Friday, November 30, 2007

Van Hollen Statement on Death of Jane Lawton

Washington, D.C. –Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) today released the following statement on the death of Jane Lawton:

Jane Lawton’s sudden death today is a devastating loss for our community. She dedicated her life to changing our community and our state for the better. Jane was a dear friend and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to have worked closely with her on issues that are important to our county and our state. I will always be grateful to Jane for her energetic support of my campaign for Congress.

She was respected in Maryland’s General Assembly for her leadership and public service. She dedicated her career to improving the environment, protecting the Chesapeake Bay and fighting for affordable housing. As we mourn her loss, we should recommit ourselves to carrying on the causes she championed. I extend my deepest sympathies to Jane’s family. I hope that they can find solace in knowing that our entire community is grieving the loss at this sad time.


Remembering Jane Lawton

I got to know Jane Lawton by volunteering on her 2006 campaign for the House of Delegates. Knocking on doors is hot and sweaty work but Jane made it a lot of fun with lots of smiles and hugs--I always enjoyed laughing over the ups and downs of it over cookies at Cafe Monet after we had completed our "walk lists". Jane was inevitably among the last to show up because she got waylaid chatting with people.

Jane never really "campaigned" so much as just talked to people and made friends. She was effective because she was genuinely interested in people and their lives, always making time to ask about you and your family. She enjoyed her own tremendously. I know she got a real kick out of watching Steve sneak up signs for her around the district and Stephanie passionately campaign for her mom. Even as she ran for the House, she was so excited about Kathleen's wedding.

In an era when too many politicians make their name by dividing people even as they accomplish nothing, Jane possessed a healthy mixture of unaffected charm, an ability to bring people together, and a determination to move ahead. I think that's why Jane managed to steer a major piece of environmental legislation through the General Assembly in a session noted primarily for its lack of action on any major bills. Quite an accomplishment even for a senior legislator but amazing in someone who served for such a short time.

Despite over a decade on the Chevy Chase Town Council, including four as its Chairman, Jane was always a bit nervous when it came to public speaking. I never quite knew why. She had experience, good sense, and knew the facts. Let's just say that anyone who can unravel the mysteries of cable policy and explain it in plain English was never going to be out of her depth in the House of Delegates.

I've don't think I've ever met anyone who was as well liked in her neighborhood. When I was knocking on doors for her in our neighborhood, someone practically commanded me to go away and do this in another precinct because "everyone is already going to vote for her here." Of course, he was right--Jane received nearly unanimous support at the polls in her precinct in an extremely competitive primary.

Jane's last fundraiser before the critical Democratic primary was in Chevy Chase. I've never seen people so happy to give their money because it wasn't donating to a politician but helping out an old friend. She packed the house with friends from not just Chevy Chase but all corners of the County who were happy to help.

I know we'll all miss her.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Washington Post on Jane Lawton

An article on the life of Del. Jane Lawton will be printed on the front page of the Metro section of the Washington Post on Friday. Maryland Moment has posted tributes to Jane from elected officials from around our state.


A Tribute to Jane Lawton

Adam Pagnucco submitted the following tribute to Jane Lawton. I'd be happy to open up my blog to anyone else who has any thoughts or remembrances they'd like to share about Jane.

Jane Lawton was not only a great state delegate. She was also a warm, wonderful person and no one who knew her will ever forget her.

I first met Jane at the Wheaton Arts District kickoff last summer. At that time, we were launching our guerrilla campaign for a new Forest Glen Metro entrance and we were busily accosting every politician we could find. But Jane was different from everyone else. She was funny, curious, chatting, laughing and utterly without pretension. And she didn’t even mention she was running for office despite the intensity of the campaign season (and the nearby presence of several opponents). Can you imagine that?

But Jane was full of surprises. When ten of us showed up at a state hearing to testify about the horrible Georgia-Forest Glen intersection, Jane actually cheered us on. She told us, “I love you guys! Keep it up!” Far from retreating from us, she embraced us and treated us as if we were her kids.

Others will comment on her political career, including her apprenticeship with U.S. Speaker of the House Carl Albert, her long service as mayor of Chevy Chase, her dominance of the 2006 District 18 delegate election and her remarkable effectiveness on environmental legislation. It is a great shame for Maryland environmentalists that she only served through two general sessions because she had a lot more to offer on protections for the Bay.

But the Jane I will never forget is the sweet, beautiful lady with a great big laugh, a great big smile and a great big hug. Sure, Jane liked to talk about politics, policy issues and the rapacious cable companies she chased in her day job. But she also liked to talk about food, her neighborhood, what was happening in my life (or anyone else she was talking to), and especially her daughters. Jane loved her daughters and could not stop talking about how proud she was of them. She was a sheer delight to be with. Any room Jane entered was a happier place once she walked in. If you were lucky enough to know Jane, you trusted her and you loved her. And she loved us in return.

There will be other state delegates in District 18. But there will never be another Jane Lawton.


Goodbye, Jane

Jane’s passing is a terrible loss for so many people. A loss for the people of District 18, who she served ably and honorably as our delegate in Annapolis. A loss for her fellow delegates, who saw in her the model of what they ought to be: a public servant whose commitment to getting things done outweighed any need to trumpet her own accomplishments. A loss for environmentalists across the state, who had in Jane Lawton a knowledgeable and capable ally. And a loss for those of us who were lucky enough to consider her our friend as well as our delegate.

I never had a conversation with Jane where we didn’t end up laughing over something. Being with her was a joy.

Jane, we will miss you.


Delegate Jane Lawton Passes Away

My only words after seeing this message on WaPo blog and confirmed on MoGa is WOW. I can't believe it. I supported her campaign in 2006, as part of the District 18 slate. But I remember her run for the same seat in 2002, I was handing out literature for Chris Van Hollen's Congressional run at the Wheaton Metro and she was doing the same for her race.

What a gracious and wonderful woman. Jane Lawton had lived here for many years but she never lost that Oklahoma twang in her voice. Her smile went from ear to ear. I never heard her utter a mean word about anyone. I admired her for willingness to learn from others. That is a rare trait among elected officials.

In the regular 2007 session, she played a vital role in the Storm Water Runoff legislation that was part of her committee. (Here a list of things she did in her first session as a Delegate, 2006). I wish I could speak to the 2007 legislation better but I do know that it was boring legislation but very vital to the health of the Bay and to the environment. Her work there was critical and she did not grandstand on her accomplishment. But I heard many other Delegates laud her role. That is a sure sign of respect from her colleagues.

I will add more ... after I catch my breath. But what a terrible loss. My condolences go out to her family.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

MTA Wants Your Uninformed Input

I received the following email from PR Coordinator Kacie Lacy (your tax dollars at work) on the Purple Line:

Dear Community Member:

Mike Madden of the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) asked me to contact you on his behalf. As part of our on-going commitment to public involvement for the Purple Line Study, the MTA will hold Public Open Houses throughout the study area in December. We encourage you and your community members to attend. The meeting dates, locations, and additional meeting information is attached.

Your input along with that of your community members is very important to us and I hope that you will be able to attend one of our Open Houses. Thank you for your interest and continued involvement in this process. Please contact Michael Madden at 410-767-3694 or at, if you have any questions regarding the Purple Line or our upcoming Open Houses.
Ironically, I received this email telling me how Mike Madden wants my "input" and with an attached post card requesting my "feedback" just after my earlier post explaining that MTA is uninterested in your informed feedback as Mike Madden will not release the ridership study before the meeting. Indeed, it is unclear if any aspect of the ridership study will ever be made public other than its conclusions and MTAs preferred route. The public is not going to be permitted to examine the basis for any of the conclusions because then the public might question them.

That is not a study but an assertion. And it makes a mockery of the pretense of interest in public comment--not to mention the legal requirement for it.


Rep. Gilchrest Faces Another Challenger

There have been rumors for awhile, but tomorrow it becomes official: GOP State Sen. E.J. Pipkin will join State Sen. Andrew Harris in challenging the reelection of fellow Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest. Pipkin gained statewide visibility back in 2004 during his unsuccessful run to replace Barbara Mikulski in the U.S. Senate.

