Having Their Say

Local Political Bloggers Tell It As They See It

By Katherine Heerbrandt | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 09.12.16 – Feature, People & Places

If you have a lot to say to people beyond the usual suspects of family, friends, coworkers, bartenders, dental hygienists and hairdressers, start a blog.

When you find yourself in possession of juicy scoops well before your local media is on to the scent, and you feel honor-bound to share it with the world, start a blog.

Although you and your pals have fun sitting around mocking local politicos with equal parts horror and humor, it’s not enough. Start a blog.

Political bloggers are the town criers, the gadflies, the hecklers, the pundits of the internet. The local political blogging scene is growing, boosted in part by the words and actions of the previous board of county commissioners and its evocative leader, Blaine Young, who served as president from 2010 to 2014, losing his bid for County Executive to Jan Gardner in a fractious 2014 race.

By rough count, there are probably a dozen Frederick County-based political blogs and sites, and a healthy number of Facebook pages devoted to watchdog activities of local doings.

John Ashbury is the granddaddy of the small but growing number of internet blogs and sites devoted to the issues of the day, with a focus on local politics. As publisher of The Tentacle (www.thetentacle.com) since 2002, Ashbury is a retired newsman who couldn’t shake the urge to have the last word. “There was a lack of true political commentary in the [The Frederick News-Post] at the time, and what was there was staid and predictable,” Ashbury says. He gave space on The Tentacle to some diverse voices, but the chorus was mostly conservatives in various guises.

These days, the site lists 10 writers, including Young and his former colleague, County Councilman Billy Shreve. County Councilman Kirby Delauter writes as a guest columnist. One of his latest screeds, published Aug. 1, focused on his clash with the council over trash regulations. He gave advice to readers to stay involved, stating, in his inimitable way, “The sad part I’ve found out in my six years in local politics is that most people don’t give a rat’s fanny about their neighbors’ plight until they themselves have an issue that effects [sic] them.”

“We thought people should know what’s going on”

Across the ideological divide is another blog, Frederick Local Yokel (www.fredericklocalyokel.com), devoted entirely to denigrating the same people who speak out on The Tentacle, most especially Delauter and Shreve.

The trio of women who make up the Local Yokels are anonymous and for the purpose of this story have adopted names of their “suffragette foremothers,” Alice [Paul] Elizabeth [Cady Stanton] and Susan [B. Anthony.] The anonymity started as a joke, but became part of the allure of the site, the women say, and for now they are playing along. “It’s the worst-kept secret,” Susan says.

The women don’t use bylines, and the stories come organically, a few times a week, depending on what’s happening in Winchester Hall, the home of county government in Downtown Frederick. They text ideas back and forth, cracking each other up and fleshing out their thoughts. Usually whoever initiated the story writes it, or whoever’s the most passionate about the subject.

“Mostly it’s who has the time, there’s no schedule of who, what or when,” Elizabeth says. “Or whoever’s angriest,” adds Alice.  The list of what angers them, culled on the soccer fields as they watch their children practice, is lengthy, and they all chime in at the question.

“Ineptitude, ignorance, rudeness, laziness.”

“Inability to follow the rules. They need Robert’s Rules for Dummies.”

“They won’t read and they blame everyone else because they are not doing their jobs.”

And, from Elizabeth, “They conduct local politics with delusions of grandeur, something the people at Fox News would really admire.”

A recent entry, “Are Your Crystal Balls Getting This?” grumbles about the rumor of Blaine Young running for Delauter’s District 5 seat in 2018, while Delauter aims for the top spot of County Executive. With their usual snark, they deride Young, reminding us of his recent arrest in a prostitution sting, and conclude: “As of right now, Mr. Has-been doesn’t even live in District 5. Maybe he is going to move in with friends. Watch your women folk District 5. We’ve heard he has turned over a new healthy leaf and has put all his energy into getting a super hot body to better recruit you to his cause. But, a leopard doesn’t change his spots. Still a good ole boy looking out for his own hide.”

The blog and Facebook page for Local Yokel started in March 2015, shortly after County Executive Gardner took office and Young was still smarting over his loss. “He was flouncing off the political scene,” Alice says. “He couldn’t grasp that he had lost. It just set us off.”

They cite their inspirations as the D.C.-based website Wonkette and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, but with a mostly PG rating.

Initially, four women were involved, and they wanted to do a quote book, featuring the “best of” from their primary targets.  Once they decided to create the blog to get more people engaged in local politics and have a place to give vent to the “absurdity” they witnessed as avid viewers of county meetings. “We thought people should know what’s going on … we wanted to point out the humor, and thought that we might be able to get more people engaged in local politics,” Susan says.

