Emboldened by the election of Maryland's first Republican governor in more than three decades, local GOP candidates are lining up for next year's contests in Charles County.
"In years past, it was pretty much a given that a Republican was not going to win the governor's seat," said John Rutherford, chairman of the Republican Central Committee in Charles County. "Now that we have a Republican governor, there is a lot of top-down energy. That's got a lot of people motivated and wanting to participate."
Two first-time candidates in Charles say they would offer fresh perspectives on the challenges facing the fast-growing region.
Bruce Wesbury, a loan officer and former campaign operative, is running for the county commissioner seat held by retiring Democrat Robert J. Fuller. Jay Bala, a former management consultant and independent filmmaker, is challenging longtime Democratic Sen. Thomas M. Middleton.
A third GOP candidate, Jim H. Thompson, has announced his bid for the county commissioner seat held by fellow Republican Al Smith.
Chairman Rutherford is also considering a bid for the west-county commissioner's post occupied by Democrat Edith J. Patterson. And the party is hoping to inspire more Republican recruits at a "Candidates Call" in October.
For years, Wesbury's work as a sales manager for Sysco Corp. required him to visit the region's restaurants, hotels and nursing homes. He worked behind the scenes as the county representative for the campaigns of President Bush and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Now, Wesbury, 43, said he wants to take the lead in attracting high-paying jobs and in finding new ways to retain talented teachers. He opposes public funding for a planned minor league baseball stadium because the stadium would not provide the types of jobs the county needs, he said.
"People don't look to Southern Maryland the way they do to Northern Virginia," Wesbury said of potential employers' perspectives on the area.
While others have identified similar issues, Wesbury said his experience as a salesman would make a difference.
"I was taught that you don't take 'no' for an answer," he said. "We're just not pushing the right buttons."
Bala said that he supports term limits in the State House and that it is time for a change in Annapolis.
"When you're an insider for too long, you become part of the system," he said.
Bala, 40, said he would bring his corporate management skills to state government and encourage private business, for instance, to link the county's rail lines with the Metro to ease congestion.
Bala, who was born in Sri Lanka, became a U.S. citizen in 2003.
"Voting is important," he said. "But voting alone is not enough. You need to get involved."
State Del. Murray D. Levy (D-Charles) acknowledged that Republicans have "made some fairly significant inroads into rural districts." But Levy, who succeeded Middleton as president of the Charles commissioners before moving to the state legislature, said Middleton would be next to impossible to defeat.
Even Rutherford of the GOP said, "I'd be foolish not to recognize the fact that Mac will be an extremely strong opponent regardless who runs against him. But Bala is taking it very seriously."
In Waldorf, Thompson wants to increase communication between county officials and residents about decisions that affect their neighborhoods.
He said he would press for "a little bit slower growth" and make sure that development fees are sufficient to cover the cost of building new schools and expanding public services. He would hold the line on property taxes and county spending.
Thompson, 54, has lived in the county since 1988 and worked for Safeway for 29 years. He ran unsuccessfully for the School Board seven years ago.
"When you work in a grocery store, people talk to you," he said.
Other Democrats in the fray include Bryans Road lawyer Reuben B. Collins who has announced his candidacy for the election district represented by Commissioner Smith. Also announced is Johnnie DeGiorgi, a driver's education teacher from Nanjemoy, in Patterson's 2nd Election District.
In Charles County's voting system, four of the five commissioners must live in and run for election from specific election districts, while the commissioners president may live anywhere in the county. Voting for all five commissioners, however, is countywide.