Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Absentee Ballot Deadline Nears for D4 Primary

Following is a press release from the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

Contact: Marjorie Roher, 240-777-8525

For Immediate Release: March 31, 2009


The deadline for receipt of an absentee ballot application for the April 21 Special Primary Election is Tuesday, April 14. Written requests must reach the elections office by 4:30 p.m. or may be faxed to 240-777-8560 no later than midnight.

The absentee ballot application may be found online at the Board of Elections website at www.777vote.org or www.montgomerycountymd.gov/elections. Follow all instructions, and return the completed, signed application by mail or fax. Ballots will be mailed within three business days. The Board of Elections expects delivery of absentee ballots on or about April 1.

Requests must include the following information: name, date of birth, Montgomery County address, the address to which you want your ballot sent (if other than your Montgomery County address), daytime telephone number, and signature. The absence of any of this information could result in a delay in processing the application.

For anyone wishing to pick up a ballot in person, the elections office will be open weekdays through April 14 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. April 15-17, and Saturday, April 18, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Applicants who wish to pick up their ballot must appear in person, and they must pick up their own ballot unless they have an agent. Call 240-777-8550 for details about serving as an agent. The elections office is located at 751 Twinbrook Parkway, Rockville.

For more information, call 240-777-8550, or e-mail absentee@montgomerycountymd.gov.



State Board of Elections Reports "Problems" with D4 Finance Reports

It has now been a week since the first wave of campaign finance reports was due in the District 4 special election. So far, the reports for Nancy Navarro, Chris Paladino, Robin Ficker, Rob Goldman and Lou August are not available on the State Board of Elections (SBE) website. We called SBE and were told that they had the reports but were facing "problems" posting them on the Internet. This is not the fault of the candidates and is an administrative issue at SBE. We urged SBE to get the reports online "ASAP" because of the short timeline of the election. Once they are all up, we will investigate the finance reports for each candidate.


Rob Goldman's Action Committee for Transit Questionnaire

Rob Goldman is running as a Democrat in the District 4 special election.


Duchy Trachtenberg's Endorsement of Ben Kramer for District 4

By County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg.

I am very pleased to announce my support for Ben Kramer for County Council from District 4 in the special election April 21.

Ben Kramer is running for the seat held for so many years by Marilyn Praisner, and then Don Praisner, and as their daughter Alison Praisner-Klumpp said in a letter to supporters, “Ben Kramer is the best candidate to fulfill Don and Marilyn Praisner’s vision and their legacy of leadership, independence and integrity.”

I support Ben because I know his record, his vision and his character, and how he will bring those qualities to bear on the urgent work ahead of us on the County Council. As a state Delegate, Ben Kramer has sponsored legislation to protect the health and safety rights of seniors; pushed to expand the use of hate crime protections to include women, seniors and people with disabilities, and been a guardian of programs that protect the most vulnerable in our community.

Ben has literally grown up in Montgomery County politics, and he has a deep-seated understanding of the way government works, and how to use the legislative process to bring about urgent, enduring change. When Ben tells you he’s going to do something, he doesn’t waver from that commitment. Ben will always tell you where he stands, even if he doesn’t agree with you. That’s the kind of independence and integrity we need on the County Council, and the qualities that set Ben apart among the candidates in this election.

During these times of economic uncertainty, and competing pressure on our county government over taxes and budget priorities, Ben Kramer will be a critical voice for fiscal responsibility, tax fairness and prevention of government waste, fraud and abuse. I know what Ben Kramer has done as Delegate, and I can’t wait to see him get to work as the Councilmember from District 4.

Editor's Note: Duchy Trachtenberg is a former President of Maryland NOW, a founding co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Network of the Maryland Democratic Party and has served as a Women’s Issues Advisor for Howard Dean’s Presidential Campaign. On the County Council, she has served as Chair of the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee since she took office in 2006.


Who I Support in District 4

By Kevin Gillogly.

I was a strong Don Praisner supporter in the last election. As an activist in District 4, I could not sit on the sidelines while our county is faced with a fiscal situation that grows with each passing week.

I have spent the past month talking with friends and colleagues about this race. I also listened to the candidates. I talked with most of them. In fact, I was sitting down with former candidate Chris Paladino in Rockville the day his mother-in-law fell ill. Our conversation was interrupted by calls from his wife from the hospital in Florida. I talked to union members. I talked to council members and staff. I spent time with folks that are active voters but not as involved as me (and you) are in this process. I went to last week’s Audubon Debate undecided. I did not want to make this decision lightly. This will be the fifth and possibly deciding vote on many key issues facing our County. So I wanted to be sure in my choice.

I am supporting Ben Kramer. When we recently spoke as well as when he spoke at the first debate, he held a strong command of the issues facing MoCo. He obviously understands the state issues. He showed depth on the county concerns as well. That link between state and county will be important.

But the primary reason I am supporting Ben Kramer is that we are faced with unprecedented fiscal issues in the county. The budget is now projected at $620 million. It was just over $400 million last fall when we elected Barack Obama as our next President. And it was just over $200 million when we had the special election a year ago. We need someone who has the independence, background and fiscal responsibility to deal with something county has never seen.

Ben Kramer is the fiscally responsible Democrat who is ready to make the tough choices. He is respected by his peers. He has deep roots in the community, having been born and raised in District 4. He also has an excellent working relationship with the County Executive. And as a supporter of Ike Leggett in 2006 I want to see Ike succeed.