But is this really everything it appears? Is Pipkin really angling to knock Gilchrest out of Congress? Or is this a plan to actually help Gilchrest?

Pipkin would likely divide the anti-incumbent primary vote to Gilchrest’s benefit. Considering the number of prominent Republicans – including former Governor Ehrlich – who have already come out in support of Harris, Gilchrest may feel sufficiently endangered to ask Pipkin to help him out this way.

And Pipkin has nothing to lose by running, since he doesn’t have to vacate his own state senate seat to do it.

If I were Gilchrest, this is the sort of divide-and-conquer plan I would come up with.

On the other hand, this may very well be exactly what it looks like: Pipkin challenging a vulnerable Congressman so he can take his place.

Either way, it should be an interesting primary to watch.


Pseudo-Openness at MTA Purple Line Meetings on Ridership

The Maryland Transit Association will be meeting with people from the community to unveil the ridership study and discuss the Purple Line (see dates and locations below). Unfortunately, the nature of the meetings exhibit that this is really not an open or informative process despite the numerous meetings.

I called MTA to ask some questions and got Mike Madden, the Project Manager, himself. (It turns out that his phone number is posted on MTA's Purple Line website). I asked if MTA would be posting the ridership study on its website prior to the meetings. At a previous Purple Line meeting, I had suggested that it would be helpful if MTA put the information up for the public and was told that this was a good idea.

Mike Madden had "no recollection" of this and explained that there would not be time because MTA would be "refining" its estimates right up until the last minute. At that point, I asked if it was wise to hold all these meetings so soon if the estimates weren't complete yet. Mr. Madden stated that the final estimates wouldn't change much from the preliminary estimates.

I asked if I could see the preliminary estimates if that is the case. Madden said "No, because no information is going to be released before the public meeting." When I asked if it could be posted to the website after the first meeting, he seemed doubtful as the pace of meetings would preclude his staff posting information on the website.

Mike Madden was unmoved by my argument that the public could give better "feedback", a key purpose claimed for the meeting on invitations, if the public had access to information before the meetings. He said that they could respond based on what they saw at the time.

The public shouldn't expect to take much information away from the meeting. Mike Madden said that they would not have copies of the ridership study and that there might or might not be handouts with information on them. At previous meetings, MTA staff was unable to answer specific questions about how cost and ridership estimates were developed.

As it turns out, Mike Madden explained that there will be no public presentation at the meetings, just poster boards with information so the public can ask questions. Perhaps this isn't a bad format. It allows members of the public to ask questions that concern them, though it also prevents members of the public from hearing each other's questions and answers to them.

In short, the meetings are an odd mixture of secrecy with psuedo-openness. The public is welcome to view the findings but not the study behind the findings. Even the findings will be presented only when deemed appropriate by MTA and the public will not be able to receive copies or even summaries of them. It all appears designed to provide an image of consultation without the substance of it.

One wonders why MTA cannot simply make the information more available. If the study has been done properly, surely the ridership numbers should be able to stand up to genuine public scrutiny. MTA will no doubt point to its numerous public meetings as evidence of public consultation. However, the meetings are designed solely to convey MTA's conclusions while hiding the basis for them.

These meetings aren't really a request for "feedback" or even designed to explain the ridership study but a promotional tour. Listening to the public can be tedious and no doubt it is tiresome to present the same information in meeting after meeting. However, it is part of the job and we deserve a genuinely open process--not one designed to promote MTA's preferred Purple Line route in the guise of informing the public and getting public input. MTA can do better.

Monday, December 3, 2007
East Silver Spring Elementary School
631 Silver Spring Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Wednesday, December 5, 2007
College Park City Hall
4500 Knox Road
College Park, MD 20740

Monday, December 10, 2007
Langley Park Community Center
1500 Merrimac Drive
Hyattsville, MD 20783

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Cafeteria
4301 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

Thursday, December 13, 2007
(Snow Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2007)
West Lanham Hills Recreation Center
7700 Decatur Road
Landover Hills, MD 20784

P.S. Please put your name if you want to post a comment. Thanks.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Annapolis Foreign Policy Watch

If Gov. Martin O'Malley can negotiate peace between the House of Delegates and the Senate, I suppose we are truly living in wondrous times, so why shouldn't peace be made between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Annapolis?

On the other hand, the city's role in the crafting of the Constitution is only guardedly auspicious. When delegates from met in Annapolis in 1786, they agreed that they would meet next year in Philadelphia. Of the thirteen colonies, only five states sent delegates. Maryland, showing the leadership that would leave Virginia as the mother of presidents and Maryland as the mother of Spiro Agnew, did not send delegates to the Convention held in its own capital.

Low expectations are clearly the order of the day in Annapolis. While the general shape of a settlement has been apparent for sometime, no one seems to know how to get from here to there. The main players in the drama are all weakened leaders. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can only envy President George Bush's dismal approval ratings. One poll showed that 65% of Israelis think that Olmert has no mandate to go to Annapolis and make major concessions; a majority want him removed from office. Such things matter in a democracy and Israeli is a lively, if fractious, one.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is really only president in the West Bank as Hamas rules the Gaza Strip. The Gaza strip is small but extremely densely populated, containing over one-third of the Palestinian population. Abbas, as affable as Arab leaders appear to come, is weak too and any willingness to compromise, crucial to negotiations, will be interpreted as weakness. Hamas is already declaring that Abbas has no right to concede an inch of Palestine.

The future is even more dismal. Likud Leader Benjamin Netanyahu appears like to win the next Israeli elections and return as a prime minister opposed to the peace process. It seems unlikely that Abbas could be replaced by a leader more willing to negotiate a peace settlement.

The problems of negotiating peace remain high even leaving aside the current dearth of leadership. Bernard Lewis outlined the problems on the Palestinian side in an opinion piece heavily on realism which is needed here even if it can be as unwelcome as a splash of cold water in the morning:

The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, "What is the conflict about?" There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.

If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.

If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.

PLO and other Palestinian spokesmen have, from time to time, given formal indications of recognition of Israel in their diplomatic discourse in foreign languages. But that's not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success. Without genuine acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated.

The second problem is that there is the lack of any sign that any Palestinian leader seems able bind his people to an agreement. Leaving aside the current question of Hamas, no Palestinian leader has shown the ability and the inclination to prevent Palestinian attacks on Israel except as part of a short-term strategy.

The Israelis also have a sizable opposition to a peace agreement for a variety of reasons as well. A small minority will even take up arms. The difference is that the Israeli government has shown the ability to enforce discipline on its own people when it desires as demonstrated by the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza.

Is it any wonder that the Bush administration is trying to keep expectations low?


Monday, November 26, 2007

Planning Commissioner Against Open Space Program

Planning Commissioner Allison Bryant isn't a fan of the Legacy Open Space program through which residents can nominate spaces for acquisition by the County if they come on the market:

‘‘I’ve always been disturbed by the idea that a property can be nominated for something by anybody, and it doesn’t belong to them,” Bryant said.

Bryant earlier disclosed his role in opening up the Montgomery College of Art and Design in Wheaton for residential development. The prospect of townhouses being built on the site sparked neighbors’ interest in getting the site into the county’s Legacy Open Space holdings.


Nightmare on Elm Street?

The Gazette posted this article about the playground equipment at the park.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Nonsense from MoCo Republican Adol Owen-Williams

Montgomery County Republican Central Committee member Adol T. Owen-Williams — the man who shouted out “Heil Hitler” when the County Council passed an ordinance barring discrimination against transgender individuals — has been kind enough to share his reasons for opposing the bill. He writes to the Gazette:

My ‘‘Heil Hitler” comment was clearly directed at the council president for the Nazi-like manner in which she ran the vote and would not tolerate public input. My comment about my fear of dead little girls being found in rest rooms was couched in the context of the infamous Hadden Clark, who is in prison for the deaths of Michelle Dorr and Laura Houghteling. He enjoyed dressing like a woman.

