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Ready to run, he says, and to listen

Hope lives.

Despite the drumbeat of talk radio dystopia, despite the job-resistant economic recovery and despite often venomous political language, the can-do spirit of America endures.

And election season can bring with it a burst of patriotic risk-taking.

As a young man, Kenneth C. Holt rode on the funeral train carrying Robert Kennedy’s body after his assassination in 1968. Thousands of people lined the tracks slowly waving small American flags as the cortege passed.

For Holt, now a 58-year-old Republican, it has been a touchstone, an All-American tableau: People came out to salute a leader who had died in service to them and to their ideals.

That kind of trust and devotion is dying, he thinks. He steps forward now to represent a GOP in disarray, a party which has seemed to have no attraction for candidates with potential for higher office. He thinks he can change that — with help from the Tea Party, a much more representative group than it gets credit for.

His reverence for the American political system led him to run, successfully, for the House of Delegates in 1994. He lost a race — and learned a measure of humility — when he ran four years later for the state Senate. Until recently a senior vice president at the investment firm of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, he stayed active in public life as a “kitchen cabinet” adviser to former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and in other volunteer capacities.

Inspired by Obama, Tea Party

He seems never to have abandoned his ambition for public service and felt his desire to serve rekindled by newer scenes of common people taking charge of their destiny.

The spectacle of a relatively inexperienced, charismatic young black man — Barack Obama — borne to the White House on a wave of hope and change, was an example, he thought, of this country at its best, people taking control of their country and their lives.

He recently entered the race for Baltimore County executive based on what he regards as proof that the American spirit endures. The Tea Party and Americans for Progress, he says, are the tip of an iceberg of discontent — a much more potent force than some believe.

“I think the Tea Party is an example of American democracy at its best. It’s no different from the civil rights movement or the gay rights movement. The Tea Party is [a collection] of concerned Americans willing to stand up and fight for their country. They’re addressing the economic peril this country is in,” Holt says.

Members of these organizations — which he says are not fringe groups — are “respectful and reasonable,” he says. In a conversation last week, he said many Americans associated with no organized group are profoundly worried about the nation’s leadership. Many Republican and Democrats, he said, are “walking away from their principles.”

“The power’s in the hands of a small group of people and our elected representatives are falling into lock step with them. They’re not listening to people,” he said.

Eager for change

In Holt’s estimation, a landscape dominated by “inadequate” leaders offers an opening for real change, a leader who will listen and someone who has the courage to challenge entrenched political power.

He said he believes that Baltimore County has been well-managed, yet it has a deficit of $150 million or so that could be erased with prudent budgeting. State and local governments are destined to face “sequential declines in revenue. We may see budgets in decline for four or five years,” Holt says.

This will be a challenge because elected leaders have expanded services at an “aggressive rate, exceeding the strength of the economy” to support that spending, he adds.

Holt promises a “revolutionary” campaign driven by the latest cyber tools: social media that allows constant dialoguing with voters and offering real-time reports from campaign stops. Whatever breakthroughs Obama and others made in recent campaigns, he said he’ll push the practices further.

He’d like to have $500,000 for the campaign, but as others have been saying, less may have to be more in these times.

Though some may walk away from the litany of sour notes in public life today, Holt says the circumstances represent an opportunity. People want leaders who are willing to break up the old alliances.

“I’m young enough, strong enough and passionate enough to go for it,” he says. “It’s my Olympic dream.”

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His e-mail address is fsmith@wypr.org.