I wish the other candidates well. I hope my civic friends who are supporting Cary Lamari will respect my choice as I respect theirs. The same goes for my labor and progressive friends that have gone for Nancy Navarro. It is a testament to quality of people we have in District 4 that we will have a fine successor to the Praisners. For me, the person who embodies finest qualities of Marilyn and Don – independence, deep roots in the community, hard working, constituent service, a voice for everyman (woman) and fiscal responsibility – is Ben Kramer.

I will be working for his election on Tuesday April 21, and I ask you to please come join me.


Ben Kramer’s Record in Annapolis, Part Two

Today, we look at Delegate Ben Kramer’s (D-19) record on environmental issues, GLBT rights and crime.


The Maryland League of Conservation Voters (LCV) gave Kramer an 86% score in 2007 and a 75% score in 2008. In his favor, Kramer voted for the clean cars bill, the stormwater management bill, an energy efficiency fund and against harmful hydraulic dredging in the Chesapeake Bay. But LCV knocked him for voting against a 2007 bill that limited industrial construction on land designated as Critical Areas near the bay and voting for a 2008 bill that delayed anti-phosphorus regulations. Kramer’s lifetime score of 79% is the lowest of any Montgomery County state legislator other than his sister, District 14 Senator Rona Kramer (who scores 68%). The average score for House Democrats was 85% in 2008 and 91% in 2007.

GLBT Rights

Equality Maryland gave Kramer a 60% score in 2008, tied for the lowest among Montgomery legislators with Senators Rob Garagiola (D-15), Brian Frosh (D-16) and Nancy King (D-39) and Delegates Luiz Simmons (D-17) and Herman Taylor (D-14). While all of the above legislators supported domestic partner rights, none of them co-sponsored HB 351, which would have allowed gay marriage. Kramer is co-sponsoring the 2009 gay marriage bill, the only legislator above to change his mind.


As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, crime has been Kramer’s top priority. Twelve of the twenty bills he has lead-sponsored have dealt with crime. This year, Kramer has lead-sponsored bills targeting hate crimes, crimes against the elderly, identity and credit fraud against the elderly and disabled and financial exploitation of the elderly. Kramer has lead-sponsored a bill mandating ignition interlocks on cars owned by convicted drunk drivers and two bills limiting “good-time credits” for violent inmates. Kramer’s bills often attract support from Republicans, including Delegates Don Dwyer (R-31), Susan McComas (R-35B), Christopher Shank (R-2B) and Michael Smigiel (R-36).

Two other bills merit comment.

Kramer co-sponsored a bill by Republican Delegate Tony McConkey (R-33A) that would have made it easier for domestic abuse victims to acquire firearms permits. The bill failed on an 86-51 vote. Kramer and District 17 Delegate Luiz Simmons were the only Montgomery legislators who voted for it. Lieutenant Governor Brown’s spokesman Mike Raia called it a “misguided measure.”

Kramer voted for Simmons’ abuser expungement bill three times - once in committee and twice on the floor. The bill, which would have allowed accused abusers whose petitions were denied or dismissed by a judge to expunge their records, was opposed by female legislators by a nearly 2-1 margin.

Tomorrow, we will conclude by assessing Kramer’s reputation in Annapolis.


Monday, March 30, 2009

One Step Forward for the Stadium, One Step Backward for Maryland (Updated)

By Marc Korman.

Maryland Moment has announced that the House Appropriations Committee has voted 17-7 in favor of a feasibility study for the proposed DC United stadium in Prince George’s County. The legislation does not authorize any bonds, just a study which of course does carry a cost of a few hundred thousand dollars.

The no votes and their party affiliation were: Gaines (D), Clagett (D), Stocksdale (R), Bates (R), Levy (D), Beitzel (R) and Eckardt (R).

Delegate Gaines is one of three Prince George’s county delegates on the panel. Delegate Proctor, also from Prince George’s County, was excused from the vote.

From Montgomery County, Delegates Heller, Gutierrez, and Bronrott all supported the legislation. Delegate Mizeur was absent.

Update: Now the bill has constitutional problems.


Andrew Padula's Action Committee for Transit Questionnaire

Andrew Padula is running as a Republican in the District 4 special election.

Action Committee for Transit Questionnaire for Candidates for County Council, District 4

1) How do we transform the auto-oriented suburbs of District 4 into livable and walkable communities?

This is not a simple question. This proposes a policy and blueprint of social engineering as a reaction to poor planning and development by the very body that created these now obsolete communities in the first place. The citizens that bought into these neighborhoods have a good deal both financially and emotionally invested in them. A compounding factor is that in many cases, this transformation requires people to restructure their communities wholesale well before they have turned a complete cycle that would warrant urban renewal. Regardless of the planning that goes into it, ultimately the livability of a community is up to it’s citizens. The best that planners can do is to set proper outlines for development and transportation. First, high density pure residential development, especially that buttresses arterial roads must be halted. Nonretail business or industry that can anchor communities must be established and then developed around. Patchwork, mixed method, mass transit must be replaced with a uniform and comprehensive system. Most importantly, citizens must approve of any self sustaining community projects because this proposes a radical change to everyones lifestyle.

2) Do you support building the light rail Inner Purple Line from Bethesda to New
Carrolton, as recommended by County Executive Leggett and the County Council?

I strongly support E/W mass transit projects as long as they are not piece meal.
I have seen various proposals and if you are referring to the one where it is nice light rail trains in the western districts and big nasty busses on the east side... no thanks! We would like some nice stuff too please!

3) All bridges over US 29 have been designed so that light rail could run in the
median of the highway. There are several possible routes for a connection from
White Oak to the Red Line or Purple Line. Would you support detailed study of
running a light rail line that connects White Oak to the Metro system and then
runs in the median of US 29 to Burnsville, as a future project after the Purple Line
and Corridor Cities Transit-way?

Bridges over rt.29 or running along rt. 29? No I would not support a study after the
Purple lines or Corridor Cities Transitway... I WANT IT NOW! There is a major problem
with the easements that I believe you are describing. They do not continue past Burnt
Mills. Four Corners is a transportation nightmare and that is an area that needs to be a priority.

4) What should the county do to increase transit rider-ship?

Put transit where the people are! It makes no sense that Metro stops train service in
Glenmont when there are thousands living in garden apartments and town-homes in
Aspen Hill and Olney- or in Silver Spring when White Oak and Burtonsville are
exploding. I don’t understand why all of the proposed light rail service projects are
located in western districts. Isn’t our tax money in District 4 deserving of equal services? We could also make getting onto transit a less trying ordeal. I was told by a community leader that they discontinued the buses from Four Corners to Forest Glen (a Metro stop designed primarily for buses) because of low rider-ship. There was low rider-ship because there WAS NO COVERED BUS STOP ON RT 29! I regularly see people standing out in the elements on Bel Pre rd. and Georgia Ave. because the bus shelters are too small. We could also try giving the rider a different experience than just sitting in the same traffic except with a crowd. Schedules could also be modified so that people who take transit to go somewhere will not have to take a cab from the nearest hub to get home.

5) County master plans have stated a policy of focusing development around mass
transit stations. Much development has occurred that has poor transit access, yet the
county’s planning also deserves much of the credit for the emergence of Bethesda and
the revival of Silver Spring as centers of activity.

A) What smart growth projects near Metro stations do you support even though they
have had opposition?

I wholly disagree with the premise of the question. Bethesda has been in the process of rebuilding for 25 years since the traffic re-alignments of the E/W highway. It has had the benefit of it’s zip-code, proximity to the district, proximity to mass transit (both inherent) as well as the economic engines of N.I.H. Uniformed Services hospital, and, Geico. Also, the Council has conveniently avoided zoning in MPDU housing therefor the area is not subject to the growing pains that usually come with economic integration. Silver Spring is heavily subsidized and is not truly self sustaining. Much of this is due to poor planning with having the anchor businesses and merchants bisected with major automobile arteries. Access is not as inviting as it should be. Having said that, if the Shady Grove tract can truly be developed in a economically and environmentally friendly way, it seems like a viable project. I see no other Metro accessible proposals that are currently being proffered.

B) Do you support a requirement that development described as “transit-oriented,” such as the proposed Germantown and Gaithersburg West master plans, may only be
constructed after rail transit access is built?

Not necessarily, They could be build concurrently but transit funds must be guaranteed.

5) Do you believe that the decision by Governors Ehrlich and O’Malley to build the
Inter-county Connector was wise or unwise?

The timing, alignment, awarding of service contracts, expense, etc. all point to a budget busting blunder of biblical proportion. If the true purpose of this road was to connect the I270 corridor with BWI, Annapolis, and Laurel, then someone needs a lesson in how to read a map. If this was intended as an asphalt string of political payoffs... good job guys! The simple upgrading of E/W arteries already in use, combined with better community planning and permitting, would have sufficed.

Name of Candidate ANDREW L. PADULA
Signature Date

Please return by March 24, 2009, to Action Committee for Transit, P. O. Box 7074, Silver Spring, MD 20907.


Kramer Releases First Mail Piece

Click on image for a larger view.


Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill Going Down – Again

For the third year in a row, a bill banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity is headed to the abyss. Why? It cannot get a vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR) Committee.

In 2007, an anti-discrimination bill had 25 House sponsors and 2 Senate sponsors. It received an unfavorable report by JPR. In 2008, another anti-discrimination bill had 2 House sponsors and 3 Senate sponsors. It did not come to a committee vote in either the Senate or the House. This year’s bill has 67 House sponsors and 14 Senate sponsors. Every Montgomery legislator except Senators Brian Frosh (D-16) – the JPR Chairman – and Rona Kramer (D-14) and Delegates Ben Kramer (D-19), Henry Heller (D-19) and Herman Taylor (D-14) is co-sponsoring the bill.

The House Judiciary Committee is not the problem since 13 of its 22 members are co-sponsors. But they are waiting for JPR to act. Only 3 of JPR’s 11 members (Senators Lisa Gladden, Jennie Forehand and Jamie Raskin) are co-sponsoring the bill. And there it sits, unwanted by most of the rest of the committee. We hear that some JPR Democrats are asking - half-jokingly - whether passage of the bill means that their female secretaries will be getting mustaches or beards.

The bill probably does not have enough support to pass JPR since the lineup is the same as in 2007, when the committee did not pass it. But now that the bill has attracted massive support in the House, shouldn’t JPR Chairman Frosh at least allow a vote?


Barve Announces Passage of Greenhouse Gas Bill

In the following email, House Majority Leader Kumar Barve announced the House's passage of his bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions. A different version of the bill has already passed the Senate by a 36-9 vote.

March 30, 2009


Dear Friends,

The House of Delegates passed legislation I introduced that requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The bill, which also has Gov. O'Malley as a lead sponsor, requires a reduction of 25% from 2006 levels by 2020.

The passage is a culmination of three years of effort. As part of the workgroup that helped craft this proposal, I was very pleased that so many representatives of labor, industry, science, and environmental organizations testified in favor of the legislation. The companion Senate bill has also passed the Senate, so it seems likely that Maryland will again show its leadership in another area of environmental reform.

Maryland, with 3,100 miles of shoreline, is directly threatened by rising sea levels and flooding caused by global warming. We can no longer treat the atmosphere as though it were a big free garbage dump. We have the technological ability to clean up our air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and move to a future free of foreign energy dependence. This measure goes a long way towards ensuring these goals.

Governor O'Malley's aggressive support of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act has been vital in the crafting of this compromise. His sponsorship of this bill helped ensure passage.

Best regards,

Kumar P. Barve, Majority Leader
Maryland House of Delegates


Kramer Endorsed by Leggett, Trachtenberg (Updated)

We hear that County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg endorsed Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) in the District 4 special election at an event in Leisure World today. Also in attendance were former County Executive Sid Kramer and District 14 Senator Rona Kramer (Ben Kramer's father and sister), Alison Klumpp (the Praisners' daughter), Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario (D-27A).

Update: Check out Ann Marimow's coverage, in which Ben Kramer says he will be a "conduit" for Leggett on the council.

Update 2: The Gazette also reported on the event.


Will Reregulation Work?

One of the biggest issues before the General Assembly at the moment is an effort to “re-regulate” electricity provided by new power plants. The bill, as amended, would grant the Public Service Commission the authority to force utilities to build new power plants and end retail competition for electricity. The bill’s supporters claim it will lead to lower electricity rates. Will it?

For the majority of the twentieth century, electric power was provided by regulated monopolies. In most local areas, one company generated the power, transmitted it to substations and distributed it directly to residential and industrial customers. State and local regulatory bodies decided on the rates that were charged to consumers. In 1996, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission opened the door to electric power competition through its Order No. 888, which required owners of transmission lines to allow non-discriminatory access to other power providers. That kicked off a movement by 18 states plus the District of Columbia to set up competitive markets through which electric power could be bought or sold.

In Maryland, a 1999 bill required Pepco and Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E) to divest their in-state plants, freeze rates through 2006 and ultimately allow their customers to pick their energy suppliers. Pepco sold most of its plants to new merchant generator Mirant while BG&E formed a new parent company (Constellation) and transferred its plants to a different subsidiary. True competition never materialized in Maryland and electricity fuel input prices went up, so BG&E and Pepco sought colossal rate increases in 2006. Many politicians now describe deregulation as a failure and the issue has been a political football ever since.

SB 844 seeks to remedy the problem by giving the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) the ability to force power suppliers to build new generating plants and directly regulate the rates those new plants can charge consumers. Will this bill lower electric prices over time? Probably not, for the following reasons:

1. Regulation does not automatically lower rates.

We obtained monthly year-on-year U.S. electricity retail price change data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1953 through February 2009. We present the data in the graph below.

The biggest electricity price spikes since 1953 have occurred from December, 1972 through September, 1975 (when prices jumped by 42.5%) and December, 1978 through August, 1982 (when prices jumped by 65.2%). Those were periods in which almost all electric power in the U.S. was subject to regulation. The reason for electric power price increases was price hikes for fuel inputs, especially fossil fuels. Under cost-of-service regulations, the traditional method of price-setting used by regulating entities, utilities are allowed to charge rates that reflect their price of inputs along with a modest profit. Regulation may allow price increases to be spread out over time, but it does not shield consumers from input price hikes over the long term.

The data shows one additional fact. The greatest prolonged drops in retail electricity prices since 1953 occurred from July, 1997 through January, 1999 (down 13.0%) and July, 2001 through November, 2002 (down 11.3%). Both of those declines occurred during a time when many states were deregulating.

2. The bill does not address the root cause of rising electricity prices.

Below we illustrate the monthly levels of U.S. retail electricity prices and wholesale prices for crude petroleum, natural gas and coal from 1986 on from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All price levels are indexes using 1984 as a base level of 100.

We ran a multiple regression predicting retail electricity prices on the basis of the above three fuel inputs. We found that 77% of the variation in retail electricity prices since 1986 was explained by variation in wholesale prices of crude petroleum, natural gas and coal. So for the most part, rising electric bills are a result of rising commodity prices.

The role of natural gas is especially crucial. Since 1998, 96% of all net generation capacity added in the U.S. has come from natural gas-fired plants. The reason for that is three-fold. First, natural gas is relatively abundant in North America and burns cleaner than coal, making it the fuel of choice for new plants in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Second, gas plants can be built quickly and relatively cheaply compared to new coal and nuclear facilities. For example, merchant generator Calpine used one plant design to build dozens of new facilities across the country. Third, gas plants can be quickly turned on and shut off, making them ideal for use during power spikes (like hot summer days) and in spot markets. But the sudden increase in demand for natural gas could not be met by existing exploration and the result was soaring, and volatile, natural gas prices. This pushed up retail electricity rates. Maryland’s reregulation bill does nothing about this.

3. The bill could have unintended consequences.

Astute utility managers hedge their exposure to commodity prices by diversifying their supplies among many fuel inputs, many suppliers and many contract intervals. But the reregulation bill could conceivably impede these strategies by emphasizing new construction over imports. Suppose PSC orders a Maryland generator to build a new natural gas plant and later the price of natural gas spikes. Under cost-of-service regulations (which are explicitly called for in the bill’s amendment), the plant owner would be entitled to call upon ratepayers to compensate it for the higher costs. That would mean that the bill might actually cause electric rates to increase.

4. Any positive impact will only affect a tiny share of the power market.

As of 2006, Maryland had 12,500 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity. (One MW is enough to power 600-1,000 single-family homes). The largest power plant in the state is Mirant’s Chalk Point coal plant, a 2,429-MW facility that produces about 19% of the state’s capacity. Coal plants produce a lot of energy but it is unlikely that PSC will permit any more of them. Gas-fired plants generate anywhere from a few dozen to a couple hundred megawatts each. So suppose PSC ordered a generator to build a 300-MW gas plant, a rather large facility for that fuel type. That plant would only account for 2% of the state’s capacity. Even if its rates were kept artificially low, they would have almost no impact on the rest of the market. Add to that the fact that new generating plants take many years to permit and build and – at its best – the reregulation bill offers almost no hope of any meaningful price relief.

Overall, the bill’s command-and-control approach to the dysfunction of the electricity market (a market that was created by the General Assembly) shows little promise of decreasing rates. That is why a giant coalition of industrial customers opposes it. But there are real steps the legislature can take to ease electricity rates over time. We will recommend three options in our next post on the issue.


Ben Kramer’s Record in Annapolis, Part One

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) has compiled a significant record in Annapolis over the last three years. In this series, we examine his votes on six subject areas – budget and taxation, slots, labor issues, environmental issues, GLBT rights and crime. We also tap into our spy network to evaluate his reputation in the General Assembly. Is his record suitable for a County Council Member? That’s up to District 4 voters to decide.

Budget and Taxation

Kramer voted for the special session budget but against the special session tax package. He was one of 18 House Democrats to vote against the tax bill, joining Montgomery County legislators Kathleen Dumais (D-15), Brian Feldman (D-15) and Luiz Simmons (D-17). Kramer also voted against the millionaire tax. He was one of 13 House Democrats to do so, joining Charles Barkley (D-39), Al Carr (D-18), Kathleen Dumais (D-15), Brian Feldman (D-15), Bill Frick (D-16), Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18), Craig Rice (D-15), Luiz Simmons (D-17) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18).


In 2006, Kramer was asked about slots by the Gazette:

Do you support slot machines for Maryland? Why or why not?

Slot machines are not a preferred source for raising revenue. However, the state will be facing a projected budget deficit of approximately 4 billion dollars in the next 2-3 years. If funding is not available to provide for the needs of those individuals who do not have the financial resources to pay for necessities (food, health care, housing, etc.), then I would be willing to consider slots at certain Maryland race tracks.
Kramer went on to vote against both the slots amendment and the authorizing bill during the special session. Last year, he said the following to the Montgomery Sentinel:

Kramer voted against the referendum during the special session and said he has some difficulty understanding why many voted for the referendum last year and now claim they oppose it. “I question their rationale,” he said.

Kramer said he would like to see, as an alternative to slots, a repeal of a tax cut that was disapproved.
Kramer later told me he was referring to the 1997 Glendening income tax cut, a major contributor to the structural deficits that have been plaguing the state ever since.

Labor Issues

Progressive Maryland gave Kramer a 92% score in 2007 and a 63% score in 2008. On the positive side, Kramer voted in favor of living wage, re-enfranchising former felons, health care coverage expansion, extending children’s health insurance under their parents’ coverage for four years, flexible leave for employees to take care of sick family members, and foreclosure prevention. But Progressive Maryland’s major problem with Kramer was his vote against progressive income tax reform, which it called, “the most significant pro-working families tax reform in recent Maryland history.” Kramer’s opposition to progressive taxation accounted for the precipitous drop in his score in 2008. In fact, his 2008 score was the lowest of any Montgomery County state legislator other than his sister, District 14 Senator Rona Kramer, who scored 46%.

In Part Two, we’ll examine Kramer’s record on environmental issues, GLBT rights and crime.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Audubon Hosts a Horde of Candidates

By Sharon Dooley.

Last Sunday evening showcased the first outing for the Democratic candidates for the special primary for the County Council District 4 seat. This meeting was held at the historic mansion headquarters of the local advocacy group, which was joined by several local progressive groups in promoting this meeting. (The special Primary is less than one month away on April 21st.)

All announced Democratic candidates attended and were joined by the Green Candidate George Gluck. The Democratic candidates were: (in alpha order) Martin Bigler, (a Silver Spring funeral director), Robert Goldman (a Burtonsville attorney), Tom Hardman (an Aspen Hill IT professional), Ben Kramer (a businessman/current D19 delegate from Olney), Cary Lamari, (a Norbeck area businessman and former President of the Civic Federation) and Nancy Navarro (a Silver Spring resident and member of the Board of Education).

After brief opening remarks, each candidate was asked questions that were given to them and to the audience at the start of the meeting. Each candidate was given one minute to answer each question. The questions and summaries of their responses follow:

A. Police disability reform: Most respondents indicated that this agreement needs to be re-evaluated and re-worked by contract; Tom Hardman felt that there should be a case by case evaluation, Nancy Navarro thought that this should be brought back to the negotiating table.

B. Ambulance fees – yes or no – Those in favor of imposing ambulance fees are Bigler, Goldman, Hardman, and Gluck; those opposed are: Kramer, Lamari and Navarro.

C. All candidates voiced support for campaign finance reform and were in favor of allowing Montgomery County to institute its own transparent process.

D. Knapp proposal concerning Historic preservation restrictions: Navarro was in favor if it would improve options for public housing, Goldman and Hardman wanted more information about it; Kramer, Lamari, Gluck and Bigler were opposed.

E. The questions about the Agricultural Reserve were divided into sand mounds, Child lots and BLT’s (should you explain these concepts in a sentence or two).

a) Sand mounds were not to be used for development and should be used only when systems failed according to Hardman, Kramer, Lamari, and Navarro; Bigler was undecided and Gluck and Goldman wanted more information.

b) All candidates deemed Child lots in need of monitoring and vigilant enforcement.

c) How to fund the Building Lot Termination (BLT) program – most candidates felt that this was a problem to be decided, perhaps by legislation in the future.

F. Master Plans to be decided for Germantown, Gaithersburg West and White Flint – none in District 4 - but all in need of infrastructure and to be decided by the council – how would you vote on these concerns?

Gluck – delay building until county can afford infrastructure
Navarro – there is a disconnect between the planning process and the follow through this must improve
Lamari – Process of development needs to be measurable and quantifiable; there should be no development districts
Kramer – First for the areas of the upcounty, the CCT needs to be built; need to have the transit hub in place before the JHU center is developed.
Hardman – need to ensure we have adequate water stores before we allow development; no Pay/Go.
Goldman – Need infrastructure first – District 4 has been neglected – Burtonsville has not been well planned.
Bigler – We need to have the roads in place first.

G. Budget/Education – How to find savings with large shortfall?

Bigler – don’t spend wildly – closer audits
Goldman – Don’t touch schools, keep COLAS
Hardman – Stop using Microsoft software and switch to Open Source software
Kramer – The cuts being made now by Ike are unsustainable; We must continue to find savings
Lamari – Cuts being made now are symptoms of a bigger problems; our culture is wrong – electronic boards too expensive
Navarro - Under my leadership as President of the Board of Education for 2 years, we worked with the unions, cur COLAS and found $50 millions in savings
Gluck - My wife and daughter are both teachers and find those electronic boards very helpful in their teaching – they have to learn how to use them but they are good for the students

H. 20% of the County budget is allowed for non-education/non-salary spending; what is your sacred cow that you would protect in the budget?

Gluck – No answer
Navarro – We need to have a safety net for HHS
Lamari - Need to protect the most vulnerable; care for mental health needs of those in jail
Kramer – HHS would be my first priority; Council member Trachtenberg has noted the needs for supplemental food and medication; we cannot forget the disadvantaged and those with mental health needs.
Hardman – We must prepare for the common defense and make certain we have supplies for our emergency responders and follow the Boy Scouts by being prepared. We also need to care for mental health.
Goldman - Must take care of public transit, not discontinue needed routes – cannot isolate Burtonsville from access to the rest of the county.
Bigler – need to protect Mental health and public safety

I. Affordable Housing needs are not met – how to address 10 year backlog?

Bigler - Needed at the Metro
Goldman - Developers need incentives offer at below market rates – subsidies for county employees
Hardman - cannot plan, too many foreclosures need to intersperse affordable housing
Kramer - Provide rent subsidies – currently no state or county monies
Lamari - need a tenants bill of rights; do not allow builders to buy out of requirement for MPDU’s, need funds for land trusts and to help first time home buyers
Navarro – We need a safety net, help those faced with foreclosures increase densities have rent stabilizations for condos
Gluck – need to put all of this on hold until we can provide the supportive infrastructure on hold

J. Undocumented felons who have committed violent crimes – do you approve of the compromise worked out by County Executive Leggett and Police Chief Manger? Yes or No answers – Yes – Navarro, (within limits) Lamari, Kramer – ( careful compromise) Hardman, Goldman, Bigler No – Gluck

K. Should the Council act on health matters such as Trans fats?

All responded Yes.

L. The ICC is costing a lot of money. Would you support a scaled down version, perhaps along Rt. 198 and dropping section B?

All responded No.

There were also questions from the audience – all stated they supported the Purple line and answered additional questions about the environment, the ICC, the Patuxent watershed and public financing.

So generally, there was little controversy or conflict voiced during these discussions. The audience appeared engaged and the candidates seemed, for the most part, to follow the announced format. There were no startling admissions or surprising stances taken by any candidate. Most seemed knowledgeable concerning county issues and made few gaffes. Some astute listeners found slight errors or minor misstatements, but nothing occurred that was shattering to a campaign. Obviously the front-runners are Kramer and Navarro – they have gathered the most endorsements, (Kramer won the endorsements from the volunteer firefighters, a chamber PAC and Alison Praisner Klumpp, while Navarro touts her union endorsements and support from the same 4 council members who stood with her in 08). Past council members Ewing and Crenca have favored Lamari.

Where this race will go depends upon which candidate can turn out the voters, who have not exactly been excited by the race so far – but the debates, forums and discussions are just starting. The big precincts of Leisure World (LW) went for Don Praisner in 08. Many LW residents fondly remember Ben Kramer’s father, former County Executive Sid Kramer, who was said to be among the supporters of Nancy Navarro in the last race; that is not likely to be the case this year!

What a difference a year makes. Turnout was just a few thousand voters in the primary last year and Nancy Navarro lost by only a few hundred votes. In the District 19 race in 06, Ben Kramer came in third and narrowly beat the fourth place finisher in the 3 person Delegate race. Navarro has been said to be the candidate of the developers, based on her previous contributions, while Kramer - who self funded before and will probably do so again, for the most part - has stated he will accept no developer contributions. Many politicos in the know are awaiting the first required finance reports of the pre-primary period, since there were many accusations of hidden or delayed reporting in 08. Navarro is thought to have several thousands unspent from the previous race, but several contributing groups were noted to have maxed out then.

