It is fair to ask if the switch from the commission form of government to the county executive and council five years ago has changed the profile of Frederick County in the state capital, but the answer is blazingly obvious.
Of course it has.
Frederick County, under County Executive Jan Gardner, now speaks with one voice in Annapolis, and that one voice was popularly elected by a direct vote of the people. For the political class in the State House, that changes everything.
The capital is the place in Maryland where, more than any other, political power is appreciated and recognized. The biggest difference between lawmakers and everyone else — visiting citizens, business executives, appointed officials, lobbyists and even journalists — was best explained by a longtime lobbyist: “She (or he) has a vote.”
If you are a member of the General Assembly, you get to actually vote on the bills that create public policy in Maryland. And lawmakers respect other politicians who have gone through the rigorous process of going before the voters to get elected.
So Gardner, a Democrat who was first elected in 2014 in a county that was still majority Republican, automatically gets a level of respect. That she is a Democrat does not hurt in a General Assembly dominated by her party, either.
But the fact of her direct election, as opposed to being picked by the other commissioners as president and then going to Annapolis, is the most important factor in her being seen as the voice of the county.
Now, does that mean that she is heard the same way as the executive of Montgomery County or the mayor of Baltimore city is heard in the halls of power? No, of course not. Simple math and basic history tell you why.
Frederick is about one-fourth the size of Montgomery. It is also less than half the size of Baltimore city, and the city has a long legacy of being the most important subdivision in the state. Size and history both matter in Annapolis, and it just makes sense that Frederick County will never have the loudest voice in the room.
Having a voice in Annapolis, and even being heard there, is unfortunately not the same thing as being listened to. If it were, we might we gazing appreciatively at the construction of the downtown hotel and conference center.
Gov. Larry Hogan, in thrall to his fellow Republicans in the county delegation, has resisted the entreaties of Gardner and her fellow Democrats to release state money approved for the hotel project in the General Assembly. The vital project has been delayed for years, to the point that local officials are trying to put together a plan without state help.
So, no, neither Gardner nor any county executive can waltz into the beautiful, historic State House in Annapolis and begin issuing directives. But Gardner is being heard and being respected as the voice of Frederick County.
There are many benefits to having our charter form of government, but this is one of the most important. Since the change, Frederick County has stepped up as a major player in the state.