Owen-Williams’s reasoning is neither logical nor consistent with the facts.

Of the hundreds of murders that have taken place in Montgomery County in the past twenty years, two of them were committed by this man who apparently “enjoyed dressing like a woman.”

Did Hadden Clark find his victims while dressed as a woman in a women’s restroom?


Michelle Dorr was a young girl who was a friend and neighbor of Clark’s niece. Clark had lived in the same house as his niece, and he murdered Michelle in his niece’s bedroom. Laura Houghteling was a college graduate killed at her mother’s home, where Hadden Clark worked as a gardener. In both cases, the victims knew Clark. Neither murder had anything to do with men stalking bathrooms disguised as women in order to attack “little girls.”

If some twisted male individual wanted to dress as a woman in order to get into women’s bathrooms to murder little girls, are we really supposed to think that the only thing stopping him is a Montgomery County law on who can use a women’s bathroom?

So Mr. Owen-Williams’s opposition to rights for transgender Marylanders certainly isn’t logical.

What Mr. Owen-Williams does not seem particularly interested in is helping to ensure that transgender Marylanders find any accommodation in the law. If — instead of voicing his loud opposition to this bill — he had come up with alternative reasonable legislation to help transgender individuals live complete and dignified lives, I’d be more likely to view his opposition as principled rather than an expression of simple animus.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Leggett Signs Transgender Rights Bill

County Executive Ike Leggett signed a transgender rights bill into law today. Opponents are still apoplectic about the "bathroom problem," claiming that men will now have the right to pose as women to use the women's room and vice-versa. The Post exposed this as a non-problem in any other place which has enacted a similar ordinance:

But officials in cities with similar protections said fears of people abusing the law to gain entry into private facilities were unfounded. Human rights officials in the District, California and Colorado, for instance, reported only a handful of phone calls from employers seeking guidance for legally segregating restrooms or locker rooms. . . .

In the five years since the city of Boulder, Colo., added "gender variance" to its anti-discrimination law, the Office of Human Rights has not had any complaints from businesses or employers, according to Administrator Carmen Atilano. Boulder's code distinguishes between transgender individuals who have had sex reassignment surgery (they may use the facilities of their anatomical sex) and people who are in transition (they must be granted "reasonable accommodations" to access such facilities).
If the District, California, and Colorado residents manage to deal with this issue with maturity, we'll somehow get by too. And perhaps on the eve of our national festival, we can feel thankful that Montgomery County, part of a state and a country founded by people fleeing religious persecution, has taken a step to allow a small minority to live with a bit less fear and more dignity.


On Political Pulse

Delegate Tom Hucker, a MD Delegate from District 20 (Silver Spring, Takoma Park) will be on the Political Pulse political talk show on:

-- Thursday, November 22nd at 9:00 p.m.;
-- Tuesday, November 27th at 9:30 p.m.; and
-- Thursday, November 29th at 9:00 p.m.

The discussion will focus on the Special Legislative Session that just ended in Annapolis. Delegate Hucker will discuss his votes on taxes and slots and discuss other issues that arose during the session. The Special Session was held to address the $1.7 Billion state budget deficit.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


The Post's Verdict on the Special Session

The Maryland General Assembly has gone home for the holiday. We're ready for turkey here as well, so blogging will be light over the next few days.

In a long editorial, the Washington Post editorial board renders its verdict on the special session here. Despite its disappointment that the tax package was not more progressive and over slots, it generally praises the Governor for addressing the structural deficit as well as health care.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Peter Franchot: Speaking His Mind

No on will accuse Comptroller Peter Franchot of keeping too quiet for the sake of being a team player. Oddly for someone in charge of promoting the State's fiscal health, Franchot denounced the special session to balance the budget as premature. Unlike past comptrollers, Franchot even refused to allow his staff to participate in budget discussions during the special session.

Franchot often mentions his long experience as a member of the Appropriations Committee of the House of Delegates. I doubt if any other long-term member of that Committee learned that the best way to influence the State's budget is not to participate in drafting it. One wonders if his unwillingness to participate in work was the source of his well-known reputation as a "show horse" rather than a workhorse.

Franchot's unwillingness to participate in the special session has not stopped him from denouncing the outcome:

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), a vocal critic of the special session, said the tax package is "regressive" and "may damage the Maryland economy, which is in a volatile and soft position right now."
This statement probably makes Franchot the first comptroller in Maryland history to talk down the State's economy. However, the real kicker is that Franchot admitted immediately that he has no real idea about the impact of the budget. As it turns out, his office hasn't analyzed it yet:

Franchot, the state's chief tax collector, said his office is reviewing the laws and will soon release a fiscal analysis as it prepares to implement the new tax measures Jan. 1. He said it is too soon to know the full impact.

"We're still searching for the black box," Franchot said, likening the process to "when a plane crashes and you go to find the black box to get the data."


Progressive or Regressive?

Whether the overall budget is regressive or progressive remains a matter of debate:

Nick Johnson, a fiscal director at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the impact of the laws will be "a little uneven across the income scale."

"I think low-income families are going to take a certain amount of a hit," Johnson said. "There's no way around that. They're going to get hit worse than they would have under the governor's original plan." . . .

Sean Dobson, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said the legislative package is "a victory for working families."

"While there is some regressive stuff in there, the overall package represents a win," Dobson said. "What we have now is an improvement over the status quo."

Of course, this debate really remains of interest to insiders. I suspect that most people will dislike "taxes" going up and care less about the impact on the rich or the poor. Remember, America has long been a land that celebrates the wealthy as "winners." Few complained about the relatively flat state income tax during the election campaign.

However, whether we hear much about it, people are right to express interest the impact of the tax plans on people of different incomes just as they should be concerned about its impact on the State's economy. The lower and middle classes have been increasingly squeezed as the cost of housing, health care, and transportation rise faster than incomes. Will the budget plan exacerbate that squeeze and to what extent?


Monday, November 19, 2007

Contacting Our Legislators

Many of us have strong feelings about the issues addressed in the special session that just ended. Like many of the people reading this, I told anyone who’d listen what I wanted my elected officials in Annapolis to do.

But I didn’t tell them what I wanted them to do – at least, I didn’t tell my three delegates. And that makes me wonder about other people.

Did you contact your delegation in Annapolis? And do you think your action or inaction made any difference on how they voted?

I live in District 18, and I wish I had done more.

On the good side, I’ve spoken numerous times with Senator Rich Madaleno about taxes and slots, and I also called his office several times during the special session. He and his staff were pretty clear on what I thought. I know where he stands, too. We are generally in agreement, and I trust him to do the right thing – which includes knowing when and how much to compromise.

But I did not contact Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez, Jane Lawton, or Jeff Waldstreicher.

Why not? I’m not 100% sure. To some extent, it’s because I know their politics and don’t feel that they need to hear from me. I generally trust them to do the right thing while wading through the thicket of numbers and making the compromises that are part of good legislating.

But on the income tax issue, I really should have called them. Since I wanted to see a more progressive income tax plan, I was especially upset to read that that many members of the Montgomery County delegation were insisting on a less progressive one. And I had no idea what role, if any, the District 18 delegates had in pushing for that change.

Yet I didn’t ask. And I didn’t bother to let the three delegates know what I thought about it, either before or after the deed was done.

Does it matter? I hardly have an inflated view of my importance - I’m just one person, a plain old neighborhood activist who actually has a pretty good relationship with the delegates. And I’ve shared my opinions with them on other matters.

Would calling them early on have had an impact on their thinking or on their votes? I don’t know. But not calling them was a sure-fire way to not have an impact.

What about other people? Did you contact your legislators? Do you think it made a difference?

More generally, could those of us in Maryland’s liberal community have worked more effectively for a more progressive revenue package? Or do we simply not have sufficient numbers among the electorate or in the General Assembly to have accomplished our goals?


