Saturday, March 31, 2007

Waste, Fraud, Abuse

Check out my post on PolySigh for a beaut of an example of how House Republicans are often quick to highlight waste, fraud, and abuse when it involves authorizing money for a program designed to help ordinary Americans though relatively uninterested in corporate greed. While one Georgia Republican thought housing for Katrina victims was a good place to balance the budget, Mississippi Democrat Gene Taylor strongly disagreed. The post also contains a YouTube of one of the most entertaining floor fights on the House in the aftermath of Rep. Taylor's remarks.


Battle Over Rights Continues

According to an article in the Washington Blade, Dan Furmansky of Equality Maryland blamed Judicial Proceedings Chairman Brian Frosh (D-16) and the Senate leadership for the death of the transgender rights legislation this year:

Furmansky said the Judicial Proceedings Committee chair, Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), initially was reluctant to call for a vote on the bill despite a 2006 campaign pledge to support such legislation.

“Senate leadership did not want this bill on the floor for fear of a filibuster, which we think was highly unlikely,” Furmansky said.

Frosh called a vote March 23 to decide whether the measure should go before the full Senate, where activists expected it to pass.

“We had the vote count on the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate,” Furmansky said. “We had the votes.”

But the measure died in committee, 6-5, when Sens. Norman Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County) and C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County) joined the committee’s Republican members to kill it.

Furmansky said Muse’s vote came as a surprise because the legislator had repeatedly committed to Equality Maryland lobbyists and others that he would support the bill.

Muse did not respond to the Blade’s repeated attempts to contact him.

Sen. Lisa Gladden and Dana Beyer, a former candidate for the House in District 18 who now works for Montgomery Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, still characterized this as a step towards eventually gaining passage of the legislation:

Sen. Lisa Gladden, the bill’s author, said this year’s measure nonetheless marked a step forward.

“Although this bill was voted down, we made tremendous progress on educating the committee and the members of the General Assembly on this important issue, and we will reintroduce and pass this bill next year,” she said.

Equality Maryland board member Dana Beyer, who is transgender, agreed. She vowed to keep working with Gladden and others to pass the measure.

“We’re almost there in Maryland,” she said, “and I’m hopeful that we will reach our goal next year.”

In truth, even final passage of this legislation will largely be symbolic, albeit an important one since symbols matter in terms of indicating public acceptance and government pressure. However, stopping discrimination really takes greater understanding which brings a change in attitude on the part of the public. Even with discrimination laws, discrimination can still easily occur. It just tends to get obscured with people being less direct about the reasons for acting in a discriminatory manner.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan continues his campaign against the Human Rights Campaign as an ineffective, secretive, and dogmatic lobby for lesbian and gay rights at the national level. I've often joked that HRC often seems more like a logo than a movement. However, Republican control of Congress certainly made it more difficult for them to gain support in Congress. This year will be a real test for HRC as one might expect them to have greater success in passing anti-discrimination legislation with a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Election Reform Update

See my post on Free State Politics on how the Senate has killed a paper trail but breathed life into Electoral College reform proposals.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Transgender Rights Bill Dies

Equality Maryland reports that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee killed legislation which would have "prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression." The bill was sponsored by Sen. Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore), Vice Chair of the Committee. The bill died on a 6-5 vote. All four Republicans were joined by two Democrats, Sen. Norman Stone (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's) in voting against the proposed legislation.

Much speculation has ensued over why the bill died. Sen. Muse had repeatedly expressed support for the bill to Equality Maryland before voting to kill it. Chairman Brian Frosh (D-16) voted for the bill but some think he was happy to see it die and felt free to vote for it once he knew Sen. Muse would vote against it. Sen. Frosh's district is probably more liberal on social issues than Sen. Muse's district, so it might be easier for Sen. Muse to vote against the legislation than Sen. Frosh. Perhaps the Senate leadership wanted the bill dead because it would be a tough vote for many Democrats.

At the end of the day, the bill may have simply died because there were not six votes for it in the Committee. In addition to Sen. Brain Frosh, Montgomery Sens. Jennie Forehand (D-17) and Jamie Raskin (D-20) voted for the legislation.


Friday, March 23, 2007

District 18 Activist Aaron Kaufmann Testifies for Health Care

Sen. Rich Madaleno sent out the following email today:

This week I had the pleasure of testifying with District 18 activist Aaron Kaufman on an important health care bill I introduced this session. The bill would require health insurers to cover speech, physical, and occupational therapy for people with congenital or genetic disabilities, which currently they do not have to do for adults. (Delegates Gutierrez, Lawton, and Waldstreicher are all sponsors of the House version of the bill.) Maryland took the lead in 2000 by mandating this coverage for children through age 19. Now that Aaron (who has cerebral palsy) is 20, he is no longer covered by private health insurance for these services which are difficult to receive through Medicaid. Not receiving these services only exacerbates his condition, undoing the therapy and his hard work of these past years. I was very pleased to be able to introduce this legislation that would help some of our most vulnerable citizens.

I wanted to share his testimony with you because it was particularly moving. He did an excellent job of delivering it, and I think he really had an impact on the members of the committee. You could have heard a pin drop while he spoke.

