Ernie Bell (standing) introduces Karl Pence as Democrat of the Year

Leonardtown, MD — Still licking their wounds from an overwhelming election defeat last November, St. Mary’s County Democrats assembled June 4 vowing to rise again. “We just have to get together and stay together and be Democrats,” former county Commissioner Eddie Bailey said in accepting an award at the annual dinner at Olde Breton Inn in Leonardtown. “We just have to take the county back.”

Democrats (and a few Republicans including Commissioner Todd Morgan) packed the venue owned and operated by Bailey for the annual Democrat of the Year Dinner. Speaker after speaker assured those assembled that politics is cyclical and the party would return to the prestige it once had in the county.

Bailey received the John G. Lancaster Award for Leadership in Education/Business. Two young men who worked for Democratic candidates last year, Roderick Lewis and Justin Fiore were honored as Rising Stars. Darlene Johnson was presented with the Mary Ann Chasen Award for Humanitarian Service. And two long-serving incumbents who lost in November, Roy Dyson and John Bohanan, were honored.

But the spotlight especially shone on the Democrat of the Year — Karl Pence, former Democratic Club president and former head of the Maryland State Teachers Association (now the Maryland Education Association).

St. Mary’s County was overwhelmingly Democratic until recent generations. But it was conservative, Southern Democrat. They were also Yellow Dog Democrats, because those voters would vote for a yellow dog before Republican.

Bailey quipped that his father told him if he went to hell it would be because he voted Republican once (for Sen. Paul Bailey, a then lone Republican in a sea of Democrats).

Pence picked up on the theme: “This old yellow dog still has some bark in him.” He said. Pence also grew up in a Democratic family (in Indiana) where it was also unheard of to vote Republican.

Pence talked about his life-long commitment to education, with the teachers association and as a teacher himself at Chopticon High School. “Education is not just about kids, it’s also for us,” he said. “Pence noted that the country’s education system predated the U.S. Constitution. He said protecting the U.S. Constitution “couldn’t work if we didn’t educate our people.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer [D; 5th Congressional District], who lives in St. Mary’s County but has lost his home county in recent elections, also told a history lesson. He said that when Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater was trounced by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election, everyone was writing off the GOP as dead.

Then came South Dakota Sen. George McGovern who was trounced by Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election. Hoyer noted that everyone was writing off the Democrats after that.

Hoyer picked up on a comment made earlier by former senator Roy Dyson, about observing waves at a beach. He said the waves come in and go out and when they come back in again they are entirely different. “The wave goes in and the wave recedes,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer said the difference between Democrats and Republicans is that for Democrats, “We are all in this together,’ but for Republicans, it’s “Get out of the way.” Hoyer said the Democratic philosophy includes raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment insurance. He said the Republicans, on the other hand, are saying “You are on your own.”

Hoyer praised Bohanan, who is an aide in his office. “I love John Bohanan. I don’t know of a person I have more respect for. He has done more for St. Mary’s County than anyone I know,” Hoyer said.

Also speaking at the dinner was U.S. Senate hopeful Rep. Chris Van Hollen. He also lauded Bohanan and Dyson.

“We are only as strong as a Democratic Party if we are strong everywhere in Maryland,” Van Hollen said, saying he was a strong advocate of the One Maryland slogan of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who Van Hollen hopes to replace upon her retirement.

Van Hollen also took note of the importance of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station to the county’s economy. The congressman said that Hoyer has been a champion for the base. “We have to make sure we have allies and fighters to work with Steny Hoyer,” Van Hollen said.

Bohanan’s award was presented by his son Devin, who is an engineer on base. He said his father attended every one of his high school games in spite of his busy schedule. He said he was a good husband and father. “That’s the real John Bohanan.”

The proud dad thanked his son and also the two young men who won the Rising Stars Award. “They really are the future of the party in the county and in the nation,” he said.

Dyson said he realized the election was over when he ran into a woman at a gas station whom he had known for a long time and she said she was voting Republican. Dyson added, that she said she would still vote for him, though. “We can turn this around. We can take it back,” he predicted.

Dyson’s Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by St. Mary’s County Democratic Club Vice President Bill Bates and Senator Douglas Peters (D – Prince Georges County), a friend of Dyson’s.

The award to Bailey was presented by Democratic Club President and former commissioner Jack Russell in honor the late former commissioner John Lancaster. Bailey noted that he and Lancaster served together for two terms and were booted out in the last Republican sweep 20 years ago. Of Lancaster, he said they sometimes disagreed, but he added, “You know you never had a better Democrat.”

The award to Johnson was presented by Dr. Janice Walthour in honor of the late Mary Ann Chasen, long-time executive director of Christmas in April. Of Johnson, Walthour said, “She is the epitome of what Mary Ann Chasen was and did.” Johnson has a long resume of civic involvement.

The awards to Lewis and Fiore were present by former Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler, who was an unsuccessful candidate for governor in last year’s Democratic Primary. Fiore, who worked on Bohanan’s campaign, told him, “We know you didn’t make it but I am proud of you. You have been there for St. Mary’s County.”

Lewis thanked his family for giving him the values of hard work that allowed him to survive a full-time job and volunteering during the election. “Their work ethic has shown me how to be a man,” he said.

Democratic Central Committee Chairperson Dr. Kathleen O’Brien energized the attendees at the beginning of the evening. “Democrats are alive and well in St. Mary’s County,” she said. Of the election, she it was “a ring of fire and our Democrats were burned.” But she said she was proud of the candidates for “not running from our beliefs.’

Former delegate Ernie Bell acted as Master of Ceremonies for the evening. Founder and Pastor of Restoration Free Gospel Church in Lexington Park John W. Briscoe offered the prayer of thanksgiving.

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