So message, turnout and money – all turns on how well these are delivered. District 4 voters need to listen, learn, do their homework and show up on Election Day! (And then there is the added Ficker Factor!)

Stay posted!


District 4 Candidate Forums

Following are all the candidate forums we know of at this point.

Paint Branch HS PTA Forum: Monday, March 30, 2009 at 7PM
Paint Branch High School, Burtonsville, MD

Sierra Club and Action Committee for Transit Debate: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 7:30PM
John F. Kennedy High School, Silver Spring

Young Democrats of Montgomery County Debate: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 7:30PM
AFI Silver Theater, Silver Spring, MD

Committee for Montgomery Candidate Forum, April 6, 2009, 8AM. Introduction only, no Q&A.
9630 Gudelsky Drive Rockville, MD

Northwood Four Corners Civic Association (NFCCA) Candidate Forum: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 8PM
211 Southwood Avenue, Silver Spring

INFORCE Club Leisure World Candidate Forum, April 13, 2009, Clubhouse 1, Leisure World. Doors open at 3PM, candidates introduction and Q&A at 4:00 PM.

Aspen Hill Civic Association Forum: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 6:30PM
Aspen Hill Library: 4407 Aspen Hill Rd

Riderwood & LWV Forum: Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 2PM
Montgomery Asian Performance Center


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just Up the Pike D4 Interviews Continue

Just Up the Pike's Dan Reed is steadily interviewing every Council District 4 candidate. So far, he has talked to Cary Lamari, former candidate Chris Paladino, Rob Goldman, Robin Ficker, Nancy Navarro and Andrew Padula.


Former USA Today Editor on Dying Newspapers

This essay by founding USA Today Editor John Walter is a must-read.


Inside Annapolis Episode 9


Progressive Maryland Endorses Navarro

Following is their press release.

News Release

March 27, 2009
Contact: Sean Dobson

Progressive Maryland Endorses Nancy Navarro in the Montgomery County Council District 4 Special Democratic Primary Election

Silver Spring, MD. Progressive Maryland today endorsed Nancy Navarro for Montgomery County Council in the District 4 Special Democratic Primary Election.

"Nancy Navarro was the overwhelming choice of the Progressive Maryland board of directors because of her superb qualifications and stellar record on the County School Board,” said Sean Dobson, the organization’s Executive Director. “She is a proven and successful advocate for working families and on the County Council would lead the fight to create and maintain high-quality, living wage jobs and protect the safety-net for our most vulnerable residents. She will make an outstanding addition to the Montgomery County Council."

"Progressive Maryland fights for working families across the state and I am so proud to have their endorsement," says Navarro. "As a council member, I will work with Progressive Maryland to protect working families and seniors and ensure a better future for all residents of District 4."

Progressive Maryland is a statewide, nonprofit organization that advocates for working families. It has 15,000 individual members and supporters as well as 35 organizations represented on its board of directors, including some of the strongest labor unions, civil rights groups, and faith communities in the state.

# # #


Friday, March 27, 2009

Kramer's Chamber of Commerce Questionnaire

Recently, District 4 candidate Cary Lamari released his Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce questionnaire. At the time, he said, "I challenge my opponents to be as open, transparent and accountable as I am being, and also allow you to publicize their Chamber Questionnaires. I want people to hold me accountable, read what I am about. If I say one thing and do another I want you and your readers to hold my feet to the fire."

Since then, Nancy Navarro and Rob Goldman sent their questionnaires to MPW. Ben Kramer's campaign did not respond to Lamari's challenge. But the Chamber itself has posted all four candidates' questionnaires on its website. We reproduce Kramer's questionnaire below.


MoCo's New Criminal Justice Policy

Recently, the Gazette reported confusion among people on the street about Montgomery County's new policy providing for immigration status checks on violent criminals. Courtesy of the County Executive's office, we reproduce a memo from Ike Leggett to MCPD Chief Tom Manger outlining exactly what the new policy will do.


February 10, 2009

TO: J. Thomas Manger, Police Chief
FROM: Isiah Leggett, County Executive
SUBJECT: Criminal Justice Policy Changes

One of the most important responsibilities that I have as County Executive is to ensure the safety of our community. I appreciate your outstanding leadership and the exceptional work of the Montgomery County Police Department in helping us to achieve this objective.

I have evaluated your recommendation for a change in our current policy regarding the manner in which we handle violent offenders in the county, some of whom may be undocumented residents. I have also received valuable input from State’s Attorney John McCarthy, County Attorney Leon Rodriguez, Correction & Rehabilitation Director Arthur Wallenstein and many others throughout the criminal justice system – on the local, state, and federal levels. In addition, I received considerable feedback and information from a broad range of County residents and organizations reflecting a variety of perspectives on this important recommendation.

After careful consideration, I have concluded that the following should reflect our new approach on this matter. The names of all persons arrested and charged in Montgomery County for crimes of violence, as defined in the Maryland Criminal Law Code Section 14-101, or for wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun (Maryland Criminal Law Code Section 4-203) will be forwarded to the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As has been our practice, Montgomery County police will not conduct immigration status investigations.

