2020 | Opinion

Opinion: The lesson of Question D is that representation matters

Supporters wanted their voices heard in government; let's keep that in mind

Now that the dust has cleared on the 2020 elections in Montgomery County, it seems clear that we will have two more council seats and that the efforts of largely upcounty activists to eliminate the four at-large council seats will have failed.

I sincerely hope that elected officials don’t look at those results and think the concerns that led to the nine districts push have been dealt with. I hope, instead, that elected officials will recognize the very real grievances that led to the effort, and work to address them.

I supported Question C, to add two district seats to the council, rather than Question D, the nine districts ballot question.

But as an upcounty resident and an elected official representing smaller communities scattered across the northern tier of the county, I entirely understand the frustration that motivated Question D.

Certainly some of those who supported Question D did so because they thought it was a road to electing Republicans, or because they don’t like the at-large council members. But in talking with many of the question’s supporters across my district, the vast majority of the question’s supporters were motivated instead by a desire to have their voices heard in government.

The simple truth is that upcounty communities and the issues that matter to them don’t always get the attention from the county that they deserve.

Let me offer some examples. In Burtonsville, we have a shopping center that has stood essentially empty for a decade. It is a blight on the town center, a millstone hanging around the neck of a diverse community with tens of thousands of residents.

Imagine, if you will, a similar blighted commercial property in Bethesda or Rockville. Redevelopment of such a property would be an issue of preeminent importance to county elected officials.

But in Burtonsville, with the notable exception of Council Member Tom Hucker, who has done his best to help, there has been little interest and even less attention focused by the county on giving residents the community core they deserve. And so, a decade later, it continues to stand empty.

Since long before I was elected to the House, residents in the Olney area have complained about traffic issues on Georgia Avenue. For most people commuting to work from Olney, that road is the major route out of town.

The prioritization of state transportation spending in the county is heavily influenced by a document called the county priorities letter. Inevitably, every time that letter is renewed, the county prioritizes projects further downcounty over improvements to the Md. 97/Md. 28 interchange that would drastically improve traffic flow. And so Olney residents continue to sit in traffic, with no hope in sight for addressing the intersection.

A third example: The northern half of my district is very rural. It encompasses the eastern side of the Agricultural Reserve around Damascus, Laytonsville and Brookeville.

For several years, I’ve been working with the agricultural community on state legislation to help preserve farmland and ensure that family farms remain economically viable. But while we have had some success at the state level, there are important steps the county could be taking and hasn’t.

Even small amounts of additional funding to the chronically underfunded agricultural land preservation program would go a long way toward permanently protecting our agricultural heritage.

And for only a few thousand dollars, the county could reopen a venison donation site in Laytonsville and support efforts to address the overpopulated deer herd that destroys more than 10% of Montgomery County’s agricultural output every year. As a bonus, that donated venison goes to local food banks to help families in need.

These are parochial issues. They may not be on the radar screen of folks in other parts of the county. But they matter. And the fact that issues like them aren’t being adequately addressed is what drove so many upcounty residents to support Question D.

Bluntly, due to the political geography of the county, countywide elected officials in particular don’t need to spend much time in the upper reaches of the county to get re-elected. The vast majority of the votes in the Democratic primary are downcounty votes.

To point this out is not to question the integrity or motivations of any current elected official. I have good relationships with and deep respect for our countywide elected officials.

But the reality is that we do have more Republicans and independents here than other parts of the county, making the upcounty less of a player in countywide Democratic primary elections. And as a basic premise of representative government, all of us, regardless of our political affiliation, deserve good representation. We deserve to have a county government that focuses on issues in Etchison as well as Kensington, in Spencerville as well as Silver Spring.

I finished the night on Election Day at the Damascus Recreation Center voting site. I chatted for a while there with a Republican constituent.

I know her well, because she has run against me a number of times. But I like and respect her, and I appreciate that she feels she can be open with me about her concerns for the upcounty.

She said to me that night, in the context of a conversation about representation, that in the end what matters most to her is that elected officials understand Damascus and its issues. She told me that she feels unrepresented — not necessarily because there are no Republican elected officials representing her, but because there aren’t enough elected officials in the county who really take the time to get to know Damascus and its concerns.

All of us who serve in elected office in the county should pay attention to that kind of feedback.

I hope that this year’s debate about questions C and D serves as a reminder to all of our elected officials in Montgomery County that the upcounty matters, too. Our issues matter, too.

Good representation means good representation in every single corner of Montgomery County.

Eric Luedtke represents northern and eastern Montgomery County’s District 14 in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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