Thanks, Rich


Senate Finance Committee

March 22, 2007

Chairman Middleton, Sen. Astle and members of the Committee.

Hello. My name is Aaron Kaufman. I want to thank you for allowing me to come before you today to discuss this important issue. I also want to thank Sen. Madaleno and the co-sponsors for their support and hard work on this legislation.

I am 20 years old. I have a disability called Cerebral Palsy. I am joined here today by my brother Jay, who is 23 and also has CP. We were both born with CP. Although we are fortunate that our disability is not life threatening, it is a lifelong challenge that requires consistent, continuous care. The most vital part of that care is physical therapy, which both Jay and I received until our private health care insurance company cut off all therapies (Physical, Occupational and Speech) when we each turned 20.

As Jay has already experienced, without physical therapy my condition will worsen, causing painful contractures and increased muscle tightness. This will require surgeries, drugs and extensive procedures my brother and other friends here with me today have already experienced.

Do we tell a diabetic you are 42 so no more insulin? Do we tell a cancer patient, sorry, you are 37, no more chemo? Of course not! Then why tell people with CP and other severe disabilities just that, you’re 20 and no more treatment.

In Maryland if you are born with a disability the insurance companies can and do cut off your therapies when you reach the age of twenty. In contrast to someone who was injured in say a car accident or other tragedy, they are entitled to physical therapy for as long as necessary and are not arbitrarily cut off.

My family currently pays over $45,000 a year in medical insurance premiums; in addition they must pay the deductibles, co-pays and related medical expense not covered under the policy. Until my brother and I reached the age of 20 the policy also covered my physical therapy and occupational therapy and his physical therapy and speech therapy. When they cut off our therapies the premium did not go down with the reduction in coverage, rather it went up.

The average price of physical therapy in Montgomery County is approximately $80-90 per session. That works out to be over $17,000 a year as the cost for my and my brother’s physical therapy. My occupational therapy and my brother’s speech therapy would double that cost to my family. Medicaid does cover physical therapy, in theory but not in real life. They only pay $27 for a session. We have not been able to find a single physical therapist in Montgomery County who will accept Medicaid.

My insurance company may save some money in the short term by not paying for therapy however, as a result of the inevitable complications they will have to pay far more for the costly remedial procedures than they would if they simply covered the physical therapy in the first place.

The insurance companies don’t seem to understand that weekly physical therapy can save them the cost of major procedures needed later, to undo the damage done by not having physical, occupational or speech therapy.

This bill addresses the inequity faced by individuals born with disabilities and provides them with the same rights as those who are injured later in life. It also addresses the arbitrary age cut-off date.

I am hopeful that this committee will take swift action to address the problems faced by my family and many other families with regard to services that are vital to people with disabilities. I hope you will vote for SB 944.

Again thank you for your time and consideration. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at 301-951-3477 or


MoCo Legislators Attack Anti-Gay Amendment

Equality Maryland thanked various legislators on the House Judiciary Committee for their support in killing Del. Don Dwyer's (R-Anne Arundel) constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Their email gave plaudits to a number of MoCo legislators for thanks, including Susan Lee (D-16)--a real leader in the fight for gay and lesbian rights. Other members of the committee who were thanked for challenging witnesses testifying against the amendment included:

Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) repeatedly challenged a Baptist conference leader about his interpretation of Leviticus, citing passage after passage about other biblical “abominations,” and asking the clergy member if he would support a bill to ban the consumption of shellfish, or the wearing of clothing of two different fabrics.

Del. Luiz Simmons (D-17) used his strong legal background to call out the witnesses who clamored for a “popular vote” on the issue, saying that the idea that every issue of contention in the General Assembly should go to a public referendum was silly.
It seems as if all those years of Hebrew School were not wasted on our new delegate here in District 18.


Closing Woodmont Ave.

I attended the public meeting on the development of Lots 31 and 31A in downtown Bethesda. County parking lots are situated currently on the surface of both lots which are located opposite the Barnes & Noble at the intersection of Bethesda Ave. and Woodmont Ave. In other words, this is an incredibly valuable piece of land in the epicenter of Bethesda.

The development plan includes the construction of an underground parking lot with 1450 parking spaces (1150 public and 300 private). The parking lots will have two exits, one on the east side of Woodmont Ave. and one Bethesda Ave (east of Woodmont Ave.) There will be 250 residential units ranging in size from 600 to 3500 square feet for a total of 332,500 square feet. Thirty workforce housing units are included in the project. There will also be 40,000 square feet of retail space at street level.

The development plan should make the pedestrian crossings at Bethesda Ave. and Woodmont Ave. narrower and easier to cross that the current intersection. The impact on traffic of narrowing Woodmont and expanding the parking lots is far less clear though seems ominous. The plans also include a bike drop location and enhanced access to the trail behind the building, roughly equivalent to the current secondary access behind the parking meters on the lot. More information about the development plan (from the developer) can be found at

Construction of the parking lot will entail closing Woodmont Ave. between Bethesda Ave. and Miller Ave (the latter is just north of Leland St.) for an estimated two year period between Summer/Fall 2008 and Summer/Fall 2010. The public garage is projected to open in Winter/Spring 2011. The retail spaces should open in Summer 2011 and the residential spaces should be completed in Summer/Fall 2011.