Monday Morning on MPW

The special session is drawing to a close but it isn't doing so quietly. We have the latest news on General Assembly's income tax plan with an update on the Republican filibuster and which senators, including one from Montgomery, were opposing closing debate early into the morning to prevent passage of the plan. Another post looks at why the Gazette columnists are so cranky about the special session's outcome.

Adam Pagnucco explains why progressives should not punish legislators who voted for the slots referendum. In a separate post, I take a look at three key votes on slots in the House of Delegates, including information on how each Montgomery delegate voted. Comptroller Peter Franchot hasn't won any friends in Annapolis through his opposition to slots and the special session.

On the Light Side
Kevin Gillogly took a walk through Silver Spring with Ben Cardin, the Penguin, and a former student of mine.

On the Dark Side
Paul Gordon wonders if past Iraq War comments will come back to haunt Sen. Andrew Harris in his congressional bid.


We're Watching: Slots Vote Analysis

Passing slots through the House of Delegates was no easy feat as a previous post outlined. The key vote on the bill passed 86-52; constitutional amendments require 85 votes so slots proponents had only one spare vote. There were also two "poison pill" amendments offered prior to the critical vote on the amendment by slots foe Del. Luiz Simmons (D- 17) designed to make it difficult to reconcile the bill with the Senate and for a referendum to pass.

The first Simmons amendment would have changed the bill to require a county (or Baltimore City) to vote in favor of slots during the referendum in order for slot machines to be placed in that county (or Baltimore County). This amendment was a brilliant strategic move because it altered the referendum to make it one on slots in each county.

In Montgomery, polls suggest that people are much more in favor of allowing slots elsewhere in Maryland than in Montgomery. My guess is that many people elsewhere in the State feel the same way, so this amendment would help juice the anti-slots vote. The amendment failed 61-67 with 13 delegates not voting (only 5 are recorded as "excused"). Note that the delegates who didn't vote held the balance on each of the two Simmons amendments.

This vote was probably the hardest vote for slots supporters because it required them to vote against allowing their constituents to prohibit slots directly in their county through the referendum vote. I'm sure some of Del. Simmons's pro-slots colleagues will take opportunities over the next several years to remind him exactly how much they deeply appreciate his passion on this issue.

The second Simmons amendment would have prohibited people associated with the gambling industry from making campaign donations. This amendment failed 61-66 with 14 delegates not voting (again, only 5 are recorded as "excused").

Based on the outcome of the three votes, it is clear that many delegates did not cast consistent pro or anti-slots votes. Some Democrats who planned to vote against the constitutional amendment probably didn't want to vote for the Simmons amendments in order to avoid: (1) further angering the Governor and the Speaker (not to mention MCEA, which was strongly in favor of the bill), (2) bringing an ignominious end to the special session which would have reflected badly on the Democratic Party, and (3) to help out the Governor early in his term even if they felt that they couldn't vote for slots.

Some Democrats who voted for one or both of the Simmons amendments and then for the constitutional amendment may have wanted to allow the people to decide but then also to give people more control over whether or not slots come to their county. Like slots opponents who voted against the constitutional amendment, they may also worry about the financial might of the gambling industry. Nonetheless, they undercut whatever credit they earned with the Speaker and the Governor by voting for either amendment.

Some might argue that Simmons amendment supporters who voted for the constitutional amendment may have wanted political cover against an anti-slots backlash. I find this unpersuasive as it it hard to see these legislators receiving many thanks from slots opponents after having voted for the constitutional amendment--the central vote on the issue which required 85 votes to pass and could have been defeated if just two delegates changed their votes.

I wonder if some of the delegates who didn't vote despite being present simply felt extremely heavily pressured from both sides and didn't come to a decision in time during the grueling floor session. They may have also wanted to save the Governor from defeat in special session even if they voted against the constitutional amendment.

No doubt there are many other explanations for various vote combinations which I haven't given here, though I have a feeling I'll be hearing some of them soon.

Let's see how Montgomery's delegates voted:

District 14
Del. Herman Taylor played a critical role in keeping the slots bill alive by not voting on either of the two Simmons amendments though he voted against the constitutional amendment. Del. Anne Kaiser cast consistent pro-slots votes. Del. Karen Montgomery is recorded as "excused from voting" for all three votes.

District 15
Dels. Kathleen Dumais and Brian Feldman voted against the first Simmons amendment on requiring a local majority for slots in the referendum for slots to be placed in that jurisdiction. They both also voted against the second Simmons amendment on campaign finance before voting for the constitutional amendment. Del. Craig Rice cast consistent pro-slots votes.

District 16
Del. Bill Bronrott voted for both Simmons amendments before voting for the constitutional amendment. Del. Susan Lee and newly appointed Del. Bill Frick cast consistent pro-slots votes.

District 17
Del. Simmons shocked no one by voting against the constitutional amendment and for both of his own amendments. Equally unsurprising were the consistent votes cast for slots by Del. Kumar Barve, the House Majority Leader and a member of the leadership. Del. Jim Gilchrest voted with Barve (i.e. against Simmons) on all three votes.

District 18
Like Del. Taylor in District 14, Del. Jeff Waldstreicher voted against the constitutional amendment after having not voted on either of the Simmons amendments and thus helping to keep the slots bill alive. Dels. Jane Lawton cast consistent pro-slots votes. Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez voted for the slots amendment but also for the Simmons amendment on campaign finance.

District 19
Before voting for the constitutional amendment, Del. Henry Heller voted for the first Simmons amendment to require a local majority for slots in the referendum to have slots in that jurisdiction. Del. Heller didn't vote on the second Simmons amendment on campaign finance, tacitly helping prevent that amendment for passing. Del. Roger Manno voted the same as Del. Heller except that he cast a negative vote on the second Simmons amendment. Del. Ben Kramer cast consistent anti-slots votes.

District 20
Del. Heather Mizeur voted against the constitutional amendment and for the first Simmons amendment. However, she also voted against the second Simmons amendment. Del. Tom Hucker voted differently from Del. Mizeur on all three votes. He voted for the constitutional amendment having voted against the first Simmons amendment. However, Del. Hucker voted for the second Simmons amendment on campaign donations from slots interests. Del. Sheila Hixon, the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, cast consistent pro-slots votes.

District 39
Like Dels. Mizeur and Hucker in District 20, Dels. Saqib Ali and Charles Barkley cast opposed votes on all three of the slots bills. Del. Ali voted against a constitutional amendment and for the second Simmons amendment. However, he also voted against the first Simmons amendment requiring a local majority for slots to be placed in that jurisdiction. Del. Barkley voted for the constitutional amendment and against the second Simmons amendment. However, Del. Barkley voted for the first Simmons amendment. Newly appointed Del. Kirill Reznick cast consistent pro-slots votes.

Update: Del. Heather Mizeur pointed out gently via email that I had incorrectly reported her vote on the two Simmons amendments as well as confused the order of the votes. I appreciate the correction and have altered the post accordingly. Thanks Heather.


Cranky Gazette

All of the Gazette columnists dislike the outcome of the special session for totally different reasons. Blair Lee writes that Montgomery got taken again by caving on the income tax since its revenues come disproportionately from Montgomery County. However, Blair Lee completely ignores the rest of the tax package, and one should assess it based on the total impact, not just one tax.

My colleague, Allan Lichtman, attacks the Senate, and specifically senators from Montgomery, for exactly the opposite reason. Allan thinks the tax bill is not progressive enough:

State Senators from Montgomery County played a major role in dismantling proposals for a progressive state tax structure. Where was Brian Frosh of Bethesda, the progressive conscience of the Senate for so many years? Where was freshman Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, who promised in his campaign against veteran incumbent Ida Ruben to be a progressive hero in the Senate? In what is likely the most important vote they will cast in their four-year term, both senators voted for the regressive tax package, along with nearly every other senator from Montgomery County. Commendably, Frosh and Raskin voted against the slots proposal.

It is understandable that senators from Montgomery County would want to protect their constituents who are relatively more affluent than residents of other jurisdictions. But they should not be protecting the 5 percent to 10 percent of the county’s richest citizens at the expense of everyone else. The rich have already benefited enormously from the tax cuts pushed through Congress by the Bush administration and today rake in more of the national income than at any time since the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929.

Lichtman is right that the affluent have benefited from the Bush tax cuts and essentially argues that the proposed tax bite on them was so small that they would notice it. The latter part of this argument was undermined by the backlash against the bill. They appear to have noticed. Opponents also argue that raising federal taxes doesn't cause Maryland to suffer the same loss in competitiveness vis-a-vis other states, so the place to seek more progressive taxation is in Congress--not the General Assembly.

I discovered a couple of interesting factoids:

(1) Maryland has the 14th most progressive tax structure in the nation according to at one analysis (located using that scientific method of "doing a google"). Maryland is more progressive than such liberal paragons as Massachusetts (27th) and New York (26th). Virginia is just one notch below us in 15th place. Delaware is first in the nation in terms of progressivity but it has very few taxes at all.

(2) Maryland's tax structure is mildly regressive--the tax structure of all but six states is regressive with many being substantially more so than Maryland. Of course, federal taxes, which loom much larger than state and local taxes, shape the overall structure of the tax burden.


Teed Off at Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot must be feeling a cool breeze right now. He lobbied against the special session, against slots, and would not even let his staff participate in the budget process. While Franchot may be positioning himself for a primary challenge to Gov. Martin O'Malley, others speculate that Franchot will face a primary challenge if he runs for reelection:

And Franchot’s interference during the special session has further incinerated relationships and fueled speculation that party leaders could field a primary challenger in 2010, probably Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith, who is term-limited.

It looks like an anti-Franchot candidate won' t have to look far for support:

‘‘I think he has hurt himself dramatically...” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach. ‘‘He’s become an albatross in terms of moving the Democratic Party forward.”

‘‘I think he needs to revisit his job description. He’s not a policy guy,” said Del. Galen R. Clagett (D-Dist. 3A) of Frederick, who encouraged Franchot to run against Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) last year. ‘‘It ain’t what you do, it’s how you do it. Maybe he ought to look for a less flamboyant way to get his message across.”

But Franchot has not backed off. He sent a letter to the presiding officers opposing the special session, protested the Senate’s plan to expand the sales tax to computer services and continued to demonize legalized gambling.

Earlier this year, he clashed with O’Malley (D) and Budget Secretary T. Eloise Foster (D) over increasing salaries for his top staffers. And this week, Franchot lobbied his former House colleagues to vote against slots, placing personal calls to a number of delegates.

And to think we thought all would be quiet with the departure of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Special Session Winding Up

The Senate voted to accede to the slots proposal adopted by the House of Delegates. The conference committee between the two houses has also agreed on a compromise on the income tax hike:

The compromise plan would make the individual income tax more progressive, would increase the sales and vehicle titling tax rates from 5 percent to 6 percent, and would increase the corporate income tax rate from 7 percent to 8.25 percent.

In a compromise between the chambers, legislative leaders agreed to adding three new income tax brackets for high-earners, changing a tax structure in which most filers qualify for the top rate of 4.75 percent.

Under the proposed new structure, individuals would pay 5 percent on taxable income above $150,000 a year, and couples would pay that rate on taxable income over $200,000 a year. A 5.25 percent bracket would apply to income greater than $300,000 a year for individuals, and $350,000 a year for couples. All income above $500,000 a year would be taxed at 5.5 percent.
The General Assembly also agreed to extend the sales tax to computer services to generate $200 million per year but set the new tax to expire after five years. Finally, legislators asked Gov. Martin O'Malley to cut his proposed budget by $550 million.

The Baltimore Sun has a photo montage if you want to make an Olympic moment out of the closure of the special session.

As of very early in the morning, the Republicans were filibustering successfully the tax bill in the Senate. They were joined by five Democrats: Sens. Brochin, Della, Forehand, Klausmeier, and Stone. The real surprise on the list to me is Montgomery Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-17), an affable woman who represents a safe Democratic district and isn't known for allying with the Republicans. Baltimore City Sen. George Della (D-46) also represents a safe Democratic district but has a poor relationship with Senate President Mike Miller and is probably enjoying the chance to make his life more difficult.

Update II
The tax package passed at 2:36am this morning.


Why Progressives Should Not Punish Legislators Who Voted for the Slots Referendum

by Adam Pagnucco

In two of the most critical, hotly contested votes in at least fifteen years, Maryland’s state legislators recently voted to send the issue of slots to a referendum. Anti-slots voters howled with betrayal. Gambling bosses munched their cigars in glee and stroked the cash in their wallets. The forces of evil massed at the gates of I-95, poised to let loose the dogs of addiction and vice into the Free State. So naturally, liberals should punish the traitorous legislators who signed Maryland over to the armies of immorality. Right?


Here are five reasons progressives should not punish legislators who voted for the slots referendum:

1. A special session collapse would lead to more tax hikes and/or spending cuts later

Throughout the special session, Senate President Mike Miller repeatedly warned that failure to pass a slots referendum might lead to general impasse. If that happened, the legislators would have to take up deficit reduction again in the general session in early 2008. But since new revenue collections would be delayed from the end of 2007 to the summer of 2008, the hikes would now have to be about $500 million greater. The most likely source of further tax hikes would be related to the sales tax as Montgomery County’s delegation would no doubt block any further attempt to raise income taxes on the rich. Alternatively, spending cuts would inevitably affect education aid and state government staffing. No wonder labor unions were urging wavering legislators to support the referendum.

Would more sales tax hikes and reduced education spending really be in the interest of progressives? Of course not, so the legislators faced a “lesser-of-two-evils” choice. In fact, this pattern of decision-making was the hallmark of the entire special session.

2. Relationships with the Governor and the leadership are important

A politician’s effectiveness is to a great degree based on relationships with others, the pursuit of mutual gains and resulting negotiating leverage. In Annapolis, the most important relationships are with the Democratic leadership and the Governor’s office. The leadership has exclusive control of committee assignments, committee chairmanships and, by extension, bill appearances on the floor. The Governor has unusually tight control over budgeting as well as the giant apparatus of state government. Every legislator has to negotiate this set of relationships to accomplish his or her priorities as well as to meet the needs of his or her district. Politicians without relationships become pariahs, howling at the moon while the rest of the pack feasts on the night’s catch.

The slots referendum vote was, to this point, the most important vote in the Governor’s political career. It was also a test of the Democratic leadership’s ability to work together (not always an easy task between the two chambers) and clear the table of troublesome budget problems prior to the next round of elections. Any legislator who rejects both the Governor and the leadership in their hour of greatest need runs the risk of ruining their ability to deliver grants, aid, transportation projects and general services needed by their district. After all, should such a legislator later approach the Governor for help, he or she might well be the recipient of an icy glare and a cool, “Where were you when I needed you?”

Again we see a “lesser-of-two-evils” decision. Don’t blame those legislators who acted to preserve their effectiveness on other liberal priorities and constituent service.

3. No one demonstrated ideological purity

One of the great ironies of the special session is the behavior of some of Montgomery County’s “liberal” delegation. The tax hikes that encountered the greatest resistance among such members were the Governor’s increased income tax rates on Maryland’s wealthiest residents. Their opposition was based on competitiveness with Virginia, but why shouldn’t the same arguments apply to the sales tax or the tobacco tax? Why the selective outrage?

Some of the legislators who opposed slots worked to reduce the added taxes on the rich in the Governor’s income tax proposal and did not utter a peep of protest against the $730 million sales tax hike – yet they still call themselves “progressives.” If you are looking for ideological purity, you may find it in church, but you will not find any in Annapolis.

4. Slots will keep coming back unless they are defeated with a referendum

Slots have been on the verge of passing for years. In 2005, both chambers of the legislature approved slots bills but could not reconcile them. Anti-slots activists have known a painful truth for years: all it takes is a handful of changed votes to get a pro-slots majority in the legislature. Given the rates of turnover in state legislative elections, it is possible that sooner or later slots will finally pass.

