2019 | Government

‘I Didn’t Run for the County Council To Take a Stand on Foreign Policy’

Council Member Friedson abstains from vote on resolution urging federal leaders to prevent nuclear war

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Council Member Andrew Friedson

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County Council Member Andrew Friedson abstained Tuesday from voting on a resolution that urged federal leaders to limit nuclear proliferation.

It wasn’t because he supports nuclear war, Friedson was quick to clarify after Tuesday’s council session. The abstention was instead intended as a quiet protest against a council action that seemed, to him, only tenuously connected to local governance.

“I didn’t run for the County Council to take a stand on foreign policy or nuclear war,” Friedson said. “I think my focus has been on really getting back to the basics of county service and county government. Making sure we are really doing the nuts and bolts work that residents expect, and that really affects quality of life on a daily basis.”

The resolution, introduced by Council Member Tom Hucker, calls on Congress and the Trump Administration to lower the risk of nuclear war by limiting the threshold for using nuclear weapons.

It also urges leaders to call off plans to increase and modernize the country’s nuclear arsenal — first introduced by the Trump Administration in 2018 — and support an international treaty prohibiting nuclear arms.

Hucker said he had no problem with Friedson abstaining from the vote, which they discussed before the meeting on Tuesday.

“I think council members should vote with their conscience,” Hucker said.

The remainder of the council voted unanimously to pass the resolution.

“I’m almost never a fan of symbolic politics, but this is a little bit different,” Hucker said. The resolution frames nuclear war as a relevant issue for Montgomery County residents, who each pay an average of $320 in federal taxes to support the nation’s nuclear arsenal, according to the text.

By passing the resolution, Montgomery County joins Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles as part of the “Back from the Brink” campaign, a nationwide movement to reduce the risk of nuclear war.

“And we’re in the capital region, so we’d be a main target,” Hucker said. “I think it’s more germane to Montgomery County than it is to other areas, and it takes up very little time on the council agenda.”

It’s not unusual for council members to comment on broader policy issues by adding resolutions to the consent calendar — a list of smaller initiatives that are passed with a single vote.

In early November, Council Member Craig Rice introduced a resolution urging Congress to award Congressional Gold Medals to an African American women’s unit that served overseas during World War II.

A week later, Council Member Hans Riemer introduced a resolution supporting refugee resettlement in Montgomery County.

The motion was unanimously co-sponsored by the remaining eight council members, including Friedson. That resolution made sense to him, he said, because the county provides grant funding to refugee-related organizations including the International Rescue Committee, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), and Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area.

“We have nothing to do with foreign policy or war powers,” he added Tuesday. “One is a statement of our position related to residents and the services we provide to them. The other is a resolution urging action by the president and Congress on issues that are far beyond the purview of the council and county government.”

Friedson said his focus remains on local issues, which — for him — have included financial oversight and public safety concerns.

During the budget cycle for fiscal year 2020, he was the only council member to vote against diverting money from a health benefits fund for county retirees. In May, he co-sponsored a bill that gave broader financial oversight to the county’s inspector general.

He’s also introduced measures to improve pedestrian safety on public sidewalks.

“I think we have a lot of work to do at the local level, and I think we need to focus on that,” he said Tuesday.