The two-year closure of the garage will have a major impact. The developer admitted that no planning had occurred to deal with the impact on traffic in response to a question from myself. They said that this was something to think about after final approval for the project had been received and were cavalier about the traffic problems which would will when they close the street. One got the impression that they didn't think this was an important question, at least in their initial responses.

The developer had also not considered that the Woodmont-Leland connection was the major connection between the Town of Chevy Chase and downtown Bethesda. Indeed, it is the only way Town residents can cross Wisconsin into the central section of Bethesda (not to mention the nearby Giant Supermarket) without turning first on to Wisconsin.

The Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation needs to give serious consideration to the impact on traffic patterns and on how to deal with the issue most effectively since this is hardly a short-term problem if Woodmont will remain closed for two years. It is amazing that no plan yet exists to deal with this issue.

Additionally, the temporary loss of all of the short-term parking in the existing parking lots probably means that more of the spaces in the major lot with entrances at Elm St. and Bethesda Ave. need to be allocated to short-term parking. The County should also see if it is possible to lease other open lot spaces nearby as temporary long or short-term parking to alleviate the pressure caused by the construction.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Gaithersburg Tax Cut

Last Thursday, I attended the Montgomery County Senate delegation meeting which was taken up by a piece of local legislation advocated by Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-17) and the City of Gaithersburg. The legislation is geared toward correcting a tax anomaly created by Gaithersburg's expansion and poorly crafted legislation.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) is funded by a local tax. Several municipalities in northern Montgomery, including Rockville and Gaithersburg, do not pay the tax on the grounds that they fund their own parks. However, the areas annexed by the municipalities since the creation of the M-NCPPC since its creation some 41 years ago are in limbo. They haven't been charged the tax but are legally required to pay it because they live outside the boundaries of Gaithersburg at the time the law went into effect.

This problem affects some 19,000 homes in Gaithersburg and only around 30 in Rockville, though the number in Rockville is projected to rise substantially based on construction unless the problem is fixed. The proposed local legislation would change the law governing the tax used to fund the M-NCPPC so that the areas annexed by the municipalities don't have to pay it. and the County can't go after the residents for retroactive taxes.

M-NCPPC argues that several park facilities are really county facilities and the municipalities should pay a large portion of the tax. Mayor Sidney Katz, assisted by staff from the City, strenuously argued that Gaithersburg residents should have to pay no more than 10 percent of the tax as Gaithersburg funds it own parks and there is a provision for reciprocal park use among Gaithersburg and Montgomery residents.

Several senators raised the issue of inequity among county residents if Gaithersburg residents are totally exempt from the tax. Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20) pointed out that Takoma Park residents pay the tax even though they also fund their own park facilities. Sen. P.J. Hogan (D-39) noted that he pays homeowner association fees to fund facilities in his Upcounty neighborhood on top of the M-NCPPC tax. M-NCPPC representatives argued that several facilities in the County are unique and used by people from all over the County.

Gaithersburg countered that exempting all of Gaithersburg from the tax would simply make de jure the de facto situation before it was discovered that many homes in Gaithersburg are liable for the tax. Gaithersberg reps agreed that the County needed to negotiate with all municipalities about the share of the tax that their residents would pay in order to achieve equity across the County. However, the M-NCPPC and Gaithersburg are far apart in what they consider an equitable tax rate for the City of Gaithersburg.

After a long discussion, the bill gained the support of the Montgomery County senators.

In truth, this bill is utterly unnecessary. County Executive Leggett backed the bill but also made clear that he had no intention of collecting this tax. Gaithersburg even successfully fought off a proposal to place a time limit of two years on the exemption of all Gaithersburg residents, arguing that this provision would discourage the County from negotiating in good faith with Gaithersburg and other municipalities.

Hogwash. The County Executive and County Council would have to be politically brain dead to even consider angering such a large block of residents unnecessarily. They would certainly want negotiations brought to a conclusion acceptable to the County and the City. In contrast, Gaithersburg's pursuit of a permanent exemption from the M-NCPPC tax gives the City absolutely no incentive to negotiate in good faith because they already don't pay any tax but can use all of the County facilities.

The reciprocity norm will likely see this bill through to final passage. Undoubtedly, Montgomery senators do not want to annoy Sen. Forehand, not just because she has a reputation of being extremely nice but because they may need her support on a bill affecting their own districts some day. House of Delegates Majority Leader Kumar Barve personally lobbied the Senate delegation to support the bill. It's hard to turn him down too.

Unfortunately, as I believe Sen. Rich Madaleno pointed out, this means that the County delegation will likely have to revisit this issue in order to achieve greater equity. The next time the issue appear, the delegation may not have the luxury of simply ratifying an agreement between municipalities and the County as this proposal appears to make such an agreement much less likely. And state legislators would be unwise to simply let the issue rest as it allows a major inequity between municipalities to continue.


Friday, March 16, 2007

E.J. Pipkin Not Ready for Prime Time.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting on the floor of the Maryland Senate--a wonderfully historic chamber in our beautiful State Capitol. Thanks to Scott Tsikerdanos who loaned me his coat and tie so that I was presentable enough to enjoy the honor! I was both embarrassed and pleased that Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-18) introduced me to the Senate during the "introduction of guests" period, though he should not be held responsible for my views here.

The main matter of business was a debate over new restrictions on the legislative scholarship program. As some of you may know, Maryland has this outrageous program by which members of the Senate and the House of Delegates can give scholarship money to whomever they choose. A new and utterly sensible step on the way towards abolishing this political boondoggle has been to give legislators the option of giving the money to the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to administer impartially on their behalf.

A second step has been for MHEC to deny scholarships to people with familial ties to the legislator. E.J. Pipkin (R-Eastern Shore) offered a couple of amendments to the bill and generally showed a basic lack of common sense or ethics. He is deeply offended by the bill and sees no difference between a relative receiving a scholarship directly from a legislator and from an impartial state-administered screening process. Pipkin failed in his bid to gain a promotion to the U.S. Senate when incumbent Barbara Mikulski whipped him 65-34% in 2004.

Pipkin basically gutted the bill's teeth by first getting the Senate to make it illegal to "knowingly" award scholarships to people with familial ties. Good luck proving knowingly in a court. Second, Pipkin got the Senate to hold over the bill until a later date by arguing that the definition of family is revised down. Pipkin wants to exclude mother-in-laws, foster kids, and a number of other relations from the definition.

Sen. Delores Kelly of (D-Baltimore City) argued in favor of excluding foster kids as we should reward legislators who take on this responsibility. This seemed a fair point. I was less impressed by Pipkin's argument that the bill provided an unfair burden by requiring him to know the relations of his delegates since he cannot give the money to their relatives either. Of course, as another swifter senator pointed out, he had nothing to fear since he would only encounter a problem if he did this "knowingly" thanks to his first amendment. Moreover, a simple question on the scholarship application could take care of this problem.

As Sen. Madaleno observed on an earlier occasion, domestic partners are not mentioned in the legislation, so Maryland is finally on the verge of genuinely passing a law that grants gays and lesbians "special rights". After all, if he had not already given the money to MHEC, he could use the money to fund his partner's education. Senate President Mike Miller offered that the legislation showed the difficulty of legislating "common sense." Especially with E.J. Pipkin in the Senate.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chevy Chase Town Council Meeting

The Chevy Chase Town Council met yesterday and managed to get through an amazingly ambitious agenda. All five members of the Council were in attendance. Here are some brief highlights:

1. Strategic Vision. The Town formally adopted its Strategic Plan designed by the Visioning Committee during the Town's building moratorium. Hats off to Bridget Hartmann and Pat Burda and the many others who were active on this committee and in developing the plan.

2. Vote Early, Vote Often. The Town approved an extension in voting hours and no-excuse-needed absentee voting. On Election Day, town offices will open early at 7:30am so that voters can pick up and cast an absentee ballot before work. Regular balloting will begin at 5:00 when the town offices close and continue until 8:00pm. Absentee ballots will now be accepted until 8:00pm instead of 5:00pm as was previously the rule. (Note: I need to doublecheck the exact times but you get the idea.)

3. Seeing Purple. The Council asked the Town Manager to include $250,000 in the FY08 budget for the purpose of conducting independent studies of the Purple Line. The Town has never been thrilled by the proposed light rail running along its northern border. It is even less happy now that the proposal has the trains running on the south side of the current trail and thus closer to the houses in the Town. The trail next to the trains would be on the northern side of the current trail and thus not easily accessible to town residents. The purpose of allocating the spending appears to be to have the money there and approved if needed but it is far from clear that the Town will actually spend even a fraction of this amount.

4. Shredder Time! The Town will pay for a shredder truck for four hours on Saturday, April 21st so that town residents can shred their documents. Folks, only in the Washington metro area!

5. Traffic. The Town is postponing most efforts to install most new crosswalks or raised intersections because work on stormwater and water main infrastructure is about to turn the Town's streets into a construction site for two years. Some painted crosswalks may be tried out in the meantime as an interim solution. At this time, the Town Council also decided not to pursue to creation of entryway barriers during rush hour at Leland and 46th St. as a means of preventing cut through traffic in the Town. The Town is also considering extending rush hour traffic limitations from 6 to 7:00pm.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wheaton-Kensington Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner

The Wheaton-Kensington Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner will be held at Hollywood East Café on the Boulevard, 2621 University Boulevard, Silver Spring on Wednesday, March 21 at 6:30 p.m. At the dinner, the Mid-County Citizen’s Advisory Board will award Crossing Georgia subcommittee of the Forest Estates Community Association (FECA) – the “Civic Association of the Year” for its efforts to get a pedestrian tunnel or overpass installed at the intersection of Georgia Avenue (Maryland Rt. 97) and Forest Glen Road in Silver Spring to reduce the risks to pedestrians. The Board will also award neighborhood resident Adam Pagnucco as “Citizen of the Year” for his tireless leadership of the committee. In addition to the Mid-County awards, Crossing Georgia and Pagnucco will receive citations from the State of Maryland’s District 18 delegation (Senator Rich Madaleno and delegates Ana Sol Gutiérrez, Jane Lawton and Jeff Waldstreicher), to be presented by Delegate Lawton.


