Vol. 10, No. 26

June 27 - July 3, 2002

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Janet Owens’ Slow-Growth Promises

One of the reasons politics is fun is that anything can happen.

Four years ago today, few political odds-makers would have bet on Janet Owens becoming Anne Arundel county executive.

She was up against an appealing Republican-turned-Democrat aspirant in Diane Evans, who was the choice of Democratic boss and Senate President Mike Miller.

But Owens prevailed in the primary by hitting the right buttons, particularly the one vowing to slow growth. She also had the good fortune of running in November against John Gary, a blustery incumbent who had alienated teachers and other potent political forces.

Four years later, Owens’ luck is holding: Two Republicans, Phil Bissett and Tom Angelis, seemingly have failed to make a dent in her support as they scrap with one another.

But as they say in politics and horse-racing, you never know. That’s why Owens needs to realize that the support she claims in polls may be wide, but it is not necessarily deep.

She should understand, too, that the second time around, slogans are never enough.

For instance, she has resumed the anti-growth theme that helped elect her by promising to double the amount of farm acreage that the county would preserve from developers.

Saving farms certainly is worthwhile. And Anne Arundel County certainly has ground to gain. By early this year, tiny Calvert County — with 18,000 acres of preserved forest and agricultural land — had doubled huge Anne Arundel’s preservation total. A measure of how far Anne Arundel has to go is Carroll County, which is almost the same size and has preserved over 37,000 acres of farmland.

But the issue is far more complex than buying easements from wealthy landowners or even a few farms.

Growth management means dramatically slowing the permits and the variances routinely awarded by Owens’ Planning and Zoning Department. The construction we have been seeing while Owens is in office makes a mockery out of the Critical Areas protections.

Take a Sunday drive down Route 2 and branch off eastward on most any road and you will see more farmland carved up for ranchettes and more building underway near water than you could have imagined.

Owens generated a load of ill will that has yet to subside with her fence-sitting during a symbolic fight over building a shopping center in southern Anne Arundel. Bulldozers surely would have rolled there by now were it not for some power politics by Miller in the General Assembly.

Miller has less justification to breathe down Owens’ neck now that redistricting has cast him out of Anne Arundel County.

Nonetheless, she needs to realize that green and fuzzy campaign pronouncements are not enough to win back people she has lost. And they may not be enough to persuade undecided voters when they stop to recognize the extent of development going on in their midst.

Owens is a pleasant, earnest leader who has risen to many challenges. But when it comes to fragile lands, she has been a balancer of interests when courage is in order.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly