Ficker's Victory Leaves Politicos Black and Blue

Robin Ficker, a Bethesda lawyer and former state delegate, has spent three decades trying to get anti-tax measures passed in Montgomery.
Robin Ficker, a Bethesda lawyer and former state delegate, has spent three decades trying to get anti-tax measures passed in Montgomery. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
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By Steve Hendrix and Ann E. Marimow
Washington post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 20, 2008

The county's political realm continues the tizzy it began election night, when Robin Ficker's ballot offering appeared to be -- shock -- headed for the winners' column.

Absentee and other ballots counted since then have only widened the margin in favor of Ficker's Question B, which would require all nine council members to approve any increase in property tax revenue over the agreed limit.

And as election officials prepared to certify the provision as law this week, Montgomery politicians were kicking themselves, or their colleagues, for letting the former state delegate sneak one by -- the first time one of his anti-tax measures has prevailed in the Bethesda lawyer's 34-year crusade to limit county spending.

"Some folks were asleep at the switch," said former council member Howard Denis, a Republican who has campaigned against Ficker amendments in the past. Denis said he was surprised not to have been asked to pitch in again.

Usually when a Ficker proposal has been on the ballot, Democrats, unions and even the Chamber of Commerce unite behind a "vote no" campaign, saying that Ficker's approach would hamstring important government spending. This year the counter-effort was notably weaker, and many observers said the measure could have been turned back with a stronger campaign tying Question B to Ficker.

"I'm kicking myself," said Bruce Adams, director of the county executive's Office of Community Partnerships and a close adviser to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). "We should have done more to say this is Robin Ficker, Robin Ficker, Robin Ficker."

Adams and several other Montgomery Democrats interviewed since the election said that Ficker tapped into a particularly angry electorate after last spring's hefty property tax increase.

"We should also have been saying, 'Folks, we hear you. We are not going to be raising property taxes for the rest of our term,' " Adams said.

State Sen. Jaime B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) gave Ficker credit for a remarkably consistent focus over the years but said he hoped voters would eventually overturn the amendment as the wrong way to restrain spending.

"A Ficker amendment is a monkey wrench thrown into the gears of government, and that's not always a bad thing," Raskin said. "Democracy needs its Robin Fickers, but in the long run, it's not good government to follow a Robin Ficker policy."

Note: Although Ficker had never previously succeeded in his many anti-tax ballot questions, he has prevailed on three less lofty points. He got voters to prohibit landfills in residential areas (1978), restrict the burial of "sludge" (1980) and force a telephone company to make Gaithersburg part of the Washington local-call zone (1982). Coincidently (or not?), all three triumphs were bundled together and put on this year's ballot by the County Council as Question A. They were repealed.

Strategy in Annapolis May Be Mostly Defense

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and County Council members will host a reception tonight for Montgomery's legislative delegation. The informal gathering and public hearing that follows are a sort of pregame strategy session to set next year's agenda for Annapolis. But it will probably be a challenge for anyone to put a happy face on the county's prospects for defending its turf in the coming session.


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