Remember the Magic?

No new posts have appeared for several days on Maryland Politics Watch because your intrepid blogger left the safety and comfort of Montgomery County to go on vacation outside the Old Line State at Walt Disney World. Disney World is enormous with four theme parks, two water parks, along with umpteen stores, hotels, and even a gaggle of rather sanitized nightclubs. In short, this is no Mickey Mouse operation.

We had a great time touring the parks. We happened to arrive at the Magic Kingdom just as one of the many parades featuring Disney characters began to come down Main Street USA. Besides the usual suspects of Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, and Goofy, this one focused on all of the famous princesses from Disney movies—Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, Snow White—and their gay boyfriends.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Disney World is the consistency and quality of the service. Disney employees are uniformly friendly and helpful, and know how to deal with the problems that inevitably come up in a theme park. In the space of about fifteen minutes, I saw one “cast member” selling candy in Frontierland help a thirteen year old locate his lost parents and another direct a woman in a wheelchair to the front of the line for a ride. Ever Disney restaurant has a vegetarian option and is happy to accommodate food allergies and health needs.

Disney has been accused of running a fascist state behind the scenes in order to achieve this level of service. The rules banning long hair and facial hair have long been cited as key evidence, though apparently neatly trimmed moustaches are now permitted. However, I’ve got to hand it to anyone who can get a workforce which has so many people who look like this is their first job to perform so well. I’m afraid that I’ve never had the same level of success in the classroom. Of course, I can’t fire my students!

It must be tough to achieve this level of service without Tinkerbell spreading her fairy dust or some other less legal substance around widely. How does someone remain so cheerful while dancing around in one of those character costumes in ninety degree heat? Most people don’t even get to play Mickey. I saw a whole troop of employees dressed as the brooms from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia. Others spend their days loading people on to the same ride day after day. They not only avoid jumping on the tracks, they even manage to smile.

One of the most enjoyable shows in any of the parks ironically features no Disney characters whatsoever. Jim Henson’s Muppet Vision 3-D has a wry sense of humor that I find more amusing than the usual syrupy Disney approach. You gotta love when Rizzo the Rat tries to pass as Mickey Mouse. Some of the lines have gotten only funnier over the years:

Kermit the Frog: We will also see a rousing finale from Sam the Eagle. What's it called, Sam?

Sam the Eagle: It's called "A Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America".

Disney’s newest theme park, the Animal Kingdom, is also probably its coolest. I’m amazed that the safari ride hasn’t put the Jungle Cruise in the Magic Kingdom out of business. “It’s Tough to Be a Bug!” combines a 3-D movie with surprising live action effects in the way that Disney does better than anyone. This park even has a bar for adults though don’t try to get a picture taken with a Disney character while holding on to a margarita. Cast members will politely insist on holding it for you while you take the picture. I guess Mickey doesn’t like to party.

The Animal Kingdom relentlessly promotes environmentalism, even banning tops and straws from plastic cups in order to protect the animals. It all seems very Takoma Park, or at least Garrett Park, except that the relentless expansion of Disney World has pretty much operated on the “pave paradise, put up a parking lot” motto. If you’ve seen the size of a Disney parking lot, you know what I mean. The “you can’t stop progress” theme of the Carousel of Progress seems more authentically Disney.

Of course, progress continues even at Walt Disney World. The animatronics which seemed so cool when I visited the park years ago now seem very dated. Eastern Airlines no longer sponsors an attraction in Tomorrowland. Rumor has it that even the Carousel of Progress will soon be retired after over four decades.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On Political Pulse

Two-term Maryland Governor Harry R. Hughes (1979-1987) and John Frece, who together co-wrote "My Unexpected Journey" about Governor Hughes' life and political career, will be on the "Political Pulse" TV Show on Thursday, March 8th at 9 p.m. and Tuesday, March 13th at 9:30 p.m.

Governor Hughes was raised in the small Eastern Shore town of Denton and served in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate and also was the Secretary of Transportation before running for Governor in 1978. In the Democratic primary in 1978, he pulled off one of the greatest come from behind victories in Maryland history.

I recall that years ago my sister accidentally wandered into Gov. Hughes's office in the State Capital when we were kids visiting Annapolis with our parents. The governor was very nice and gave her a signed photo of himself. Gov. Hughes restored dignity to the office after the scandals of the Agnew and Mandell years.

John Frece covered the 1978 Election and Governor Hughes' two terms as a newspaper reporter.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Gay Donors in Maryland

The Atlantic has a fascinating story explaining how gay mogul Tim Gill is organizing wealthy gay donors to finance campaigns against anti-gay state legislators as part of an effort to knock them off before they can do damage at the state level, or a la Rick Santorum, make it to the federal league:

With that in mind, he assembled a bipartisan team of political operatives and tested his theory in 2004, quietly targeting three antigay Colorado incumbents; two of them went down. Through the combined efforts of a host of progressive interest groups, including many supported by Gill, Democrats captured both chambers of the legislature for the first time in forty years. Gill’s decision to back Democrats in Colorado was the only choice that would produce the gay-tolerant leadership he’s pursuing. But ten years from now, he told me, he hopes he’ll be able to give evenly to Republicans and Democrats.
As it turns out, Gill has already made his wish come true at least as far as campaigns in the Old Line State. I wasn't too shocked to discover that Gill supported Democrat Dana Beyer's campaign for the House of Delegates in District 18 with a donation of $1000. He also gave $500 to Democrat Heather Mizeur's campaign for the House of Delegates in District 20. (Beyer is transgender and Mizeur is lesbian.)

