Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Montgomery County’s Most Influential People, Part Three

Get ready for the big time, people! These six elected officials are the heaviest hitters in Montgomery County.

6. Brian Frosh, Senator (D-16)
31 Votes

Reader: Potential heir to Mike Miller. Has a lot of influence, but has been holding the use of it in check to make that potential a reality. Unfortunately, that's leaving a vacuum in progressive leadership in the Senate.

Reader: Montgomery County’s only Senate Chair and an important progressive voice in the county.

Reader: Although somewhat recalcitrant and in the shadows, Frosh has become the elder statesman of Montgomery politics.

Reader: He is widely acknowledged as one of the two or three smartest legislators in the General Assembly. At a time when political discourse has become coarse and lacking in civility, Brian Frosh remains one of the bright lights in our state.

Reader: As chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Senator Frosh exercises a great deal of influence over extremely contentious, personal, and emotional legislation involving civil rights, criminal law, and criminal justice. His decision to delay or withhold a committee vote can break a bill. Because of the issues that his committee deals with, Senator Frosh is a key focus of attention for the most committed ideologues of both the left and the right. Another factor adds to his influence: Since he is in the running to succeed Mike Miller as Senate President, Senator Frosh is a legislator whose favor many other senators and activists are more likely to curry. Should Miller have another change of heart and announce his departure from leadership after 2010, look for Frosh’s influence to increase even more.

Reader: Great State Senator, hopefully he’ll replace Miller as Senate President if he can bring together the county delegation’s votes and score some votes from the Prince George’s delegation.

Reader: Because he is respected by nearly all for being smart, progressive and an utterly decent person. Possible future Senate President.

Reader: Progressives who follow Annapolis have no love lost with Senator Frosh, who has moved to the center in a quest to be the next Senate President. His constituents don’t know the details of how he carries the water of Mike Miller - they only know him as an environmental champion and powerful committee chairman. Senator Frosh isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and may even get his wish to become Senate President one day - maybe even without selling his soul out to Mike Miller and conservative Democrats in the process.

Reader: Doesn’t exercise much influence outside his own committee, but always could.

Reader: Central to state formation of legal public policy. Highly underrated. Possible future Senate President (in the year 2030 when Miller dies!)

Reader: Intelligent, honest. Brian is a very rare politician in that he is always true to his word. He truly believes in Constitutional rights, fairness, and a level playing field.

Adam: Brian Frosh proves nice guys can still go a long ways in politics. He gets lots of respect for being a squeaky-clean, honest liberal who doesn’t get in the faces of people who disagree. Not a MoCo partisan – pursues the state’s overall needs rather than focusing on the county’s narrow priorities.

4 (tie). Valerie Ervin, Montgomery County Council Member
33 Votes

Reader: Ervin is probably the standout candidate right now to succeed Ike in 2014.

Reader: One of the only Council Members with people skills to complement her policy and political abilities. A promotion is likely, but where? Exec? Congress? Annapolis?

Reader: I expect that her commitment to neighborhood causes and constituent services are gaining Valerie Ervin a district full of supportive voters. Because she was so quick to seek higher office from the School Board she’d just been elected to, I didn’t trust her when she first announced her candidacy for the 2006 County Council race. But in the time since then, she’s won me over. She has been an energetic advocate for community issues I care about, she has been an effective advocate in protecting the quality of life in residential neighborhoods, she has reached out to me and my neighbors, and she’s a joy to spend time with. Any politician who can change my opinion of her from mistrust to strong support in such a relatively short time is, in my opinion, a force to be reckoned with.

Reader: Former union member and proud of it (rare given the faux politics in this county). Comes from the working class and remembers her roots. Determined, courageous. Just compare with the hollow rhetoric of Duchy Trachtenberg.

Reader: I have personally observed her ability to get things done and see her dedication to issues that really affect neighborhoods, such as the recent controversy surrounding the Sligo Creek Golf Course.

