All Politics Is Local…

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Little tales illuminate big issues. Take defense spending and jobs, for example. It always drives me crazy when government bodies do something completely unrelated to their prescribed role. It happened just last week in Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of D.C. where I happen to live. Yet unrelated doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be gleaned.

It seemed the county council decided to put aside zoning and trash-collection issues to discuss the $700 billion the nation spends on its military each year. Council President Valerie Ervin, a Democrat, proposed a non-binding – to state the obvious — resolution calling for the federal government to shift money from defense to domestic programs.

That sent chills through local power brokers.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and County Executive Isiah Leggett – both Democrats – made phone calls inquiring about the wisdom of pushing for such a guns-for-butter swap. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Montgomery County, made a routine “status check” on the resolution, an aide says. But the real power behind the scuttle apparently came from Lawrence Duncan, vice president of federal and state government relations and political action committee affairs at defense giant Lockheed Martin, headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland – in the heart of Montgomery County. Lockheed regularly sits atop the Pentagon’s biggest-contractor list; the company is, among many other programs, building the F-35 fighter – the most costly weapons system in history – for the U.S. military.

According to the Washington Post, state of Virginia economic-development officials spoke with Lockheed executives about moving to friendlier Virginia soil. Montgomery fought – and lost – a bitter battle last year to woo Northrop Grumman’s corporate headquarters after it decided to leave southern California to be closer to the Pentagon. It ended up in Fairfax County, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Montgomery County.

Bottom line: the resolution, scheduled for a vote Tuesday after a 5-4 majority originally supported it, was withdrawn by Ervin, citing a lack of council support. Lockmart employs more than 5,000 people in Montgomery County; 40 activists gathered at the council chambers Tuesday to protest the resolution’s scrapping. Back to trash and zoning!