I was surprised to discover, however, that he also gave $2000 to the reelection campaign of Gov. Bob Ehrlich--not usually seen as a great friend of gays and lesbians as he vetoed legislation that would have given more rights to same-sex couples on the grounds that it threatened "the sanctity of traditional marriage."


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

No Pardon for Scooter

Scooter Libby was found guilty of lying about his role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name. As a friend of mine likes to say, it is the cover-up rather than the crime that always ends up getting people in trouble. The response from the Vice President's office appears to be that it is too bad and the jury was wrong. Mind you, Scooter had the best counsel money can buy and the jurors seemed to have little doubt of his guilt despite their sympathy for him. Indeed, they seemed to believe, like much of the nation, that Karl Rove and the Vice President were behind the leak of Valerie Plame's name to the media.

One can only imagine what the Vice President's response to a conviction in a Democratic Administration about leaking the name of a spy to the press would have been. My guess is that something about costing lives, undermining American national security, and aiding terrorists would have been mentioned instead of sympathy for the leaker. Of course, Cheney's support for Scooter may rest not on just loyalty but on fear of what Scooter could tell prosecutors about the Vice President's role in leaking Plame's name and then covering up the leak.

Scooter's conviction is perhaps a good time to remember that this is the Administration that inveighed against pardons at the end of the Clinton Administration. Democrats should demand insistently that no pardon be given to Scooter. At this point, a pardon would be an extension of the cover-up and a clear effort to protect the Vice President, Karl Rove, and other advisers to the Administration from further scrutiny. Of course, it would also be a natural extension of the imperial presidency in which Bush can do no wrong and anything is justified to further the Administration's interests.

Indeed, Fitzgerald's investigation would seemingly turn next to the Vice President based on what he said in his winning closing argument:

"There is a cloud over what the vice president did," Fitzgerald told jurors in the prosecution's closing arguments. "That's not something we put there. That cloud is not something you can pretend is not there."
. . .

"This is not a case about bad memory," Fitzgerald told the jury during opening statements last month "It was important. . . . He made time to deal with the Wilson matter day after day after day."

Fitzgerald and fellow prosecutors showed notes hand-written by Cheney and Libby indicating that the vice president was deeply disturbed by Wilson's explosive accusations that the White House had used bogus intelligence to justify the war. Witnesses and evidence showed Cheney orchestrating a point-by-point response to Wilson's claims -- some of it misleading -- that the administration gave to hand-picked reporters.

A very bad day for the Bush-Cheney Administration.


Rude Rudy, Struggling Hillary, and Soaring Barack

The Washington Post has a column today that helps explain why I still have difficulty seeing Rudy Giuliani as the Republican nominee for president despite his rise in the polls, even though pro-choice Republican friends of mine remain utterly convinced that he can win the nomination and will win the general election against "Hillary".

On the other hand, Barack Obama's star just continues to soar as Richard Cohen's column in the Post explains. As another friend of mine commented, Obama just outdoes her on all of the virtues she has. Clinton's political strength nationally rested on a foundation of black support but Obama is steadily winning over black voters.

Clinton used to be the one senator who had immediate star power. However, Obama can attract a crowd just as easily and keep them entranced once they arrive--a problem for Clinton, a lackluster speaker. Obama is winning over Hollywood fundraisers like David Geffen to Clinton's public consternation. Clinton must be going nuts because Obama is the one person who could challenge her this way.


Marilyn Praisner Interviewed

on Just Up the Pike.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Out of Power, Out of Ideas, But Not Out of Breath

Former Assistant Secretary Carol Arscott penned a column in the Gazette which contains the now standard Republican bleating about the unfair media bias against Republicans. Her whinge centers on media treatment of transportation issues:

Maryland Republicans insist that Maryland Democrats can do anything and get away with it. There is no better example of the Republicans’ axiom than the reaction — or lack thereof — to the Feb. 22 bombshell announcement by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s secretary of transportation, John Porcari, that none of Maryland’s three major new transit projects — the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line or the Red Line in Baltimore — will go to public hearing this year as planned.

If Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s transportation secretary, Bob Flanagan, had dropped news of a major schedule slip in just one of those all-important transit projects during a legislative hearing, he would have been lucky to escape the building alive. There would have been rallies and demonstrations and editorials, all decrying the transit-hating Ehrlich administration.

But with Ehrlich gone, and no other whipping boy handy, public reaction to the announcement has ranged from muted to nonexistent.
This column is breathtaking in its audacity. After all, regardless of what one thinks of Transportation Secretary Porcari, these delays are hardly his fault. The delays in the environmental impact statements and the errors in ridership estimates are facts that would have come to light regardless of who was elected governor. Porcari just probably allowed them to become public sooner than they would have if Ehrlich and Arscott remained in power.