Reader: Influence is not always positive and she plays politics big time. Nevertheless, she is a union darling and has a bully pulpit that she uses effectively. She is difficult to defeat on matters she takes a stand on. She also brings several votes with her on the big issues.

Reader: In a strong position on the Council and a shoo-in for re-election. Clear accomplishments and a good case for re-election. Almost everyone else on the Council has potential problems as they approach a surly electorate in 2010.

Reader: Common sense, takes risks, leads without fear, inspires a true cross-section of the county’s voters – keep an eye on her.

Reader: I rank Valerie above Ike Leggett because she’s the first person community members, unions, and other civic leaders turn to when they want to get things done. Her role in electing Donna Edwards in 2008 (she supported Donna in 06 and 08 when no one else did and was key to getting her local labor and political support) and now Nancy Navarro has positioned her as the strongest political player in the county and the region’s leading progressive voice. Navarro’s win was just as big a win for Valerie as Valerie now leads a majority coalition (Ervin, Navarro, Leventhal, Floreen, Knapp). Her base is strong – solid inside her diverse and liberal vote-rich district, popular among progressives, young activists, labor unions, civic leaders and the business community. Most importantly, Sonya Healy is the smartest, and probably hardest working, person in Rockville. One District 16 official recently told me, “Valerie and Sonya clearly carry the intellectual heft of the County Council.” Her relationship with the labor unions in a county and state heavily influenced by labor unions makes her even more influential, and she is well positioned to move up.

Reader: Valerie Ervin is a true rising star, not just in Montgomery County, but in the Maryland Democratic Party as well. In her few years at the County Council, she has proven to be a liberal but pragmatic operator who can maintain strong ties with interests ranging from business, labor, communities of color and progressive groups. More importantly, unlike our Executive, she is not afraid of taking potentially unpopular or controversial positions, and she is willing to expend capital for her allies. Given that this has been a successful endeavor (witness the election of Nancy Navarro to the Council), Valerie is now positioned as the true powerbroker in County politics. As a result, she is mentioned by many as a top tier candidate for County Executive, Lieutenant Governor, and maybe even Governor.

Adam: A force in county politics who has never forgotten where she came from. Whipped Ike Leggett in his backyard during the 2009 special election and is the person he fears the most. She is the subject of more speculation about her future than any other MoCo politician with the exceptions of Chris Van Hollen and Doug Gansler.

4 (tie). Sheila Hixson, Delegate (D-20)
33 Votes

Reader: The Chair of the Powerful House Ways and Means Committee knows how to work the corridors of power in Annapolis.

Reader: Knows where all the bodies are buried in Annapolis and MoCo.

Reader: As chair of the powerful Ways & Means Committee she can kill bills and also get bills through if she wants. She has the only real leadership position from MoCo in the House.

Reader: Because she will kill any bill in her committee.

Reader: Tradition, wisdom and influence – good to have some of that left in our delegation.

Reader: Feared more than respected or liked in Annapolis.

Reader: Her absolute power as chair of Ways and Means has blocked many good public policy initiatives from being considered (and possibly passed) by the House of Delegates.

Reader: Where would we be if her chairmanship were held by a Baltimore Delegate?

Reader: Potentially big role in tax policy over $30 billion, but most of it is not her call, but rather Busch’s and the Caucus.

Reader: Most experienced tax policy leader in the state (this includes the Senate). Don’t EVER think of crossing her! LBJ in heels!

Reader: Sheila Hixson continues to be one of the most powerful, yet underrated politicians in Montgomery County. Her position as Chair of the Ways and Means Committee means that little can get done in Annapolis without her support. Nevertheless, she represents a very liberal district where a chunk of single-issue voters seems to never forgive her for supporting the ICC, regardless of all the other work she does for the County and ignoring the fact that nothing more can be done about the ICC. Unfortunately, this means Delegate Hixson will likely have to work hard for reelection, but as long as her slate-mates are happy with her, she should be safe.