“A blog is like an agile newspaper”

March 2015 also marked the advent of another local political blog, with a Libertarian slant. Ryan Miner, creator of A Miner Detail, says his blog has detractors from both sides of the aisle and that’s just fine with him. The blog has a longer reach, covering politics, business, education and government in Western Maryland and the state.

Miner takes pride in scooping Hagerstown’s daily newspaper, The Herald-Mail, and even gaining a following among its writers. “The largest number of hits on our blog come from The Herald-Mail,” Miner says. He’s been contacted by other, larger papers, and his work has been cited on local talk radio, sometimes with attribution, but most often not, Miner says.

An avowed fan of the Fourth Estate, Miner says he has plenty of sources and a dogged determination to root out the real story. He doesn’t see himself as competition for local papers, but he is happy when credited as the original source for a story that appears in the paper.

A Miner Detail (www.aminerdetail.com) is meticulous about sourcing and following the trail of a story, often accompanied by commentary. Eric Beasley, local activist and computer security professional, started blogging with Miner in January. Beasley, who recently lost a bid for Brunswick City Council, also appears as a guest commentator on WFMD’s local talk shows and says, like Miner, the blog is a hobby for him. “My favorite part about blogging is that a blog is like an agile newspaper. We can get info out there faster and more efficiently. We have a lot more flexibility and don’t have to worry about word counts,” Beasley says.

As for subject matter, Beasley says he writes about what matters to him. Chief among them is a bridge dedication for Marine Sgt. David Smith. The dedication was part of Del. Bill Folden’s Hero’s Highway Act that allows naming infrastructure for fallen service members and first-responders. For Beasley, this was a difficult entry, but one, as a veteran, he felt compelled to write. “Even as I try to write this, I feel myself shifting between tears and smiles. I know that no matter how much time I sit here, trying to write the perfect reporting on the story, that I will never do it justice. Nothing I can write will express the emotion and brotherhood that I felt there in person. Nothing I can say will ever do this whole story justice,” he wrote.

A Miner Detail doesn’t flinch at tough commentary, a lot of it reserved for state

Sen. Michael Hough, his wife JoeyLynn, the former chair of the Frederick County Republican Central Committee, and state Del. Kathy Afzali. But don’t get it twisted. Although they are not in sync on every issue, neither are fans of Democrats or of

Bud Otis, who recently left the Republican party for the more neutral “unaffiliated.”

“I imagine the County Republican Organizations are glad that Councilman Otis has changed registration. Now, these groups can speak out publicly against his reckless and self-serving actions that harm our pocketbooks,” Miner wrote.

Their commentary has gotten them into hot water from some of their targets, including, allegedly Robin Ficker. They took aim at Ficker, an attorney who has run unsuccessfully for several offices, including the 6th Congressional District’s Republican primary for fudging his military record, among other things. When an unauthorized mailer came out taking aim at Beasley and his candidacy for Brunwick City Council, Miner pointed the finger at Ficker. The feud is ongoing.

Miner, no stranger to controversy, was himself outed in local papers and by another blogger for past legal issues and embarrassing scuffles he’s gotten into, including an exchange with former Congressional candidate Dan Bongino. Miner was running for Washington County Board of Education at the time and did not do well.

These days, Miner says, that experience made him more aware of what he puts in writing for the world to see, and doesn’t like the idea of making anyone feel the way he did, with all his “baggage” on the street. Blogging put him in the public eye and makes him vulnerable, but his love of reporting, and the thrill it gives him, makes it worth it, he says. “People cast all types of aspersions and judgments. I am just a guy with an opinion.  Read it, don’t read it. It’s not personal. I just put it out there.”

“The state of local politics was devoid of substance”

Being targeted for a public beat-down in the pages of the local paper gave rise to Adam Umak’s enthusiasm for a website called FrederickCountyFactChecker. A former Frederick County teacher, Umak found himself on the receiving end of a tongue lashing in the local paper from then-Commissioner Delauter. The letter to the editor came after Umak spoke up in a public forum on education funding during the Young administration.

“After Delauter’s infamous fact-free letter to the editor about me, it was clear to me that the state of local politics was devoid of substance. Selecting the name was an easy choice that has an important message to those who expect the best from their elected officials,” Umak says.

When Umak’s website is up and running before the 2018 gubernatorial election, FrederickCountyFactCheck.com will serve, in part, as a localized Politifact, a fact-checking site based in Florida, but with an edge. “FCFC will encourage public participation paired with on-the-spot fact-checking and election coverage. While I certainly have my opinions, the actual fact checking will be as adjective-free as possible,” he says.

In the meantime, he continues to work on his two-year project, archiving and cataloguing news and information that will be part of his site.

According to Local Yokel bloggers, there will be no shortage of things for Umak to fact-check, or write about. “Sometimes we just want them to give us a break for one damn day. They give us so much to talk about,” Alice says.