You couldn’t miss the signs as supporters gathered Tuesday at a Germantown arts center for state Sen. Rob Garagiola’s announcement that he was running for Congress.
High above the small crowd, plastered on pieces of lumber, the signs said, “NO Gas Tax Hike.” Holding up the signs was Robin Ficker – former delegate, Montgomery County gadfly, perennial candidate and thorn in the side to the MoCo establishment.
Ficker is himself a Republican candidate for the 6th Congressional District seat now held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, but he may prove to be more of a problem for Democrat Garagiola than he is for the 10-term Republican incumbent.
Ficker plans to dog other Garagiola events as a reminder that the Democratic majority leader has consistently supported raising the gasoline tax. Garagiola in fact was the lead sponsor of the bill creating the Blue Ribbon Commission that is recommending the 15-cent-a-gallon tax hike, along with fee hikes, and he serves on the commission. Garagiola also supported the increases in the sales, cigarette, income and corporate taxes passed in 2007.
These are things not likely to play well in the remaining conservative parts of the 6th Congressional District that was redrawn to make it possible for a Democrat like Garagiola to win.
“I don’t think you can be for a 65% increase in the gas tax and be for jobs and prosperity,” Ficker said, referring to a central theme of Garagiola’s campaign.
Otherwise, Garagiola is almost an ideal foil for Bartlett, whose principal problem is Roscoe Bartlett. Bartlett is 85 and seeking his 11th term in Congress after initially promising to limit his terms in office. He has raised little money for a reelection fight.
Garagiola by contrast is young (39), tall, vigorous, handsome, articulate. He is an Army veteran with a teacher wife, three kids in public schools, a good fundraiser, and a record of legislative accomplishment on the environment and health care with broad appeal to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He was the lead sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill that passed the state Senate.
“I’m running to break the petty partisan log jam in Washington,” Garagiola said, characterizing the Republican-dominated House as an enemy of jobs, health care, Medicare and Social Security.
At the moment, Garagiola is the leading Democrat to challenge Bartlett, and he has a year to make his case, if the aged Bartlett stays in the race as he has promised to do. He can only hope that his Ficker problem goes away – at least in the minds of most voters.