Everyone knows that a vampire will not die until a stake is driven through its heart. Defeating slots at the ballot box may be the only way to destroy the creature once and for all.

5. Heed the people

There have always been two sets of arguments around slots. First are the economic arguments. Some consider gambling fees a voluntary levy (putting aside addictions) and therefore superior to involuntary taxes. Others say gambling revenues are at least matched by health and welfare spending (and more intangible costs) associated with remedying the problems of addiction. Second are the moral arguments. Some see gambling as a victimless crime, or not a crime at all, and say the state has no business outlawing it. Others criticize gambling as inherently immoral and destructive of our culture.

Those who argue against a referendum are implying that the citizens of Maryland are too ignorant to weigh the economic arguments and are too corrupt and/or weak-minded to evaluate the moral arguments. These sorts of decisions are beyond the capabilities of average citizens and can only be decided by those who manage to get elected. Is this really what progressives think about the masses?

Why should progressives fear democracy? If the reasons for opposing slots are truly superior, Maryland’s progressive community is more than capable of triumphing at the ballot box. And victory is entirely possible. While polls suggest that a majority of Marylanders favor slots, anti-slots activists are much more motivated than pro-slots voters. Liberals may very well win by getting out their vote in anti-slots strongholds like Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Ocean City. If that happens, perhaps those who voted for the referendum should be thanked by allowing the people to slay the monster once and for all.


Walking Through Silver Spring with Ben & The Penguin

Ok it was me, Sen Cardin, his wife Myrna, a dozen other supporters, the official mascot of the largest unincorporated town in the US and around a thousand of our closest friends. The rest of you called this the Silver Spring Thanksgiving Day Parade. I call it a people watching watching extravaganza. Besides being a supporter of Sen. Cardin because of his political views, it is so nice to see a Baltimore politician in MoCo outside of the election season.

This was my second Silver Spring parade and with the addition of the 50 foot balloons it had that Macy Day Parade feel. Got to love the Penguin, the official mascot of Silver Spring, christened in December of 2006. (Nice background on SS symbols.)

Now my favorite people watching that masquerades as a parade is the Fourth of July Parade in Takoma Park. Maybe it is the summer weather. Maybe it is the Nation's birthday. But you can never discount the Takoma Park factor.

But any parade that combines, as Silver Spring did, two immortal Presidents, two groups of Presidential candidates supporters, the Skins Marching Band, Boys Scouts, Brownies, elected officials, a half dozen HS marching bands, dancers, singers, clowns, firetrucks, dogs, and Santa can warm any heart to counter the brisk air. And unlike our neighbors in Takoma Park, Silver Springers have a permanent Mayor (see below) who watched all the proceedings from his own Alley.

Ok this is a political blog and the parade route went through Congressional District 4, so it is time to mention why Congressman Al Wynn and challenger Donna Edwards had supporters walking for them but they were not there. They were in the middle of a debate. Interesting turn of events with newcomer Jason Jennings. So in lieu of shots of Wynn and Edwards here are shots of their supporters.

Even though you have many of the same participants in both parades, Takoma Park's is a satirical Kumbaya wrapped in a red, white and blue flag with the grill fired up; Silver Spring's is a Jambalaya wrapped in a red costume, red noses while ones hat pulled down and a scarf pulled up.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sen. Andrew Harris and the Iraq War

GOP state Senator Andrew Harris's primary challenge against incumbent Congressman Wayne Gilchrest should be an interesting one to watch next year.

This is the same Sen. Harris who said on the Senate floor last April that sending members of the Maryland National Guard to war with inadequate training and dangerously deficient body armor is not a serious issue that the state should be involved with.

I wonder if the voters in Maryland's first Congressional district - especially those with loved ones in Iraq - will agree?


Friday, November 16, 2007

It's On: House Passes Slots

By a vote of 86-52 (just one more vote than required), the House of Delegates approved a referendum on slots:

Following hours of debate, the House passed a version of Gov. Martin O'Malley's slots referendum bill by a 86-52 vote.

The House amended the bill, which identifies five locations around Maryland, to stipulate that slot parlors must comply with local planning and zoning laws. The change could give local officials more say over slot parlors in their jurisdictions. . . .

Under O'Malley's plan, voters would decide in November 2008 whether to allow 15,000 slot machines at five locations -- one each in Baltimore City and in Anne Arundel, Allegany, Cecil and Worcester counties.
Legislators narrowly voted to reject an amendment to remove Ocean Downs (Worcester County) from the list of locations. The Republican delegate representing Cecil also pleaded for the House to give his constituents the chance to vote on slots for their locality. The House amendment to require compliance with local planning and zoning laws should allow localities to reject slots.

We'll see if the conference committee (in which ardently pro-slots Senate President Mike Miller will have a lot of influence) retains it. My guess is they do because they probably won't be able to pass the final version in the House without it.

The House narrowly rejected an amendment, offered by Del Luiz Simmons (D-19), which would have required slots to be located only in jurisdictions which vote in favor of the referendum:

Another measure failed, 67 to 61, that would have allowed slots parlors only to be located in jurisdictions in which a majority of voters approve the statewide referendum next November.

Simmons, who introduced the amendment, said it would be a way to "make sure that smaller jurisdictions are not victimized by larger jurisdictions."

This was a very clever amendment. It was naturally appealing as it would have helped to assure local control and perhaps appealed to legislators as a means of mitigating backlash against votes in favor of slots by giving their constituents the final say for their areas. At the same time, it would have provided a real incentive for a vote against slots by making it a vote on slots in your area. In Montgomery, for example, polls showed voters favorable to slots in Maryland but much less keen on slots in the County.

The Baltimore Sun reported who voted yea and nay on slots. Among delegates from Montgomery, the following delegates voted against the bill: Saqib Ali (D-39), Charles Barkley (D-39), Ben Kramer (D-19), Heather Mizeur (D-20), Luiz Simmons (D-17), Herman Taylor (D-14), and Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18). Karen Montgomery (D-14) did not vote.

Electoral Ramifications?
While many senators have good relationships with their delegates, others resemble that of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. The referendum may settle the issue definitively, or it may become hotly contested and close in a manner that sets up interesting legislative primaries for 2010. In Districts 15, all state legislators voted in favor. However, in District 16, Sen. Brian Frosh voted against while all three delegates voted in favor.

Luiz Simmons of District 17 was probably the most vocal slots opponent in the House but Sen. Jennie Forehand voted for the bill. In District 18, Sen. Rich Madaleno voted yea but Del. Jeff Waldstreicher voted nay. Sen. Rona Kramer of District 14 voted yes while Del. Herman Taylor voted no. Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, Del. Saqib Ali of District 39 voted against slots while recently appointed Sen. Nancy King voted for slots.

The grapevine is reporting that some people are taking the above post to mean that the above delegates all plan to challenge the above senators. Wrong. As I mentioned, many delegations get along well and individual delegates might not want to challenge sitting senators for a number of reasons. It isn't even clear that this issue will be that potent, especially after the people vote on the referendum.

Nevertheless, this sort of issue is precisely the type on which someone who wanted to mount a challenge could, even if I would be surprised to see it rise to anywhere near the level of the abortion votes which allowed several delegates to oust sitting senators in an earlier decade. However, see Eric Luedtke's post over at freestatepolitics for his opinion on potential likely pairings or people who might use the vote to stand out over other potential successors if the senator chooses to retire.


Madaleno Special Session Update

From the Sen. Rich Madaleno:

Progress on the governor’s comprehensive revenue package has been put on hold in the Senate as we await action in the House of Delegates. The Senate President has announced that we will not take further action until the House completes its work on slots. In fact, as I write, the House is debating the slots referendum proposal. It remains unclear at this point as to whether the House will take any action on the companion bill to regulate and administer slots. Fortunately, the Senate President also announced today that he will not scuttle the entire revenue package should the slots bill fail in the House. Should that be the outcome, the slots proposal will be brought up again during the upcoming 2008 regular session.

My colleagues from the Baltimore suburbs remain convinced that slots are essential to selling the revenue plan to their constituents. They are criticized for being tax-and-spend liberals. They believe slots softens this opposition. Interestingly, in our county, those of us who have supported the governor’s plan and the Senate compromise package have been criticized for abandoning our liberal values. It is an interesting dichotomy. The Senate caucus has both liberal and moderate factions. Progress is made only when the two find common ground, as we did with the final package.

In the meantime, the Senate is scheduled to reconvene at 11 a.m. on Saturday, and maybe again on Sunday. This weekend appears to be the deadline for action as many people have travel plans for the Thanksgiving weekend.

The Department of Legislative Services has prepared a useful summary document comparing the actions of both chambers with the governor’s initial plan. It is available at under the “budget documents” tab. The major issues of disagreement concern the individual income tax and corporate tax policy. The Senate bill expands the sales tax to computer services, while the House bill has a higher corporate income tax rate and a requirement for combined reporting for corporations. Because no bill from either chamber has yet passed the other chamber, there will be no formal conference committee as is the custom for most measures. Apparently, the leadership of the various committees has been meeting to resolve differences in the bills.

On a different topic, there is a hotly contested race for the Republican nomination for the US House district that stretches from the Baltimore suburbs down to Ocean City. State Senator Andy Harris is challenging the incumbent Wayne Gilchrist. The League of Conservation Voters is running ads against Harris, one of the most conservative senators, in the Baltimore market that attack him for supporting “$100 million for dance halls in MONTGOMERY COUNTY while opposing needed funding for the Chesapeake Bay.” I would assume they are talking about the Strathmore Performing Arts Center and the Glen Echo Park’s Spanish Ballroom. It is interesting that an advocacy group would pick these two projects to attack a Baltimore area legislator. In the end, he voted for them as part of the entire capital budget not as individual projects. I am confident he would have opposed both if debated individually.

The end is near (I hope). I look forward to updating you with the final outcome of this special session.
I think Rich should endorse Andy Harris. It would probably do far more to aid Wayne Gilchrest than the ads paid for by LCV.


Justice O'Connor Against Judicial Elections

Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote a good op-ed in the Wall St. Journal.


Campaign Finance Regulation for MoCo?

Del. Susan Lee (D-16) has introduced legislation which would permit the Montgomery County Council to regulate campaign finance activity for elections for local officials. You can sign up to testify here for the December 15th hearing before the County's legislative delegation at 7PM in the Stella Werner Council Office Building in Rockville.


Dueling Income Tax Plans

The Baltimore Sun produced the above chart showing the three income tax plans currently on offer from Gov. O'Malley, the Senate, and the House. While the differences between the House and the Senate plans seem relatively small to me, reconciling them may not be so easy. Montgomery senators do not appear unified on this question:

Most of the Montgomery County senators who voted in favor of that chamber's tax bill last week said the House version hits upper-income taxpayers too hard, although the House did not go as far as Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a Montgomery County Democrat, said she did not think the top income-tax bracket, for those with incomes more than $500,000 a year, should be higher than 5.5 percent.

"My district has a lot of high-tech, biotech companies that are expanding and trying to recruit some of the top scientists and business people," she said. . . .

Sens. Brian E. Frosh and Michael G. Lenett, both Montgomery County Democrats, said they prefer the House version.

"It will be a source of controversy within the Senate," Frosh said. "There are some folks, especially those from Montgomery County, who think we should take it easier on well-to-do people."
Combined reporting also remains an issue though that appears likely to be resolved in favor of the House's plan to close the loophole:
The House included "combined reporting" in its tax bill.

The House approved O'Malley's proposal to close a "loophole" - referred to as "controlling interest" - that enables some corporations to avoid recordation and transfer taxes by making their real estate part of a limited liability company.

The Senate amended the governor's plan to raise the threshold of what defines a company covered by the tax law change, changed the method of valuing property from the sale amount to the assessed value, and exempted all deals before Jan 1.

"The Senate amendments provide a substantial loophole in the effort we are trying to resolve," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat who supports the House version.

Sen. Ulysses Currie, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said he expects a compromise with the House over the personal income tax proposals and the rest of the tax package.


Battle Joined on Fourth Circuit Nominee

Bethesdan Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland, has been nominated for a Maryland seat on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fourth Circuit has long been seen as the most conservative in the federal judiciary. Judicial appointees have become highly partisan and controversial and the Fourth Circuit currently has only 10 of the 15 judgeships are currently filled. However, staunch opposition by Maryland's two Democratic senators promises to torpedo any chance of Rosenstein being confirmed by the Senate:

Maryland's senators exercise virtual veto power over a nomination from their state, and they have criticized Rosenstein's dearth of legal experience in the state and his lack of strong Maryland roots. They also bemoaned the inability to settle on a compromise candidate with the White House.

"Rod Rosenstein is doing a good job as the U.S. attorney in Maryland, and that's where we need him. He plays a vital role in fighting crime and protecting our communities in Maryland," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement. "In the twilight of the Bush administration, we don't need an acting U.S. attorney in Maryland. In light of the mismanagement of the Bush administration Justice Department, we cannot risk another vacancy."

In the joint statement, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin added: "I regret that the White House did not listen to our recommendations to keep Rod Rosenstein as U.S. attorney. We had had hoped to work with the administration to find a consensus candidate for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals with deep roots in the Maryland legal community."

Praised for his effective stewardship of about 70 federal prosecutors in Baltimore and Greenbelt, Rosenstein - who remains in the post during the confirmation process - is nonetheless likely to see his nomination wither without the support of Mikulski and Cardin, said one longtime court watcher.

"It's extremely unlikely that he'll be confirmed," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
President Bush, long famed for his bipartisan approach, attacked the Senate in response as he continued his tradition in speaking only to groups inside the bubble by giving an address to the conservative Federalist Society:
"The Senate is no longer asking the right question, whether a nominee is someone who will uphold our Constitution and laws," he said in excerpts of a speech he was to deliver last night to the Federalist Society, a conservative group that emphasizes legal matters.

"Instead, nominees are asked to guarantee specific outcomes of cases that might come before the court," he said. "If they refuse - as they should - they often find their nomination ends up in limbo instead of on the Senate floor."
Not all Democrats agree with Mikulski and Cardin's approach. Montgomery State's Attorney John McCarthy supports the nomination:
"I think he is a phenomenal nominee," said Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy, who lauded Rosenstein's efforts to reach out to local prosecutors' offices. "I think he has done an extraordinarily fine job as U.S. attorney, uniformly respected by prosecutors and defense attorneys alike."
And Mikulski did support him for the post of U.S. Attorney. Of course, supporting someone for a temporary post as prosecutor is different than a lifetime appointment to the federal circuit court overseeing Maryland. No doubt our two liberal senators do not relish the idea of solidfying conservative control of this court for many more years. Rosenstein is only 42 and could easily spend decades on the court.


Rolling the Dice on Slots Today?

The House of Delegates is expected to vote sometime today on slots. Apparently, the holdup is being caused by Republicans who were for a referendum before they were against it:

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said last night that the chamber's leaders and O'Malley were working to get the necessary votes. He said that he didn't know how many more votes they needed, but that several Republicans who had said they would vote for the bill have apparently decided against it.

"They seem to be wavering on giving the people a vote on slots through a referendum," the Anne Arundel County Democrat said.
It seems clear that the special session will not be put out of its misery today as a conference committee would be needed to reconcile the budget and slots bills. The House has now shifted away from its strategy of passing an identical slots bill to the Senate as it cannot muster the votes for that approach.

However, today may well be the key day of the special session. I imagine that they can delay and keep hunting for votes. At some point, House leaders are going to have to see if they have the 85 votes needed to pass slots. One can only twist this pretzel of a bill so many times to see if enough people are willing to bite.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Still Hunting for Slots Votes

The Baltimore Sun reports that House of Delegates leaders are still searching from anywhere for four to ten more votes in order to pass slots. The House Ways and Means Committee is still discussing slots sites but has now removed Frederick and Harford Counties as possible slot sites. Senate President Mike Miller is starting to get hot under the collar:

But that's hardly the only complication. The Ways and Means Committee did not take up a companion bill that lays out the details of how a slots program would be implemented. Some delegates have said they could vote for a referendum to let the people decide on slots but not for the enabling bill, which has left that legislation short of the 71 votes it would need.

