The race for Frederick county executive is only in its early stages but it has already begun to heat up.
On Monday, Sen. Michael Hough (Frederick and Carroll), who is the only Republican in the race, ripped one of the Democratic candidates as “far-left.” The criticism comes after Frederick County Council member Kai Hagen described Hough’s campaign mention of not wanting Frederick County to become akin to a “Montgomery County, North,” as a “dog whistle” for things Montgomery County is commonly known for such as political liberalism, racial diversity, and urban development.
Hagen is one of three Democrats in the race. The others are fellow County Council member Jessica Fitzwater and executive director of public affairs for Frederick County Public Schools Daryl Boffman. They and Hough are vying to succeed incumbent Jan Gardner. Gardner is a Democrat and has held the job since 2015. She is term-limited and cannot run again.
Frederick County used to be considered solidly Republican but that has changed in recent years due in part to northern migration from neighboring Montgomery County and widespread commercial development. Registered Democrats now narrowly outnumber registered Republicans in Frederick County and in 2020 Joe Biden became the first Democrat to carry the county in a presidential election since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
“I was a native of Montgomery County. I grew up there. I lived there until I was 18,” Hough told MarylandReporter.com. “And I saw first hand, the people like Kai Hagen, the policies they want to implement-which is high taxes, not supporting our law enforcement…And if you look at the traffic congestion there. You have to have balanced growth. And if you look at Montgomery County that is not what I want Frederick County to become. It’s pretty obvious he (Hagen) and the other Democrats want Frederick County to become ‘Montgomery County, North.’ I don’t.”
Hough added: “I think Frederick County should stay more suburban. And that we should manage growth in the county. And I don’t want overcrowded schools and crime and congestion and high taxes.”
Hagen, who has been involved in Frederick County government for more than two decades, said it is unclear how Hough actually came up with “Montgomery County, North.”
“I know enough about Michael Hough to know that he didn’t come up with something like that randomly or quickly. That he probably field-tested it. There may have been a survey or a focus group or something like that. And he worked to come up with something that fit a delicate balance between an overt message and a more subtle one.”
Hagen said Hough’s reference to “Montgomery County, North” has more sinister undertones.
“It’s not a very subtle dog whistle to a range of other issues that some of his voters will interpret more broadly to mean diversity and liberalism and environmental extremism. And I put diversity at the front of that short list…It’s taking the low road. Let’s put it that way.”
Hagen said Hough faces an uphill battle in his campaign to win in a county where the number of Democratic voters keeps on growing.
“He’s hoping to get a disproportionately Republican turn out in a midterm election with a Democrat in the White House…He’s an unalloyed, unabashed, proud, and adoring Trump supporter.”
Hough was elected Senate Minority Whip last year and is not seeking re-election. He said he is running for county executive because he feels that at the county level he can make more of a different policywise whereas in the overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland General Assembly he has fewer chances to do so.
Hagen said he is running for county executive to build on Gardner’s record of success and to keep the fast-growing county moving in a progressive direction.
Fitzwater was unable to respond to a request for an interview by the deadline for this story. Boffman could not be reached for comment on his cell phone.