Adam: Our sources are divided on Hixson. Her supporters point to her Chair of Ways and Means, a position she has held since 1993. Her detractors claim that the Speaker makes most of the big decisions on taxes and Hixson must implement them to keep her Chair. Regardless of who is right, look at it this way. Ten years ago, the county’s most powerful women included Connie Morella, Marilyn Praisner, Betty Ann Krahnke, Nancy Dacek, Ida Ruben and Sheila Hixson. Today, Hixson is the only one of them who could still make that list.

3. Rich Madaleno, Senator (D-18)
42 Votes

Reader: Rich Madaleno is already highly influential on budget matters (not just on the key Committee but one of the “deciders” of that Committee) and chairs the Senate delegation in his first term.

Reader: Having the ear of the Senate President is an automatic path to power. Having it on budget issues gives Madaleno tremendous input into the course of the state.

Reader: When it comes to the state budget, Rich is always the most knowledgeable guy in the room. He’s a real asset for Montgomery County.

Reader: District 18 had an open senate seat in 2006, yet then-Delegate Rich Madaleno ran unopposed in the primary. That said a lot about Rich Madaleno’s political standing three years ago, and I see no evidence that it has diminished since then. People in Montgomery County and Annapolis respect him for understanding the complexities of budgets in ways that few other legislators do. He understands legislative politics, too: In the game of legislative chess, he can see 20 moves down the road. Few if any question his integrity. One indication of his standing in Annapolis is his interactions with Senate President Mike Miller: When Madaleno has crossed Miller, Miller has threatened but not punished him. (Contrast that with Budget and Taxation Committee-mate Rona Kramer, for instance). With regard to looking out for neighborhoods in his district, he has been a vocal advocate for Georgia Avenue issues since 2003, his freshman year in the House. This was three years before the area community association's pre-primary letter-writing campaign and Crossing Georgia website made everyone else sit up and take notice. For some politicos, the fear they engender in others gives them influence. People don’t fear Rich Madaleno, and that has cost him on occasion. But they like, respect, and trust him a great deal, and that gives him a different type of influence.

Reader: Has the smarts to be an effective legislator and the patience to work on issues important to him.

Reader: With unrivaled budget experience in county and state government as both a staffer and elected official, Madaleno is emerging in many people’s minds as a logical candidate for County Executive when Ike steps down.

Reader: Perhaps the most untouchable political figure in the county because his reputation alone is bigger than life.

Reader: I think that Rich is the only real leader in our delegation. He is always the go-to guy. He is highly regarded among all his peers. He is smart, he gets things done in Annapolis.

Reader: Extremely smart and knowledgeable on all issues. Annapolis insider and knows how to get things done - much like Chris Van Hollen when he was a State Senator. Very popular at home and can sell tough issues.

Reader: Senator Madaleno is one of the more respected members of our County’s Annapolis delegation, so it is no wonder his colleagues chose him to chair their Senate delegation. Whether you agree or disagree with his views, there is no doubt that he is a true district representative who channels the views and interests of his constituents well, whether on tax policy or the Purple Line.

Reader: The Budget expert of the General Assembly is also one of the smartest senators, well versed on all the important issues, the chair of the Montgomery County delegation, often quoted in the press, the hero of the gay community, and well-liked by his colleagues. He may again go unchallenged in the next primary election, and if he continues to fund-raise, will have the capacity to help his colleagues out, thus increasing his clout in Annapolis.

Adam: Terrible budget times amplify the importance of his skill set. Also effective as a crusader for civil rights who earns points with his civility. Indispensable to his county, his district and everyone who cares about equal rights.

2. Ike Leggett, Montgomery County Executive
50 Votes

Reader: I guess.

Reader: The County Executive almost has to be on the most influential list, although Ike seems to be doing his darndest to squander his influence. Increasingly unpopular and bordering on the sleep-inducing in speeches, and the purchase of helicopters is only the latest in a long saga of missteps. The Governor doesn’t listen to him, our state delegation doesn’t listen to him, and increasingly the County Council doesn’t listen to him. He may not be on the list for much longer.

