Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Gov in Office for 8 Minutes but . . .

. . . we've already got polls!


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Transportation Blues

Traffic remains a top issue in Montgomery County. However, the lead story in today's Washington Post highlights why none of the County's many proposed projects won't do anything to solve the County's leading traffic jam. Fairfax County has now emerged as the region's leading job growth center. The largest traffic jam in Montgomery is caused by people trying to get from here to their jobs in Fairfax or elsewhere in northern Virginia. Traffic south on I-270 and westbound on the Beltway is a nightmare in the morning. Rush hour in the reverse direction begins around 3PM.

None of the proposed big-ticket transportation projects will do a jot to address this problem. Neither the Purple Line nor the ICC nor the Corridor Cities Transitway will get a single more person over the Potomac. And Maryland should want to facilitate cross-border commutes because it makes it easier for people in Montgomery to access the jobs and benefit from the growth in northern Virginia. Meanwhile, the new Metro line out from Tysons that will eventually reach Dulles will make it easier for District residents to get there, thus rendering us less transit competitive than our southern neighbor.

While Montgomery may engage in some handwringing over the business climate in Maryland v. Virginia, the proximity to Dulles and National Airports seems far more important in propelling Fairfax to the top of the heap. In contrast, the closest airport in Maryland is at BWI which is farther away from many in Montgomery than either Dulles or National. Ironically, all of the debates about transportation in Montgomery center on projects that ignore our largest transportation problem.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Maryland Left Behind?

Several big states are thinking of moving up their presidential primaries by several weeks. Specifically, California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey are contemplating moving up their primaries to the week after the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. In 2004, Maryland held its primary in the same week as California and before Florida, Illinois and New Jersey. At ther rate delegate rich states are moving up, it could all be decided by the time it gets to the Old Line State.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bonnie Cullison in the Post

Bonnie Cullison is the Chair of the Committee for Montgomery and leader of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA). She has a guest column in today's Washington Post outlining the priorities of the Committee for Montgomery:

For the 2007 legislative session, we have identified six issues on which to focus. These include: education, workforce and economic development, health and human services, transportation, effective government and the environment.

One of the fundamental responsibilities of government is the education of our children. Committee for Montgomery does not consider our state and local education programs to be fully funded under the Thornton formula until the geographic cost of education index portion is funded. [This would provide additional money to Montgomery County schools.] We oppose all efforts that would negatively affect our share of education funding and are working with our county legislators on this issue.

We support the county's request for nearly $134 million in school construction funds and will urge the governor to fund $400 million in the state capital budget to address the state's school construction needs.

The state and the county must continue their efforts in workforce and economic development. Committee for Montgomery supports fiscal and regulatory strategies and incentives that cultivate a positive business climate that will make Maryland technologically and economically competitive. We support legislation that would result in increased procurement opportunities for small and minority businesses and significantly expanded funding for adult basic education, adult English for Speakers of Other Languages programs, literacy services and job training.

Our organization seeks to ensure financial, geographic, multicultural and multilingual access to affordable health care, prescription drugs and mental health services. Health-care costs are skyrocketing and are one of the biggest expenses to families. We urge the legislature to study this issue.

Transportation remains a serious concern. Improving our transportation infrastructure will provide social benefits while sustaining economic growth. The county must improve its infrastructure by increasing the availability of mass transit. We strongly support increased funding for mass transit, including accessing all available federal funding. Committee for Montgomery supports measures to make state and local government more effective and responsive. This could include a commission to study the redistricting process and state election laws that make voting accessible, easy, fair, accurate and secure, and funding for training, equipment and staff to implement those laws.

Finally, we seek to promote programs and policies that result in clean air, clean water and protection of Maryland's natural resources, including the Chesapeake Bay. We seek to promote public and private measures to optimize energy use and affordability.

We are aware of the fiscal constraints on the state. However, we are strongly opposed to using slots or casinos as a budget balancing tool. Gambling, as a source of revenue, runs contrary to the principle of shared responsibility for providing public services. We will ask that the legislature consider all options and to employ creative thinking in addressing the structural deficit.


Not Your Granny's Post Office

The Gazette helpfully provides information about the proposed development at the site of the Arlington Road Post Office in Bethesda:

County planners may approve renovations to the post office on Arlington Road in Bethesda that could lead to a larger facility with 111 condominiums above it.

The Keating Development Company, based in Philadelphia, submitted site plans and traffic studies for the proposed five-story building to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission on Nov. 15.

If the plans are approved, the existing 16,000-square-foot building, at 7001 Arlington Road, would be torn down and replaced with a new office, an underground parking lot for residents and postal workers, and four stories of apartments.

. . .

The United States Postal Service land in Bethesda is currently zoned for commercial businesses, and county planners would need to change the designation to a mixed-residential use.

A hearing on the rezoning has been scheduled for April 15, according to Dawn Minor, planning office administrator. Planners expected a change in the building’s use since a 1994 growth plan called the Bethesda Sector Plan.


Discussing Development on Political Pulse

Washington Post Reporter Ann Marimow will be on the "Political Pulse" TV Show in Montgomery County on Thursday, January 25th at 9 p.m. and Tuesday, January 30th at 9:30 p.m. to discuss some of her recent articles on the building moratorium that was recently proposed by the Montgomery County Council.