The column nonetheless has one good point. Arscott is correct that O'Malley, like her former boss Ehrlich, still has yet to figure out how to pay for the new projects.


Congestion Charge as Taxation

Todd Howland advocates that the District of Columbia should borrow a page from London and charge people who drive into the city. Howland remains unhappy that DC cannot tax commuters and suggests a congestion charge as a way around that "problem":

A stunning two-thirds of all income earned in the District is by nonresidents. Of these commuters, roughly 250,000 drive solo into Washington daily, making them both polluters of our air and freeloaders of our infrastructure.

Unlike all 50 states, the District is not permitted to collect income tax from those who work there but reside elsewhere. We in the District pay the second-highest "state" taxes in the country, in part because there is no nonresident tax and because the federal government, embassies and nonprofits are often exempt from property tax. Exempt property makes up 41 percent of the District's total area. Wrongly, Congress -- the entity that taxes us without representation -- won't let us impose a nonresident income tax.
. . .

Fenty should impose a District version of London's congestion charge on all nonresident commuters. As in London, the charge should apply to all nonresidents -- even diplomats and members of Congress.
The column is rather misleading in several ways. First, the London congestion charge applies only to a zone in central London--not to the entire city. Second, the main purpose of the London congestion charge is to reduce congestion--not substitute for an income tax. Before the congestion charge, it was literally often quicker to walk through central London rather than riding a bus. The congestion charge has successfully made it easier to move through central Londno by bus as well as by tube or private car. Third, central London is accessible by a thorough and comprehensive public transport system in a way that much of Washington is not.

As usual, the complaint about the leeches that commuters are on the District neglects to mention that commuters subsidize the District through the federal payment to the District and the federal assumption of certain key expenses by the District. Moreover, visitors to the District are especially likely to pay the District's heavy meal tax. Does Howland really want to discourage people from commuting to the city for entertainment or conducting business in the District? Metro, jointly subsidized by Maryland and Virginia as well as the District, benefits the District disproportionately because it is organized around taking people in and out of the central hub. On the other hand, many District residents also commute to the suburbs for work. Perhaps they should have to pay a similar tax to leave the city.

In any case, one suspects that Congress would not allow a charge that was geared toward replacing a commuter tax rather than attacking congestion.


It's All About the Money

Former State Secretary for Disabilities Kristen Cox, who Ehrlich selected as running mate in the 2006 election, came out against making money easier for the blind to identify by adding Braille dots or varying its size and color:

I acknowledge that for some (especially those who have recently lost their vision) handling money can be inconvenient or even overwhelming at first. However, with a few easy-to-learn techniques (such as folding each denomination differently or using a hand-held optical-scanning money reader), a blind person can use money as anyone else does.

By labeling what may be an inconvenience to some as discrimination, the judge has set forth a false impression of the real challenges and barriers blind people face. With an estimated 70 percent unemployment rate, persistent underemployment and a lack of access to crucial workplace and public technologies, most blind people struggle with having enough money to meet their basic needs -- not with using it.

I guess the greenback will remain a greenback (or a green-and-orangeback) if Cox has her way.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Gillogly on Council Town Meeting

Kevin Gillogly, a local activist who campaigned tirelessly for newly elected Councilman Marc Elrich, kindly shared this report on the County Council Town Meeting:

Wednesday, February 28 at Francis Scott Key MS in the White Oak/Hillandale section of Silver Spring, the Montgomery County Council had its first Town Meeting since the November elections brought four new members to the nine person Council.

Chaired by Council President, Marilyn Praisner (District 4 -- East County) and hosted by the local Council member, Valerie Ervin (District 5 -- Takoma Park, Silver Spring and Wheaton), there were a total seven of the nine members in attendance: Praisner, Ervin, Phil Andrews (District 4 -- Rockville / Gaithersburg), Duchy Trachtenberg (At Large), George Leventhal (At Large), Nancy Floreen (At Large) and Marc Elrich (At Large).

It was an hour long question and answer with local residents. It was taped by County Cable Channel 6 and it will be edited next week and shown for a month afterwords. To see the complete schedule go here.

The crowd of 90-100 was pumped full of sugar -- if one came to the reception a half hour before the meeting. I made full use of the cookies and soda.

Moderator Susan Kennedy asked prior to the taping how folks heard of the meeting: it was a split between local listservs and the postcard to local residents. The crowd was significantly older than the Van Hollen Town Meeting on Monday and clearly more interested in local issues.

The anti-ICC folks were present and handing out a flyer. No other issue groups were there.

After introductions by President Praisner and an acknowledgment of former State Senator Ida Ruben and her husband Judge Ruben, the bulk of the questions were on transportation, public safety and yes the ICC.

Key points that came out of the meeting:

Budget Deadlines
County Executive Ike Leggett has to submit his budget on March 15 and the County has to be completed by June 1 for the start of the County Fiscal Year (July 1);

Increase in Police Officers
Public Safety question on robberies in the area elicited from Public Safety Chair Phil Andrews that the County funded for 90 new police officers in the past few years at a cost of around $30-35 million and that these officers are to be deployed on robberies and the like. Police Chief Tom Manger is to bring up his Five Year Plan to the Council in the coming months;

Council Saves the Children of Forest Glen
Crossing Georgia Advcoate Adam Pagnucco humorously said regarding his group's effort to solve the dangerous crossing at Georgia Ave.: "We've been asking the government to build a new Metro entrance for quite awhile. We pleaded with them to build it. We complained. And finally, we revolted. Old ladies raised their canes to the sky in fury. And little kids refused to sit in their strollers to be wheeled across the street. The whole neighborhood went on strike!"