Reader: A legislator by nature, clearly not an executive.

Reader: Some may not like Ike’s waffling style, but the Executive of Maryland’s largest jurisdiction is a high profile job and carries considerable weight here in the County and throughout the state.

Reader: I’ve been pleased with his fiscal restraint philosophy, or at least as much as one is capable of in Montgomery County.

Reader: He’s the County Executive, which de facto makes him one of the most influential people in Montgomery County politics. A look at the 2006 primary election results for County Executive shows Ike as more popular than he really is. Leggett won in a lopsided victory against Silverman because he represented change that he has not delivered, anti-development sentiment, and the lack of a State or Federal candidate pushing Montgomery County voters to turnout. Anti-development sentiment was particularly strong in 2006 because the press coverage of the Clarksburg development scandal made voters concerned that the county’s leaders were in the pockets of developers. Growth has since slowed, and now that the Purple Line seems more certain voters will be less angry about traffic congestion. Leggett’s stands on Latino and Labor rights issues show he is not on the side of working families, and he has not been a leader in the fight to dismantle the achievement gap in MCPS. He will always have a loyal following among the 60+ crowd, but as the MPW polls have showed, the wide-reaching progressive coalition of voters that elected him in 2006 is very dissatisfied. Ike doesn’t take stands on most hard issues, and his “professorial” style of leadership usually just equates to no leadership at all.

Reader: Ike Leggett is the consummate politician. He is a better legislator than he is at being the Executive. Being the Executive requires decision making skills and having a vision. People are willing to give him a pass because he is so likable. There is also the myth that he cannot be beaten. Many believe that the only competitive race against Ike would have to be by another African American.

Reader: Love him or hate him, he is still the County Executive.

Reader: He’s the County Executive and still wields a bit of influence - mostly with the voters, but that is waning. I almost didn’t put him on the list.

Reader: If you wanted to use reverse psychology to achieve your own ends, he’s someone you want on your side. It seems that by not doing anything until the last minute then deciding whether or not to take credit for the results (depending on how good or bad they are), he’s gotten many, many other people to do the heavy lifting of running the county for him.

Reader: Quietly uses the power of his office. Probably the only sane office holder at the county level.

Reader: Agree with him or not, he still controls the agenda and no effective opposition inside or outside party has arisen. He may not win every issue, but he wins most of them and he still sets the tone. His “smart growth initiative” is moving along and actually makes sense. Mike [Knapp] and his gang can’t hang together long enough to put up a coherent fight. Also, with the competition intense among Council Members for who succeeds Ike, none of them will do too much to make one of their own the leader because of the implications for the Executive race. It’s a weird world, but it leaves Ike dominant even when he’s not always on top of every issue.

Reader: Maybe should be dropped a few more pegs after his endorsement did little to help out Ben Kramer.

Reader: Is this high mostly due to the office itself. Would be less influential than the Council as a whole, except for their divisions. Not greatly respected by his peers, which is a problem.

Reader: Montgomery County’s Executive is one of the most influential people in local politics. Unfortunately, it is too bad that he has a negative impact on the County rather than a positive one. Time and again, the Executive has proven himself unwilling to take stands on many issues, thereby creating twice as many enemies than had he simply picked a side. This waffling style of politics might make sense for a member of the Council, but not for an Executive. This nice guy routine will only work so long as Ike doesn’t face a real opponent for reelection, but should that change, expect the many disaffected Ike supporters to line up against him. Oddly, the one time when Ike does take controversial positions is when he aligns himself with entrenched politicians like Al Wynn, Ida Ruben and the Kramer family. All of this smells like “old school” politics at its worst in an era when voters are seeking vision, competence, and a change from status quo politics. This is the era of Obama, yet Ike is still governing in the era of Dukakis.

