic associations attempted to hold such debates that year, but were told behind the scenes to cancel them. One complied. The other two converted their debates at the last minute to happy hours, which favored the more-recognized incumbents.
There was a series of general election debates in the county executive race in 2018. But it turns out that may have only been because the Montgomery County political machine was trying to help independent candidate Nancy Floreen beat Marc Elrich. This year, there were zero debates in the general election executive and council races.
Debates are one of the most fundamental fixtures of a democratic process. The town hall goes back to the beginning of our republic. The working class man in his flannel shirt and jacket standing up in the Norman Rockwell depiction of "Freedom of Speech." Citizens gathering to hear the positions and arguments of candidates on the issues before casting their votes. Imagine that.
You'll apparently have to continue imagining it, because there are no more general election debates in Montgomery County. Democracy died in darkness, and it is pitch black in Montgomery County, with the full and ironic support of the Post. Post reporter Bill Turque was the last to write about MoCo candidates dodging debates in 2014. The last intrepid reporter to cover Montgomery County for the Post, he moved on to The Kansas City Star in 2017. He is now Political Enterprise editor for The Sacramento Bee, after rankling officials in MoCo and D.C. for more than a decade with inconveniently-investigative reporting.
4. A Council that is starting to look more like Montgomery County
An Asian-American will finally take a seat on the County Council next month. Despite having had one of the largest Asian communities in the D.C. region for years, Montgomery County has only this week elected a councilmember of Asian descent. Democrat Kristin Mink will represent District 5 on the Council, after winning nearly 80% of the vote there, with provisional ballots still to be counted. Attention will now turn to the 2023 Rockville City Council election. Rockville's Asian-American community, unbelievably,still has no representation on the Council, despite being a major contributor to the city's economic growth and success.
5. The new Council districts may be even worse-gerrymandered than the ones they replaced
Councilmember Evan Glass knew what he was doing when he drafted a poison pill ballot question to confuse voters in 2020 who wanted to expand representation on the Council by shrinking the size of the districts it represents into 9 compact areas. Glass put a similar-sounding question that would expand the number of seats on the Council, but avoid the downsizing of districts - and loss of at-large seats - that would make it difficult to choose his own voters. The Glass question passed, and the results are now in.
It's bad. Really bad.
None of the Council race results were even close. These are among the worst-gerrymandered districts in the nation. Rural areas like Damascus remain lumped in with suburban and urban areas with different needs and priorities, and have gained no electoral power or representation at all. In fact, they appear to have lost power. Like the elimination of debates, this is anti-democratic and a disgrace.
6. The incredible shrinking GOP
"Where are my choices?" asked many a voter flipping the pages of their ballot. The Republican party did not even bother to field a candidate for District 1 County Council, State Senator in Districts 16, 17, 20 and 39; Delegate in District 16, 20 and 39; State's Attorney, Register of Wills, Clerk of the Circuit Court or Sheriff.
This is virtually unprecedented. It's bad enough when election results are as predictable as Cuba's, but even worse when the ballot looks like Cuba's.
It's no doubt getting more and more challenging to convince a Republican, Green or Libertarian to run when there are no debates, no press coverage, and every district is gerrymandered. But you can't let people run unopposed.
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