Is there room in Montgomery County for two politicians named Doug with statewide ambitions?
Recent evidence suggests there might not be, especially after the damage done by last week's public tiff between County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.
This time, the recent arrest of Gansler's top deputy, Katherine S. Winfree, while she was driving home from a late-night party in Gaithersburg put the two at odds.
Winfree was pulled over by a police officer who spotted her county car moving unusually slowly on a Bethesda road. He said he smelled liquor on her breath, and asked her to take a breath test. She refused, even though a new law in Maryland (championed by Gansler) means that her refusal can be used against her at trial. (A bill Gansler is pushing this year would make it mandatory to allow police to administer a breath test.)
Almost immediately, Duncan turned the arrest into a political problem for Gansler, expressing his outrage and urging Gansler to discipline his deputy. Not to do so, Duncan said, would be hypocritical of Gansler, given his campaign to toughen drunken-driving laws.
The following day, Duncan helped keep the Winfree story alive by announcing he was considering requiring anyone driving a county car to comply with a police-requested breath test, or lose the privilege of driving a county car.
None of this, Duncan said, was politically motivated. "We've got to be stewards of the county, and protect county assets, and know they're not being used in a way that puts the public at risk," he said.
But other elected officials had their doubts, pointing out that Duncan has been stewing over Gansler's decision to assist Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's gubernatorial campaign even while Duncan was publicly weighing his own bid fro governor.
Moreover, speculation that Gansler will run for Maryland attorney general in four years, and that Duncan will run for governor, has some wondering if the Democrats would be well served putting two white guys from Montgomery County named Doug on a statewide ticket if the party's goal is geographic and racial diversity.
There's no doubt that Gansler is still piqued over Duncan's public comments on the Winfree matter.
"He does pick and choose his spots to impose himself in public safety issues," Gansler said. "The problem with doing so is he doesn't always know the facts of each case. He's not a lawyer. My preference would be that he have an understanding of the issues before he gets involved in them."
"In my view," Gansler added, "politics and those considerations should not have played a role in this."
The two Dougs will have some time to talk about this further.
Duncan said they had scheduled time to sit down and talk later this month to "go over a bunch of things." On the agenda, Duncan said, will be the question of how the state's attorneys make use of county cars. "I'm sure," Duncan said, "we can find ways to work with Doug on this and still protect public interest."
County Rebuts Misspending Report There was an epilogue last week to the saga at Montgomery County's Department of Liquor Control, which began when the public learned that county credit cards were being used by employees who flew to California to attend Corona beer conferences, and to Italy for a stay at a four-star hotel and tasting sessions of the world's "best wines and spirits."
County Inspector General Norman D. Butts released a report this week criticizing the Duncan administration for failing to better police the way employees used county credit cards. (The county stopped issuing cards for travel expenses after the revelations last year.)
Butts's report asserts that the county's cards were used for $99,360 in transactions for meals in local restaurants (breaking down to an average of $75 per meal), even though they were intended for travel. A closer look, the inspector said, showed that meals included employee farewell meals, employee appreciation lunches, and meetings of department heads over lunch.
The majority of the report questions why there was a "significant lack of management accountability."
Duncan's chief administrative officer, Bruce Romer, took strong issue with the findings in a memo to Butts.
"There is an alarming disconnect between your sweeping conclusions of mismanagement and the minimal significance of the findings you present," Romer said. "The majority of your findings relate to administrative and record-keeping responsibilities, all of which have been rectified."
Potential Resistance to Campaign Bill Maryland Del. Adrienne A. Mandel (D-Montgomery) could have trouble with the proposal she has floated calling for the county to tighten its campaign finance laws beyond the state-imposed rules.
Even though it won a unanimous vote of support from the County Council, the bill could meet resistance from state lawmakers in other counties who would not want to see precedent set for tighter campaign finance restrictions.
"The really fundamental question is whether we want to start down a road of having individual campaign finance rules for each county," said Del. John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery).
At a hearing in Rockville on Monday night, the measure won broad backing from public interest groups. County Council member Philip Andrews (D-Rockville), a former Common Cause director and strong supporter of the Mandel measure, said he hopes lawmakers pass the bill.
If it passes, Andrews said, it could allow Montgomery to require donors to reveal their employer and occupation, and could force Montgomery candidates to file disclosure forms more frequently.
Even if the Mandel bill does not pass, Hurson predicted, the lawmakers may view this year as an ideal time to approve such restrictions for the entire state. Making note of the party change in the governor's mansion, Hurson said, "There were issues in this last campaign that we might want to address."