Adam: You guys can complain all you want about Ike, but he does not have a credible challenger yet. Last time we checked, an incumbent without a challenger usually gets re-elected.

1. Chris Van Hollen, U.S House of Representatives
56 Votes

Reader: Mr. Democratic Party has national standing, a deep purse and perfect hair.

Reader: The fact that he came in number two last year is ridiculous. Van Hollen is now the partial architect of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, a mover at the national level, and could give Hoyer a run for his money when Pelosi leaves the Speaker’s chair. He also went from insurgent challenger in 2002 to the elder statesman of Montgomery County now.

Reader: If he wants to exert himself, he is probably one of the few politicians who could convince another to run or not run for something. As his power in the House grows, so does his ability to influence events in the county.

Reader: Beloved by nearly a million Montgomery and Prince George’s constituents. Sky’s the limit for this guy.

Reader: Extremely ambitious but not transparently so. Much like Ike Leggett, Van Hollen managed to navigate his way up through the ranks, in large part, by avoiding contentious issues. As a result, he doesn’t have many political enemies. The lesson is that there is generally little or no upside in Montgomery County politics for taking an unambiguous stand on a difficult issue. After almost 20 years in elected office, can anyone really articulate with specificity where Van Hollen stands on the ICC or the Purple Line??

Reader: Chris Van Hollen has always impressed people with his brains, his energy, and his liberalism. Everyone knows he's going places. He is well respected among Montgomery County political figures and activists. If he wanted to, he could exercise a great deal of influence in local politics. However, he sees himself more as the Watcher than Galactus, generally choosing not to interfere.

Reader: Everyone loves Chris! A successful role as the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and now the Assistant to the Speaker it appears everyone in congress also respects him. I can’t think of a more valuable endorsement from an elected official in Moco than Van Hollen. While he tends to stay out of Moco internal political fights, he is easily defined as the man from Montgomery County. Every time he is mentioned as running for the Senate, you get at least half a dozen people saying they would run for his seat. He’s got the top echelon of Moco leaders chomping at the bits waiting for his next “move.”

Reader: An obvious choice. If talent, hard work, and smarts were not enough, I’d give him an edge just on the decency factor. He’s probably the nicest person in elected office, at any level of government.

Reader: He is everybody’s favorite politician. He is smart, charismatic, does his homework, pays attention to his district and is building an incredible support base in Congress and around the country. He raises money like nobody else. I think that Chris can write his own ticket. I can’t think of anybody in elected office that is held in such high esteem.

Reader: Superstar. Viewed as progressive when he actually compromises quite a bit and is heavily involved in the sausage making of Congress behind the scenes. He was born to legislate and yields a lot of national influence as well as back home.

Reader: Huge potential influence, but not sure he uses it. As the only fed on the list, is in a different category than everyone else. Can potentially affect more dollars and more people than any of us, but I don’t believe he does that so often.

Reader: The 8th District representative is a true national player, given his role at the DCCC and with the Obama administration. He continues to maintain high popularity among constituents, and his strong national connections should make him a strong contender for a U.S. Senate bid. Nevertheless, at least at the local level, his absent voice during some of the more controversial local debates does not go unnoticed. Much of this is likely due to the attention he must give to helping run the national Democratic Party, but it is also at least partly due to his unwillingness to ruffle feathers and get his hands dirty. That might be a perfectly fine strategy for him, but it also makes him a bit boring and a bit like yesterday’s news, since it has been a long time since he had a competitive race. Of course, all that may change in the midst of a heated Senate bid, as we expect people to get energized once again.

Adam: I agree with the lavish compliments from most of the spies. In addition, let’s remember that MoCo residents care MUCH more about national politics than state and local politics. Van Hollen’s sky-high profile as the Democrats’ point man endears him to his constituents. Nothing makes a MoCo liberal happier than to see his or her local Congressman spanking Karl Rove and other Neanderthals on the Sunday talk shows.

We’ll start looking at the non-electeds tomorrow.