The possibility that the referendum bill could pass and the other bill could fail sent Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the legislature's chief slots proponent, into a tirade. He called the idea of a referendum without enabling legislation "a fraud."

"Quit lying, cheating and stealing the public and convincing them you're doing something you're not," Miller said.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Feng Shui of Slots

The House of Delegates continues the enervating quest to find the perfect places to put slot machines around our state according to the Baltimore Sun. As of yesterday, Ocean Downs is out and Frederick is in. After awhile, the decisions take on the character of deciding exactly where we would like the enormous pimples on the face of our state to appear.

Over in the "other body", Senate President Mike Miller continues to profess his undying affection for slots in Maryland with an ardor that makes Romeo look relatively ambivalent about Juliet:

Miller said Wednesday morning that he did not back a Frederick County site because the Senate hadn't considered it, but that he didn't think its inclusion would be a deal-breaker.

"I don't think there are any changes that kill the slots plan in the Senate," he said.

Miller is almost as devoted to slot machines as State Election Administrator Linda Lamone is to our problematic voting machines. Maybe they can sing a chorus of "Stand By Your Machine" to Tammy Wynette's famous ditty together. Still, it's hard to attack a man for being faithful.


Second Senator Steps Down

Sen. J. Robert Hooper (R-Harford) is stepping down from the Maryland Senate due to health problems and the demands of the special session. He has already recommended Del. Barry Glassman as his replacement who will be chosen by the Harford County Republican Central Committee.

Just one year out and we're already down two senators out of forty seven.


MCDCC Ditches Secret Ballot

Maryland Moment, the Washington Post blog, reports that the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee has decided to use open ballots in future votes on appointments to open state legislative and central committee seats:

Montgomery County's Democratic Central Committee has decided to ditch the secret ballot and open up its process for filling vacancies in the General Assembly.

Three Montgomery delegates had introduced legislation this session to try to force the committee's hand to create a more transparent process. But the party has voluntarily decided to change its rules as part of an overhaul of several policies.

Karen Britto, the committee chairman, said the idea was overwhelmingly endorsed to have a "nice, open process so that everyone would know how everyone voted."

Del. Saqib Ali, the sponsor of the legislation, praised the committee and said this afternoon that he would withdraw his bill.

"I applaud the central committee for making the process more transparent and improving it for future elections," he said. "They got out in front of the issue."

Looks like Delegate Saqib Ali won the argument if not the Senate seat.


Chevy Chase Village and Saks

The owners of Saks Fifth Avenue approached Chevy Chase Village about eliminating the requirement that Saks provide a free hour of parking to anyone who parks there. (Saks is located within the boundaries of the Village.) This requirement was part of the agreement years ago to permit the expansion of the original Saks building without adding more parking.

Saks feels that too many people are parking there and then going to their doctor's office in the Barlow or Chevy Chase buildings across Wisconsin Ave. In other words, people are using the right to park free for an hour exactly as originally intended. The main problem according to Saks is that people cannot park close enough to the store entrance.

Pat Harris of Holland and Knight, the attorney for Saks, said that Village residents would continue to receive an hour of free parking as an incentive for the Village to sign off on the idea. Village residents nevertheless torpedoed the proposal during public discussion at the Board of Managers meeting last night. Villagers are probably worried that people will start parking on their streets if they can't park at Saks. Many Chevy Chase Village residents prefer to walk to Friendship Heights anyway.

Moreover, can anyone seriously believe that the County would willingly write into the zoning amendment that only people living in Chevy Chase Village would still have the right to park free for one hour? It doesn't even pass the laugh test. Stand-up comics and politicians live for this kind of material.

In any case, the villagers would have to depend on the goodwill of Saks to continue allowing them to park there. My guess is that wouldn't last long after the ink was dry on the zoning amendment. In any case, the Village wasn't being offered anything they didn't already have, so the incentive wasn't really much of an incentive.

The price of even limited freedom to park is eternal vigilance.


More on Wynn-Edwards Debate

After my posting last week asking for the candidates to supply videos of the debate, I have received private responses saying they are interested. So there is some hope that between videos and the blogs we will have another way for the candidates to reach out to voters of CD4.

I sat next to the Gazette reporter, Agnes Jasinski, for about half of the debate. Her story appeared today. I think it captured the mood of the debate.


Legacy Open Space and the Twinbrook Sector Plan

The Planning Board has posted its revised agenda for its November 15th meeting.

At 7PM, a public hearing is scheduled on revisions to the Twinbrook Sector Plan. The major proposed revision is a mixed-use community called the Avalon by the Twinbrook Metro Station. The written submissions received so far by the Planning Board do not indicate major objections to the proposed change.

At 1PM, Legacy Open Space Director Brenda Sandberg will present her recommendations on the Legacy Open Space program. The program makes properties eligible for purchase should they come on the market. It does not commit the County to purchasing the properties (and certainly does not initiate any sort of condemnation proceeding or force a sale) though it does make them eligible for purchase through the Legacy Open Space program if they come on the market. Sandberg is recommending seven new sites for the Legacy Open Space program:

1) Beverly Property, Broad Run Watershed, Poolesville
2) Wild Acres/Grosvenor Mansion Property, Bethesda
3) Milton Property, Capitol View Park
4) Hickey and Offut, Bethesda
5) Ireland Drive/National Park Seminary Carriage Trails, Silver Spring
6) National 4H Council Headquarters, Chevy Chase
7) Montgomery College of Art and Design, Wheaton

Sandberg is also recommending against Legacy Open Space designation for several sites:

8) Selden Island/Walker Village Site
9) Edson Lane Forest
10) Woodmont East Phase II

The negative decision on Edson Lane Forest includes a rather passionate set of paragraphs calling for preservation of the forest and relocation of a proposed workforce housing project to another location in the same general area. Yet the memo to the Board also states:

Despite the value of retaining forest in urban areas, staff does not believe this site meets the overall Legacy Open Space criteria of “best of the best”. In addition, the isolated site is not appropriate for park ownership due to use and management concerns.
More detail would help justify these statements. As written, they appear idiosyncratic and vague.

Here is what the memo to the Planning Board states on Woodmont East:
A nomination was very recently received for the Woodmont East development site in downtown Bethesda. The site is at the corner of Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues and the Capital Crescent Trail runs through the site, making the site a potentially important urban open space. An initial evaluation of the site was included in the staff memo on the Preliminary Plan/Development Plan that was reviewed by the Planning Board on November 8, 2007. That Preliminary/Development Plan was deferred at the request of the applicant. Legacy Open Space staff will continue to review the application and bring a staff recommendation to the Planning Board in the future, as appropriate.
I was pleasantly surprised to read that staff will continue to review the application for LOS since Brenda Sandberg was the most emphatic in her opposition to open space at this site in my meeting with her and other members of planning staff. She insisted it would have to be entirely hardscape with some plantings, though it appears that this decision is being revisited as well in favor of a more sensible view of a mix of hard surface paths around and among green spaces and plantings.

The Board may want to question Sandberg about the LOS process. Before recommending against LOS for Woodmont East, Sandberg met with developers and planning staffers who had already recommended approval of the preliminary plan (which the developers ultimately withdrew under pressure from the Planning Board) but not with members of the community. The staff of the LOS program was under unreasonable pressure to produce a decision quickly--in less than eight days I am told even though the developers had requested an extension which had two more months to run.

It strikes me that this matter was badly handled and the process should be reformed to be more inclusive of the community. Placing blame is far less important than fixing the process so that community trust, already badly shaken, can be restored. After the staff presents its report on LOS, members of the public can testify and should do so to encourage reform in this area. Again, the problem may be not so much with the ultimate decisions but with a process which undermines confidence in them.