"This council heard us. They listened to us and understood our problems. And for the first time, they asked the state government to start development and evaluation on our project. That's the first step among many steps to build the new Metro entrance. And we are grateful for it."

Valerie Ervin and Marilyn Praisner both made comments supportive of the proposed tunnel;

Golden Shoveling It
The lack of snow removal around the Glenmont Metro elicited an apology from Nancy Floreen who agreed that public areas need to shoveled too. She also made her pitch for the Golden Shovel Award and for folks to nominate citizens who has really pitched in (my pun);

The status Birchmere in downtown Silver Spring seems to be "on track" according to Ervin and Praisner. State budget has $2 million for the project; County proposal comes out on March 14 and plans by the developer for the rest of the site are still to be determined;

The Never Ending Discussion
The interesting exchange started with a question on ... you guessed it ... the ICC. Where Praisner mentioned her opposition to the state road but that most of the plans are coming from the state where pro-ICC Gov O'Malley sits. Praisner favors four lanes at some places -- in lieu of the norm of six lanes. Floreen favors the road.

Marc Elrich is his only time speaking mentioned that only 4% of the traffic would go the full length of the road and they would only save 4 minutes (this according to the County and the State's own study). Marc mentioned the greatest use would be in the area between Shady Grove and Georgia Avenue and is this the best use of the money? Floreen believes if we don't use the money another part of the state will get the money instead of us.

Council Punts on Sending Their Transportation Priorities to the State
In light of the limited funds all elected officials mention, Marc pointed out that he asked his colleagues to sign a letter outlining the County's Transportation Policies with the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) at the top of the list and the ICC not on it. Needing five signatories, Marc got four: his, Duchy's, Andrews and Praisner. So it died.

Leventhal and Elrich Exchange on Growth Policy
George Leventhal questioned Marc on what about the out of county residents. Marc fired back that the previous Council approved 110,000 in jobs and only 29,000 housing units and if you use the 1.5 workers per unit that there is a serious housing shortage that the previous Council did not address. This would have continued but Praisner interrupted them and got the questions back to the audience.

Future Events
Go to the County Web site for upcoming events, Executive Leggett will be at Ritchie ES in Rockville on March 23 (was originally in Feb but canceled due to snow) and at Holiday Park in Wheaton on March 29.
Kevin, thanks for the update! Keep 'em coming!


Brave New World

An era of Washington television is coming to a close with the retirement of WRC-TV's George Michael. I confess that I only occasionally watch the news but, like with most local institutions, the important thing is not that they are used but that you know they're there. No doubt people who are greater keener afficiandos that MPW (read: almost anyone) will miss his absence in a more practical way On the other hand, the post-George Michael era began inauspiciously as Madame Tussaud's announced that it was opening a wax museum in DC. Now we can really go head-to-head with London!


Hixson Moves to Eliminate Tax Cap

House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee Chair Sheila Hixson (D-Takoma Park) has proposed legislation which would allow the Montgomery County Council to override the county charter's limit on raising taxes by a majority of six instead of a supermajority of seven as currently required. County officials, either expressing a keen sense of the political winds or just annoyance at state interference in a county matter, did not immediately warm to the proposal:

Hixson's bill doesn't appear to have much support in other corners of the county she represents. Council President Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) said the state shouldn't be tinkering with what is essentially the county's constitution. "I'm always troubled when the legislature involves itself in something where the voters have spoken," Praisner said.

At a hearing on the bill last week, the administration of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) also submitted a formal opposition paper, saying the measure "would upset the responsible and workable approach enacted by our voters."

No doubt Robin Ficker will soon be riding to the rescue on this one!


Post: Purple Line Delayed

The Washington Post finally reported the widely known news on the Purple Line:

Maryland officials said yesterday that three major transit projects, two of them aimed at using light rail or express buses to ease traffic in the Washington suburbs, will likely be delayed about a year because of a flawed study that underestimated the number of riders.

State Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said Metro's proposed Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, a transit link between Shady Grove and Clarksburg and the Red Line in Baltimore have been shelved while Maryland and its consultants work on new projections.

Porcari said that the state had planned to hold public hearings on draft environmental studies of the projects this spring but that they will likely be pushed to 2008. "Ridership numbers were wrong, and people were reluctant to face up to that," Porcari said. "I am not at all happy about this."
Shoot, even Maryland Politics Watch reported this news one week ago.


On Political Pulse

Bruce DePuyt, who hosts NewsTalk on Channel 8 and has hosted many political debates and interviews, will be on "Political Pulse" on Thursday, March 1st at 9:00 p.m. and Tuesday March 6th at 9:30 p.m.

Bruce started his career on Channel 21 TV in Montgomery County and knows Montgomery County politics as well as Maryland, D.C. and Virginia politics.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.