Happy Chinese New Year! Today, thousands of Howard County residents, their family, and their friends are taking the evening to celebrate the Year of the Wooden Horse. It's an odd testament to just how much the locality has changed from a wooded, horse-breeding collection of villages to one of the most diverse and affluent areas in the country.
Conservative members of the county might bemoan this fact. Some long-time residents-- who can remember the county before the developments, planned communities, and mass of people-- still live in shock. The typical response has been to form enclosed cliques of old-timers vs. newcomers. And as a result, more conservative county cliques do not at all reflect either the racial or occupational make-up of the area.
Conservatives shouldn't be content with the status quo and should definitely not concede to Democrats control of nearly all county offices, except for the rural, Western part of the county. Many have already declared defeat. It is impossible, they say, to appeal to the mostly white-collar, minority-majority, non-religious folks who live in the county's Eastern areas.
Such defeatism is not only ill-advised, but also neglects to appreciate the great in-roads that can be made with these residents. Does one honestly want to accept that the Howard County GOP will always be part of an increasingly small minority?
Circumstances may not be optimal, but there is cause to be optimistic for expanding the conservative appeal to a more diverse mix of residents. Let's take the Asian-American population, for example-- one of the largest in the state of Maryland. On the outset, it does seem hopeless. There is a wide lack of civic engagement. Those that do vote tend to be democratic, and most would rather not spend their money on political causes.
Let's dig deeper. Of all the issues that drove Asian-American voters to the polls, one of the most resonant was education. Asian-Americans are highly aspirational believers in the American Dream within which they see good public school education as a critical factor.
Conservative ideas for school reform could take root with this group. Reforming school unions and allowing for greater school choice are standard platform points of the GOP and ones that many Asian-Americans would find attractive. Sub-sections of the population, such as Christian Korean-Americans, see a high-rate of church attendance, community involvement, and relatively conservative social views.
Attractive points of the conservative platform do not only apply to Howard County's Asian-American residents. Younger residents might resonate with the conservative positions on the internet (keeping it open- a stellar model of free market capitalism) and entitlement reform (don't we all want to make sure that we are provided for when we get older too?). White-collar professionals are also aspirational, and no one wants to have to pay more taxes than they need to.
And perhaps, what is perhaps the most misinterpreted aspect about this new crop of Howard County denizens is their willingness to give time and effort to the poor. Despite being an affluent county, we can take pride that many of our residents worked hard to get where they are and to put food on the table. They remember when things were not always as glitzy as the lives their children now have, and many residents accept higher taxes for social support programs and an orderly way of life. This is by no means a bad thing. What if instead they could be sold on the possibility that to take care of the poor the best is to provide them with jobs? What if they could be sold on the fact that their county could be made more dynamic with less county regulations? And what if they could see an even more diverse county with immigration reform that allows more people with drive and ability from all the corners of the earth to settle down smack dab in Columbia?
The case can be made. It's just that no one has conclusively made it yet. County GOP candidates have a bad tendency to write off the groups just described as lost. Let's stop with that numerically defeatist strategy right here, right now. Let's start making overtures to folks who are celebrating the New Year-- folks who wouldn't even have thought of the county as a place to live even thirty years ago. After all, it is the year of he wooden horse, and nothing could be more fitting than to stampede ahead with a new direction, a new group of friends, and a fair degree of good luck.