Other issues that will be discussed include the County budget, development and growth in the County and the first months of County Executive Ike Leggett's Administration. Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Colbert Cuts Through Steele Like Butter

Former Lite. Gov. Michael Steele appeared on the Colbert Report tonight. Colbert called him a rising star within the Republican Party. I guess this was either meant as kindness or part of the comedy since rising stars usually win rather than lose the election. Steele even got edged out for the thankless consolation prize of RNC head.

Steele went out on a limb early in the interview by stating that Bush would discuss Iraq and the economy during the State of the Union. However, Steele's analysis of the surge in Iraq was more interesting and worth discussing than much of what I've heard lately. Steele opposed the surge in Iraq, stating that they should only do it if they could send in 100,000 troops and really get the job done.

However, the real highlight of Steele's short appearance was when Steele showed why Republicans are known as the responsibility party. Steele blamed his loss in the Maryland Senate race on Bush's failure to fire Donald Rumsfeld prior to the election. Maybe someone can go out and get Steele one of those "Stop Bitching and Start a Revolution!" t-shirts.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Franchot Sworn In

Looks like Peter Franchot may keep the meetings of the Board of Public Works lively even if he avoids the comments that got outgoing Comptroller William Donald Schaefer into trouble. According to both the Post and the Sun, Franchot didn't discuss the state's bond rating but instead focused on his opposition to slots and support for the environment. Senate President Mike Miller, the foremost advocate for slots in Maryland, was not pleased:

Talking about projected future deficits, Franchot said, "I will continue to argue -- and use the power of my office -- to oppose any solution that includes the reintroduction of slot machines into our great state. We've been down that road before -- and, frankly, it was a disaster."

The speech drew a sharp response from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a fellow Democrat who supports slot machines.

"He'll quickly learn that his job is a tax collector, not a policy maker," Miller told reporters after Franchot's speech. "Slots are going to happen whether he likes it or not, it's as simple as that."
Who says you need two-party government to have fierce arguments in Annapolis?


Rep. Chris Van Hollen . . .

. . . took questions today on


Development Wrestling Won't End Soon

The Montgomery County Council continues to debate the form, content, and purpose of the proposed moratorium on development. A quick review of projects in progress or on the boards in downtown Bethesda shows why this issue is just not going to die away soon. Indeed, the amendments made in 2005 to the Bethesda Master Plan for the Woodmont Triangle area will likely lead to much greater levels of density in the area. The following is likely an incomplete list but it gives an idea of the scale of things to come in downtown Bethesda:

Already Under Construction

1. Lionsgate at the corner of Woodmont Ave. and Old Georgetown Rd. (where Olsson's and Flanagan's used to be located) will contain 158 new condo units as well as retail on the ground floor.

2. The Adagio on Wisconsin Ave. just north of Bradley Blvd. is behind schedule but under construction on Wisconsin Ave. The website says that the condos will be priced between $500,000 and $2 million.

Development Officially Proposed or Approved

1. Signs proclaiming that a development proposal has been filed have appeared in front of Thyme Square Cafe and the Landmark Cinemas located at Woodmont Ave. and Bethesda Ave. This property lies right next to where the Capital Crescent Trail enters the tunnel under Wisconsin Ave. (the trail reemerges by Elm St. Park in the Town of Chevy Chase). The existing restaurant and nightclub would disappear so that the proposed 14-story building containing a hotel, condos, office space, and retail could be built.

2. A 10-story condo building has been proposed for Rugby Ave. in the Woodmont Triangle.

3. Contruction for a new hotel is supposed to start soon by the Air Rights Building on Waverly Ave. just east of Wisconsin Ave.

4. The County has approved a request to rezone 7001 Arlington Rd. from C-4 to PD-4. I think that this plan entails building condos over the currently existing Post Office. This plan may beautify the area across the street from the Bradley Shopping Center as the Post Office, while incredibly useful and well located, is not all that attractive. I believe that the condo building proposed is relatively low in height.

5. On Hampden La, a proposal has been filed to build 60 condo units in a building that would range in height from three to seven stories.

6. On Old Georgetown Rd., a developer has filed a proposal to rezone land from R-60 to PD-44 or PD-68. R-60 is the zoning code for single-family residential homes with a 6000 square foot minimum lot size. PD-44 or PD-68 zoning would allow for much higher density as it is the zoning code for a planned development with 44 or 68 units per acre, respectively.

7. Proposals for a new building in the parking lot located at Woodmont Ave. and Bethesda Ave. opposite Barnes and Noble's bookstore have long been debated. My understanding is that the new building will contain condo units, including some affordable housing, as well as retail on the ground floor. A parking lot containing more spaces than the exisiting lot is to be constructed beneath the building. During construction, Woodmont Ave. between Bethesda Ave. and Leland St. will have to be closed off entirely to traffic for at least one year.

In the Future?

1. The Washington Sports Club located at the corner of Woodmont Ave. and Elm St. is expected to relocate to the Adagio when that building is finally completed. The local rumor mill reports that Federal Realty would like to redevelop the entire existing block of retail, most likely into something resembling its other developments with retail at ground level with several floors of commercial space above it.

2. Eastham's Exxon at Wisconsin Ave. and Woodmont Ave. is a terrific gas station (lower prices than down the street, the cleanest restrooms this side of the Mississippi, and windshield squeegees always available) and a local institution but Mr. Eastham leases his property. However, plans are already in the works to turn the land into--you guessed it--a new condomnium development with retail at ground level and parking underground.

I welcome any corrections or additions to the list as figuring out future land use in the area is a difficult task on ever-shifting terrain.


The Post on O'Malley's Budget

The Washington Post gave Gov. O'Malley a backhanded compliment when it lauded his relatively low increase in spending even as it noted his pulling back from campaign initiatives:

MARYLAND GOV. Martin O'Malley (D) didn't waste any time stashing his lofty talk about bold initiatives and great programmatic leaps. That's all right, because the fat years have ended; the governor inherited a $400 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year and is staring at a projected budget gap of $1.3 billion for the following year. Until Mr. O'Malley comes up with a serious revenue plan -- and that seems to be in his bulging wait-till-next-year file for the legislature -- there's trouble ahead.
After then dissing his drawing on funds in the state's reserves, the Post then applauds O'Malley's failure to fully fund the Geographic Cost of Education Index in the Thornton Plan:
Mr. O'Malley proposes a record amount of money for school construction. In providing funds to meet the separate demands of the 2002 Thornton education plan, the governor wisely held back $94.7 million from the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which would have steered additional money to Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Mr. Ehrlich never funded it. A reasonable case can be made that Montgomery could absorb the cost and that Prince George's should drop its TRIM -- Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders -- tax cap before passing the hat for help from Annapolis. The governor's proposal to freeze tuition at public universities will draw cheers, but, again, how long can a freeze stay in place?
Of course, O'Malley is trying to fund the GCEI and partially funding it even if he can't do it all this year. I'm sure the Post won many new friends in its suburban Washington readership by suggesting that we should all pay more taxes and virtually inviting the General Assembly to renege on the part of the Thornton Plan, a complex negotiated package, that benefits the region adjoining DC. The Post concluded its editorial with a call for more aggressive leadership, especially in reforming Maryland's tax system:

In his budget submission letter, Mr. O'Malley raved that his initial budget "begins to rise to our perils and possibilities.'' But if he doesn't get cracking on the revenue front, those "perils" will dominate. The governor must produce a full-fledged revision of Maryland's tax system, which hasn't undergone significant repair in about 50 years. Corporate income tax shelters ought to be eliminated. The gas tax, not raised in 15 years, must be increased, and a tax on services is long overdue.

The Democratic legislature won't roll over and endorse all that the new governor seeks, but he should seize the honeymoon moment to take on some of the big issues with proposals for this session.

I'm not sure that the General Assembly or Democrats around the state would disagree that O'Malley needs to use more of his political capital before it dissipates. Tax reform and getting the state budget on a sound long-term footing would not be a bad place to start.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Gone But Not Forgotten

Kujanblog flagged a story in the Examiner which reports that Republicans Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele may be gone but their dirty tricks are not forgotten--at least by Ben Cardin. Sen. Cardin has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to investigate the Republican fliers which falsely stated that Ehrlich and Steele were endorsed by several prominent African-American Democrats. Unfortunately, Gonzalez is none too curious about Bush's domestic wiretapping program, so one imagines that he may not exactly be in a rush to investigate scurrilous Republican campaign tactics in Maryland.


Passing the Buck Back to MoCo?

Is the legislature on the verge of demanding that Maryland's counties pony up more dough for the schools? The Gazette reports that at least one key legislator thinks so:

Local school aid in some Maryland counties is lagging behind their increases in wealth, prompting some legislators to call on local governments to ratchet up their own spending in education.

‘‘The issue of ‘Have they kept up?’ is a very valid issue to raise,” said Del. John L. Bohanan, who chairs the House Education and Economic Development Subcommittee.

Over the past five years, wealth per pupil has grown faster than local school aid per pupil in all but four counties: Harford, Howard, Prince George’s and Charles counties. Local wealth is calculated by adding the net taxable income of county residents and the assessable property tax base in the county. Divide that by the number of K-12 students for the local wealth per student.

This argument strikes me as a red herring. The way wealth is calculated includes growth in the value of property as well as in income. The ability of counties to get more money from their own resources does not grow nearly as fast as property assessments. Residents need income in order to pay taxes and income has not risen nearly as fast as property assessments. Indeed, new homeowners may be even more strapped because they had to plunk down more money to buy a home. Commercial land owners are only in better shape to the extent that they can extract more income from their properties. However, despite rising rents, rents have not risen nearly as fast as property assessments. Finally, the property boom is over, so one can expect that assessments will no longer increase by much over the next few years.

Another hole in the argument vis-a-vis MoCo is that this County already spend more per pupil of local tax dollars than any other jurisdiction in the State. While the state average across the 24 jurisdictions is $5,964 per student, Montgomery spends $10,244 per student. This commitment to education is not merely a function of the County's wealth. Although Howard residents are now wealthier on average than those in Montgomery, Howard spends $8,177 per pupil. Prince George's actually spends less than the state average despite increasing spending at a higher rate than Montgomery; another example of why focusing solely on rates of increase is problematic.

Some of the difference between the Howard and Montgomery is undoubtedly due to higher costs in Montgomery. However, this is exactly the sort of problem which the geographical component of Thornton, funded by the state, was supposed to address. Montgomery's commitment to its schools has served this County well. We should maintain it in the future. However, does the state really want to make the case that MoCo has been unwilling in the past to pay its fair share for education?


Stand by Your Machine

State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone continues to strongly insist that the touch-screen voting machines are fine and that adding a paper trail is not only unnecessary but a mistake:

‘‘All voting systems have security vulnerabilities. The challenge for election officials is how to manage those vulnerabilities,” state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone told the House Ways and Means Committee. ‘‘Simply adding paper does not make it secure.”
. . .

But Michael I. Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor, sees no need for abandoning the current system.

‘‘I think that the old adage, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ applies here,” said Shamos who has analyzed voting systems since 1980. ‘‘There is nothing demonstrably wrong with the Maryland voting system.”

A paper trail should not be considered a panacea to the state’s election woes, Shamos said. In fact, it could produce more problems because an internal printer could result in paper jams or other mechanical failures.

The touch-screen machines record votes internally, which Shamos said is less error-prone than a paper trail, and acts like an airplane’s black box, which is used to retrieve flight data in crashes.

The issue gained steam after last year’s primary election fiasco that had some voters questioning whether their votes were accurately recorded. The touch-screen machines store tallies electronically, but do not produce a receipt to verify voters’ selections.

Lamone said adding printers to the existing equipment ‘‘would disrupt the voting system.” If approved, the state and counties would share the cost of the new equipment, which has not yet been determined.

However, Montgomery County legislators appear to be leading the fight for a paper trail in Maryland:

‘‘There’s no good way to audit an electronic record in a chip,” said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg, who supports a paper trail. ‘‘It certainly wouldn’t be accepted in a financial accounting.”

House Ways and Means Chairwoman Sheila E. Hixson has sponsored legislation calling for a paper trail and said it will be ‘‘one of the first bills up for a hearing.”

With the 2008 presidential election looming, Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring said lawmakers may consider emergency legislation to accelerate the proposal.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ehrlich Blames War for Loss

Robert Novak's column reports that former Gov. Bob Ehrlich blames the Iraq War for his new status as an unemployed ordinary citizen:

Former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich, a popular and effective Republican who had nothing to do with Iraq policy, believes his defeat was wholly caused by the war.
Of course, one wonders why Ehrlich was the only incumbent governor to lose his job in November if it was solely the bad political climate caused by the War. Republican governors in such true blue Democratic states like Hawaii and Rhode Island managed to win reelection even as Bobby Haircut was shown the door.


Use It or Lose It?

The Old Line takes incoming Gov. Martin O'Malley to task for his cautious start to his first year as governor and contrasts his unfavorably with new New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer. Gov. O'Malley may be reluctant to propose changes until he has a closer look at the books, but his political capital will never be higher--and the next Maryland elections never farther away--than this year. On the other hand, we should probably wait until O'Malley releases his budget proposal next week to see how cautious the new administration really is.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

One Maryland

Here is Gov. O'Malley's first inaugural address:

Thank you Senator Mikulski for your kind introduction.

I would like to begin by thanking my wife Katie and our children Grace, Tara, William and Jack. You make everything possible. And I love you very much.

To our Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, it has been one of the great pleasures of this last year getting to know you, Patricia and your children – and I look forward to serving the people of our state together.

To my Mom and brothers and sisters – thank you so much for everything – I know, in a sense, Dad is here too.

To Joe and Barbara Curran – your decency and your kindness have set a standard for public service in our state. Katie and I will strive to live up to your stellar example.

To Governor and Mrs.. Ehrlich – thank you for your service to the state of Maryland.

To Ambassador John Bruton of the European Union and Ambassador Noel Fahey of Ireland – we’re honored by your presence and eager to build closer business and cultural ties with Ireland and Europe.

Madame Speaker, members of Maryland’s congressional delegation, District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty, mayors of the municipalities of Maryland, President Miller, Speaker Busch, members of the General Assembly, county and other local elected officials, Chairman Dean, and Chairman Lierman, my fellow Marylanders… Thank you for coming together today to mark a new day in Maryland. And thank you for the work we will do together to make our state stronger… Stronger, together, as One Maryland.

One Maryland united by our belief in the dignity of every individual.

One Maryland united by our responsibility to advance the common good.

One Maryland united in our understanding that there is a unity to spirit and matter, and that what we chose to do in our own lifetimes does matter.

Today, with great humility and resolve, we gather on the steps of our historic Statehouse where, in 1783, General George Washington resigned his command of the Continental Army.

He willingly turned over his sword of command and submitted to the collective will and wisdom of the representative democracy of his neighbors and countrymen…. Willingly pledged his allegiance to a system of governance whose very survival depends on our respect for one another… depends on the virtue of compromise… depends – in every generation – on our ability to find common ground to advance the common good.

At a time marked by great peril and great possibility, General Washington – Citizen Washington – opened another chapter of the American Revolution, here in Maryland, by choosing a better, stronger future.


My friends, like Washington, we find ourselves living here in Maryland during another time marked by peril and possibility.

Some of the perils we face – budget deficits, polluted waters, drug addiction and crumbling infrastructure – are of our own recent making. Other perils, like global warming, the global economy, global terrorism, and global migration, are powered by additional forces – many of which are seemingly beyond our reach. But all of these perils demand that we take responsibility to defend and to advance our common good.

We have choices to make, as One Maryland. Choices about our shared future. Choices between the perils and possibilities of our present. Already possessing the strength, we must now find again the will… the will to make a better, stronger future for our children and theirs.

For against the peril of terrorist threat and the incessant foreign chemical attacks of cocaine and heroin, we have the possibility of improving our homeland security efforts… making our port a leader… the possibility of using our technology and talents to deter and prevent attack… and the possibility of reforming our public safety institutions to save lives. Maryland is one of America’s wealthiest states; it's time to make us one of America's safest and most secure.

With family paychecks imperiled by pressures of the global economy and too many manufacturing jobs heading overseas, we have the possibility of building a new creative economy in Maryland based on science, security, technology and healing – while also protecting our farmers, watermen, small towns and Maryland traditions.

We have the possibility of building an economy based on the talents, skills and brainpower of the people of Maryland. Yes, we have the possibility of joining with our neighbors in the District of Columbia and Virginia to form a powerhouse regional economy capable of competing and winning on the world stage.

In the face of rising energy costs, and electric bills and the peril of our addiction to foreign oil, we have the possibility not only of restoring the regulatory framework of our State, but we also have the possibility of becoming a world leader in the development of clean and renewable energy, alternative fuels, green building technologies and cleaner burning cars.

With the Chesapeake Bay’s very survival imperiled by poorly planned sprawl and a multitude of other manmade ills – from storm water runoff to broken sewer systems – we have the possibility of rescuing this natural jewel… of fusing science, government and personal responsibility together to expand buffer zones, cover crops, open space and oyster beds… and of harnessing the growth that is coming to rebuild our cities and towns. Together, we will preserve our quality of life and the Chesapeake Bay…

With our children’s economic future imperiled by an inadequate national system of education that is producing too few science, technology, engineering and math graduates, we have the possibility, in Maryland, of building the best system of public education in the country from K through 12 to college and beyond. Where working parents will never have to tell their children: “There is no way our family can ever afford college.” The opportunity of college should be affordable to all...

With the soaring costs of healthcare imperiling the health of working families and threatening the solvency of responsible small businesses throughout Maryland, we have the possibility of rolling up our sleeves and finding ways to expand the affordability of healthcare coverage for our people. Working parents shouldn’t have to go begging with a tin cup if their children fall seriously ill.


In so many ways – healthcare, education, transportation, public safety – we live in a time framed by peril and possibility, but defined, ultimately, by the responsibility we take through our own actions to choose a better, stronger Maryland.

As of this moment, honoring your trust, I take responsibility, as one person, for doing all that I can to make your government work again. I take responsibility for restoring our regulatory framework so that your government can stand up to powerful, wealthy special interests when they try to profiteer on the backs of the working people of our state.

I take responsibility for doing all that I can to make your government open, transparent and accountable. I take responsibility, as one leader, for never trying to divide our people by race, class, religion or region. I take responsibility, as your governor, for setting a tone of mutual respect inside the halls of government – and for working with leaders of both Parties to find common ground to advance the common good.

But there are things for which each of us must take responsibility, as individuals, otherwise the work of our government will be futile. Safe neighborhoods. A strong and growing middle class. Educational achievement. Financial fairness. Protecting God’s creation. Caring for the sick. Responsibility for ourselves, our families and our neighbors. These are the things for which each of us must take responsibility.


As we rise as One Maryland to meet the perils and possibilities of our own times, we do so knowing that Maryland’s strengths are more than equal to the challenges before us.

The decisions we make for the greater good sometimes will require sacrifice. For too long, the capitals of our nation and states have acted as if our people had, somehow, lost the capacity to sacrifice and to make difficult choices. But “to govern is to choose.” And in order to harness opportunity and meet our security challenges, we must choose to take responsibility for our shared future.

In our One Maryland, progress is always possible; and, together we can make real progress – as we have before – with respect for one another, with truth about ourselves and the problems we face, and faith in our ideals as a people.

And in so choosing, we can, once again, lead our country into yet another chapter of the American Revolution – a revolution based on the dignity of the individual and powered by our shared responsibility to advance the common good.

So let us begin anew in our State, where all things are possible and where progress is every citizen’s responsibility.

In One Maryland, where we move forward together.

In One Maryland, where we move forward together.
Thanks to Sen. Rich Madaleno for the copy of the text.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wit of the Week

Actress Megan Mullally showed she can be just as sharp even when someone else isn't writing her lines at yet another of many awards shows which I somehow managed to miss:

Mullally was also asked whether Bob Newhart was going to die tonight. Early in the show, host Conan O'Brien put Newhart in a tube with just three hours of oxygen and said he would die if the show ran long. Mullally called Newhart a "lovely man and brilliant comedian -- but it's time."
We now return you to our regularly scheduled political commentary.


Early Voting on Fast Senate Track

A constitutional amendment to permit early voting in Maryland has the honor of being Senate Bill 1 this year and sponsored by Senate President Mike Miller. As noted by the Baltimore Reporter, the bill is cosponsored by a majority of the Senate, including all of the Montgomery County Senators except Rona Kramer (District 14). Unlike the Baltimore Reporter, I can't say I'm terribly worried about fraud as most states in the nation already have early voting and manage it just fine. If adopted, the amendment would overturn the result of last year's Court of Appeals decision stating that the Maryland Constitution bars early voting.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Give King to the People

On the day designated to honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is appropriate to reflect on his words. When I was younger, the Washington Post used to reprint King's monumental "I Have a Dream" speech in full on the holiday which made that project much easier. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to read King's speech in the paper or for television to rebroadcast more than a snippet of the best American speech of the twentieth century because Dr. King's children have asserted their rights to the copyright on their father's work. Maybe this is one reason why the Washington Post now reports that many know little about King and his work.

This nation has placed very few people honored with a national holiday. We are now in the process of building a memorial to Dr. King on the shore of Tidal Basin between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Dr. King is often seen as the man who led his people, as in African Americans, to freedom. However, I believe that is a cramped and narrow view of his accomplishments. Dr. King did not just fight successfully for African-American rights but freed whites from the ungodly and un-American role of oppressors. By demanding that the nation live up to its values, Dr. King showed us a peaceful path through a difficult transition that could have been much more violent than it was.

The National Mall is the closest thing to civic holy ground in America and it is appropriate that we honor Dr. King and his accomplishments there. As we further cement Dr. King's place in America's pantheon of heroes, Dr. King's children could honor their father and assure the greatest possible spread of their father's work by giving the rights to reproduce his works to the American people.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Crablaw on the Clipboard People

I just wanted to take a minute to second that emotion regarding Crablaw's rant about the clipboard solicitors who harrass people on the streets. However, Crablaw forgot about the worst of the worst. You know who I mean. The people hawking "Stop Bitching Start a Revolution" t-shirts. My quick surfing of the net indicates that this is to fund a commune of some sort.

How nice.

Anyone ever notice how these advocates of counterculture invariably hawk their wares on some of the swanker neighborhoods in the metro area? One can almost invariably find them in the plaza in front of Barnes and Noble in Bethesda or at the corner of Wisconsin and M in Georgetown. Two places less likely to foment revolution one could hardly imagine.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

MoCo Loses Again in New Budget?

Governor-Elect O'Malley has won plaudits for presenting a balanced budget without using the same accounting gimmicks as outgoing Governor Ehrlich:

The source said the budget is balanced, which is required by law. O’Malley closed an estimated $413 million shortfall, without tax increases or major staff cuts. Program Open Space and the Transportation Trust Fund — two pots of money governors have used to balance the books — were not touched.

In fact, O’Malley was expected to tout his funding of Program Open Space in a town hall meeting Thursday night in Southern Maryland.

However, O'Malley's key to balancing the budget without gimmicks appears to be not fully funding the geographic cost of education index (GCEI):

O’Malley tipped off reporters Wednesday about one way he trimmed the budget. The geographic cost of education index, or GCEI, will not be fully funded in his first budget. The GCEI is part of the 2002 package of education aid reforms called the Thornton plan.

Although state budgets have embraced Thornton aid, GCEI has remained unfunded. About $100 million would be distributed to 10 jurisdictions in the state; Baltimore city and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties would benefit the most.

‘‘We will be looking to ramp up the [formula] in the years ahead,” O’Malley said in an impromptu press conference outside the State House.

During the gubernatorial campaign, O’Malley pledged support for the GCEI.

O’Malley told reporters that his administration would ‘‘make progress” in funding GCEI, as well as more money for school construction and holding down college tuition.

Although GCEI remains unfunded, the state is scheduled to spend an extra $580 million in other education aid, O’Malley said.

‘‘You can’t say you’ve fully funded Thornton until GCEI is funded,” said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village, vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

But even without GCEI, the budget would increase education aid by $580 million with Thornton, O’Malley said.

Montgomery is a major beneficiary of the GCEI. No doubt O'Malley will argue that he has gone further toward funding the GCEI than Ehrlich. However, GCEI remains the key part of the Thornton plan which is unfunded and it is very important to funding education in Montgomery. Montgomery may be a wealthy county but the kids in the schools tend to come from less economically privileged backgrounds than the average county resident and often need more services. Of course, school construction also remains a major issue.

Unsurprisingly, O'Malley didn't let this cat out of the bag at the town meeting held the other night at Einstein High School. Supporters of higher funding for Montgomery schools are now going to have to press their case not just at the County but at the State level. However, getting full funding for the GCEI was never going to be easy so I imagine proponents of it are preparing to lobby hard.


Ida is Looking for Work

The Washington Post profiled former Sen. Ida Ruben yesterday:

Every year since 1975, on the first day of the Maryland General Assembly's new session, Ida G. Ruben would walk up the steps to the Capitol and take her place among the state legislators.

She started in the House of Delegates and in 1987 moved to the Senate, where she rose to president pro tem. Over the years she became one of the most powerful members of the legislature, the chairman of the Montgomery County delegation and one of the longest-serving members of the General Assembly.

But yesterday, as the legislators gathered once again in Annapolis, Ruben was not among them. She was defeated in last year's Democratic primary by Jamie Raskin, an American University law professor who argued that District 20, which covers parts of Silver Spring and Takoma Park, needed a more progressive representative.

Ruben's plans for the first day of the legislative session were still up in the air last week -- though she said she would not go to Annapolis. Her plans for the future also are uncertain. But at 78, the Silver Spring resident said she is in no mood to retire."I'm hoping for some door to open," she said. "I prefer working."


On Political Pulse

Michael Enright, Governor-elect Martin O'Malley's incoming Chief of Staff, will be on the "Political Pulse" TV Show on Thursday, January 11 at 9 p.m. and Tuesday, January 16 at 9:30 p.m. Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Sun Profiles Bill Hudnut

"Mayor who lured Colts away is now Marylander" is how the Baltimore Sun sees former Chevy Chase (and Indianapolis) Mayor Bill Hudnut.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

BoE Debates Sex Ed

David Fishback, a member of the Board of Directors of Metro DC PFLAG, took some great notes at the recent Board of Education meeting on the ever controversial topic of how to teach about homosexuality in sex ed:

There was the expected public comment from the CRC/PFOX people attacking the Superintendent's proposal in its entirety and complaining about the "gay agenda" and the like. (Contrary to one press report, there were not 15 people testifying to their point of view. They had five people speaking at Public Comments.) No one on the BOE even responded to their statements, other than to say, with respect to a lawsuit, "bring it on."

Jim Kennedy of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) and, Christine Grewell of, Matthew Murgia of the CAC, and I all spoke generally in support of the proposal, while noting the glaring omission of basic information, notably the medical consensus that homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder. In my testimony, I noted that this is information that all four recently-elected BOE members supported for the curriculum during the campaign and that the CAC had overwhelmingly recommended inclusion of that information.

The Superintendent and the Staff presented the program, touting it as a great advance, which it is, but without really commenting on the substance of the CAC's disagreements with what was not included. The Staff noted that it was including a statement in the 8th Grade curriculum that was already in the 10th Grade curriculum: That sexual orientation is "innate and is a complex part of one's personality."

This seems to be the Staff's way of conveying that sexual orientation is not a choice.

Dr. Rachel Moon, who was one of the American Academy of Pediatrics experts who were consulted at the start of the MCPS revision process, noted that the experts would prefer that sexual orientation information be provided earlier in Middle School than 8th Grade and stressed the need to give kids information, although she did not address the CAC recommentations that were not included by the Staff.

CAC Chair Dr. Carol Plotsky noted that there were some important things that the CAC would have liked to have include. She said that she hoped that after the pilot fileld testing the rejected CAC recommendations would be revisited and included.

BOE President Nancy Navarro said that information needs to be presented in the context of tolerance and that the Staff proposal "begins to achieve our goals." She said that we should see how the field testing goes.

BOE Member Steve Abrams said the BOE should defer to the Staff and see how the field testing goes.

BOE Member Patricia O'Neill addressed the issue of a lawsuit. She said, "See you in court." She then moved to amend the 8th Grade Lesson to include a statement from the American Psychological Association that the medical community has determined that homosexuality is not an illness.

Mr. Abrams responded that there have been some animal studies suggest that sexual orientation can be changed, and said he would vote against the proposal if Ms. O'Neill's amendment was included.

BOE Vice President Shirley Brandman spoke in support of Ms. O'Neill's amendment.

Mr. Abrams responded that it should be opposed because it was not from the Staff.

BOE Member Sharon Cox said that it is good to make it clear that sexual orientation is innate, and that students need to know that homosexuality is within "the normal range of human experience." She then said that she knew that the BOE would be sued no matter what. She added, however, that she "didn't want to give them an additional handle." She also repeated what I heard the Staff said to the experts and CAC Chair Plotsky during a teleconference on Friday: If we add the O'Neill amendment, then what do we say when someone asks about transgender?

Ms. Cox completed her coments by saying that the BOE should let the pilot go forward and see what kinds of questions come up. So she would not want to include Ms. O'Neill's suggestion "at this moment."

New BOE Member Chris Barclay (he was appointed when Valerie Ervin ascended to the County Council as a result of the November election) asked very good questions about what happens when a child asks if homosexuality is an illness. Ms. Navarro then asked BOE attorney Judy Bresler to address the BOE and Bresler gave some very confusing answers about what the guidance counselors could say. One thing that was suggested by Staffer Betsy Brown was that the American Psychological Association document that was drawn upon for the curriculum was available as a resource for the guidance counselors. This still seems unclear. Unfortunately, these exchanges derailed Mr. Barclay's inquiries. Ms. Brown said that that students will ask these questions of their guidance counselors.

Student BOE Member Sara Horvitz responded that students will NOT seek out their guidance counselor -- that very few students have any kind of relationship with their guidance counselor. She also though that the CAC's "fleeting sexual attraction does not prove sexual orientation"

Ms. Cox then said, "I'm just talking about the pilot now. Let's see how it goes."

Ms. Horvitz responded that "questions will come up. We should do it now."

Ms. Navarro again said that the BOE should move forward now and see how the field testing goes.

The vote on Ms. O'Neill's motion was 4-4, so it failed. Ms. O'Neill, Ms. Brandman, Ms. Horvitz and BOE Member Judy Docca, voted in favor. Ms. Navarro, Ms. Cox, Mr. Barclay, and Mr. Abrams voted against.

Ms. Horvitz's motion was defeated by, I think, a vote of 6-3. Ms. Brandman, Ms. Horvitz, and Dr. Docca were the affirmative votes.

Mr. Barclay, however, reiterated that he wanted to see how the field testing went, and that he has "an expectation that things will be added."

Ms. Brandman urged that the BOE hear all the questions raised the course of the field testing. How that will be done has not yet been established.

The BOE then unanimously approved the curriculum for piloting.
Kudos to the Board of Ed for facing down the small number of people opposed to taking a rational approach to the teaching of this subject. I wonder how many of the people who wanted the "ex-gay perspective" taught in the schools would approve of an "ex-gay" dating their daughter? One also cannot help but wonder if School Board Member Abrams really wants to make animal studies the basis for deciding what we teach human children about sex ed. Does he oppose marriage because penguins usually change mates every year?


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

We Rambled, O'Malley Listened

Governor-Elect Martin O'Malley and Lieutenant Governor-Elect Anthony Brown held a town meeting in an overheated filled-to-the-rafters auditorium at Einstein High School and received several standing ovations from the crowd which didn't seem to mourn the passing of the Ehrlich Administration. Always a class act, County Executive Ike Leggett served as emcee and won points with your gentle reviewer by demanding civility and protecting the right of everyone to be heard even when he disagreed with the speaker.

O'Malley and Brown are alarmingly charming. Maryland probably has the best looking and sounding gubernatorial team in the country. O'Malley is quite glib, readily deflecting questioners with responses that often made the audience laugh. He often pleaded for time, explaining that the transition period is tough and that he would soon submit a budget and later a supplementary budget. He also called on the federal government to pull its weight. As O'Malley soon takes office, Maryland will soon see the mettle behind the charm.

The interest group with the strongest presence was the anti-ICC crowd. They were passionate and out in force. O'Malley promised to listen but did not promise to commission a new study of the ICC or backtrack on his promise to build the controversial highway. I doubt he will unless the ICC blows an impossibly big hole in his budget plans. It would represent a major policy reversal for O'Malley and cost him too much in credibility. Moreover, the ICC remains broadly popular even if intensely disliked by some. When one person spoke in favor of the ICC, he received more crowd support than I expected.

O'Malley and Brown could answer only respond to a small fraction of the 100 or so people who lined up to make a comment and ask a question. As County Exec. Leggett laughingly explained about the turnout and the willingness to step up to the mike, "this is Montgomery County." While many people expressed themselves quite well, others rambled at great length without much focus. One somewhat entertaining bizarre low point was the woman who told O'Malley that she didn't vote for him (!) or Leggett (!) but then requested a meeting after speaking on a number of unrelated topics.

Immigration opponents were also outspoken even though many in the crowd clearly found their remarks about immigrants sponging on state services highly offensive. O'Malley, who has labelled his pre-inauguration listening tour "One Maryland", responded well by stating that is people should not be forced to live on the margins of society regardless of their immigration status even if he supported greater federal enforcement of federal immigration law.

Discrimination was not popular with this crowd which responded with enthusiastic applause for an eloquent black immigrant woman who detailed her passionate love for this country along with her deep distress at the problems her sons have had with the police. People also responded with warm applause to a transgendered Silver Spring woman who called for protection against discrimination based on gender identity to be written into state law.

Speakers did manage to discuss a number of other issues, including:

COLAs for state-funded caregivers of the disabled.
Sidewalks in Bethesda.
Pay increases and new equipment for state police.
Health care for uninsured Marylanders.
A Comprehensive transportation vision.
Inclusion of minority groups, such as Vietnamese Americans, in the political process.
Fixing the voting machines.
Protecting the environment.

One issue that received suprisingly little discussion was the Purple Line. One person said in passing that they wanted it built. Another expressed support for axing the ICC but then building the Purple Line underground instead of as light rail. I'd say that maybe people are Purple Lined out after the Silverman and Riemer campaigns except that lots of speakers didn't make to the mike, including a representative from "Save the Trail". The pro-Purple Line ACT was handing out flyers in the lobby.

O'Malley and Brown didn't rush out the door when the event ended. I know this because I discovered I left my umbrella at the event and arrived back at Einstein about 40 minutes later to pick it up just as they were finally walking out the door. I suspect that they had their hands full. As the will as they start having to make some very tough choices when they submit their budget to legislature right after taking office.


O'Malley at Einstein Tonight

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett will host Governor-Elect Martin O’Malley at a Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, January 9 at 8 p.m., at Einstein High School, 11135 Newport Mill Road, Kensington. The town meeting is free and open to all. Residents are invited to share their ideas and priorities with the Governor-Elect issues of state-wide concern. Also attending the meeting will be Lt. Governor-Elect Anthony Brown and Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary-Designate John Porcari.


And We're Back. . .

After a holiday hiatus, Maryland Politics Watch returns to our regular erratic blogging schedule.