Montgomery County police’s role under these circumstances is to simply notify ICE of arrestees charged with violent crimes and the specific handgun violation in our custody and allow ICE to perform their duty from that point forward. Our police will not differentiate among the violent offenders falling into this new policy when charged. They would report the names of all those arrested and charged for these offenses to ICE. My understanding is that this new procedure would forward, on average, about three names per day.

Among the violent offenses included under this policy are murder, rape, carjacking, and defined classes of assaults, sexual offenses, arson, and robbery. The handgun provision would broadly cover those persons in illegal possession of a handgun. The list of offenses covered is attached.

This new policy can assist the county in helping to keep violent offenders off the streets. We can accomplish this without our officers becoming federal immigration police or crossing the line into “profiling” individuals based on their race or ethnicity. I strongly believe that local jurisdictions such as Montgomery County should not substitute their law enforcement efforts for what can only be described as a failure of the federal government to achieve a workable immigration policy.

As you know, currently, if a person is arrested or questioned by county police officers, the individual’s name is checked with the National Crime Information Center for any warrant. If there is an outstanding warrant, we detain that person and notify the appropriate law enforcement agency, including ICE. The changes we are adopting in this new procedure will not alter our current policy of checking for outstanding warrants through the National Crime Information Center.

I recognize that some in our community may think that the approach outlined in this response to you goes too far; others may conclude that it does not go far enough. I believe this approach is balanced and realistic for our highly diverse community of nearly one million residents.

Let me share with you what influenced my decision on this matter. First and foremost it is a priority of this administration that our police department facilitates safe and sustainable communities where every resident is encouraged to interact positively with the police. The men and women of our police department have made great strides in earning the trust of the community and we need to ensure that they continue to operate in such a manner that maintains that trust and confidence of all of our residents.

I have heard from those who have so thoughtfully and passionately advocated that we totally remove our county’s law enforcement from issues involving immigration. I do not believe it is a good use of our county police resources to enforce federal immigration law. I remain opposed to the 287(g) training for our police.

Frankly, no one wants violent criminals preying on the community, including the residents of our neighborhoods most heavily populated by immigrants.

I have heard as well from those who feel that this change does not go far enough. I carefully considered even stricter options that were recommended to me from a variety of parties who believe a broader number of crimes should be included in the list of offenses. In addition, others have asked me to consider more questionable policies and legal procedures to reduce violent criminal activity in the county. However, I have concluded that this new approach is a balanced and useful tool that could help us keep some of the more dangerous criminals out of our neighborhoods. I do not believe it is reasonable or would be effective for our county to go further by adopting some of the more restrictive measures found in other communities.

In addition, I also support an effort led by Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy to amend the criteria used by the State Department of Juvenile Justice in making detention decisions on juvenile offenders committing serious crimes.

We have seen, over and over, 16 and 17-year olds who are committing serious felonies being released back into the community while awaiting trial, only to engage in continued criminal activity. Other communities have been able to amend the State’s criteria to keep the worst juvenile offenders detained while awaiting trail, and we need to do the same. John McCarthy has also led the way, meeting with State officials to craft a policy that balances the welfare of these young offenders with the safety of the community. I am currently working through our Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission to amend what is called the Risk-Assessment Instrument (RAI), used by the State Department of Juvenile Services (DJS). It is our intention to have an RAI in place that mirrors what Baltimore County is using. This change will help remove some of the most dangerous juvenile offenders from our community.

There is no doubt that the immigration issue is a thorny one on many fronts. The immigration system is broken, and we need common-sense solutions from Congress that are fair and realistic. Until that happens, communities such as Montgomery County find themselves in a difficult situation on a range of issues.

Based on all of the aforementioned factors, I believe adoption of the new procedure you recommended for crimes of violence and illegal handgun possession is warranted.

It is my responsibility to keep our diverse communities as safe as they can be for all of our residents. These changes, taken together, will help us advance that goal.


Pass the Garagiola Task Force Bill

Traditionally, sending an issue to a commission or task force is merely a convenient way to study it to death. As MPW contributor Marc Korman has written, many state commissions issue reports that “usually just gather dust and do nothing to fight chronic inaction on intractable issues.” Senate President Mike Miller asked his chamber to refrain from creating new commissions “during these times of fiscal austerity.” In general, both are right. But there is one gigantic exception to this rule: transportation.

The General Assembly’s recent record on transportation leaves a lot to be desired. Prior to the 2007 special session, Governor O’Malley recommended indexing the gas tax to fund transportation projects. Instead, the legislature increased the titling tax from 5% to 6% and devoted a portion of the sales tax and corporate income tax increases to the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), thereby raising a projected $400 million a year. Of that amount, $250 million was destined for system preservation and $150 million was intended for new projects. The latter figure roughly equals the cost of one interchange.

Soon enough, the new transportation revenues began to disappear. In 2008, Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) floated a plan to cut $150 million from the annual increase as an alternative to the millionaire tax. Ultimately, the legislature chose to cut $50 million a year from transportation instead. At the same time, rising prices for construction materials steadily eroded the purchasing power of the extra revenues. By November, MDOT Secretary John Porcari said that the special session increase was only generating $265 million a year in new money – barely enough to cover extra system maintenance needs. By then, the shrinking economy had forced Porcari to cut Maryland’s six-year transportation spending plan by $1.1 billion with more cuts to come. The legislature’s reaction was to cut transportation aid to the counties, a move that would have pleased former Governor (and TTF raider) Bob Ehrlich. The situation has become so dire that the Montgomery County Council has decided to use county money to jumpstart state projects.

No state politician I talk to is satisfied with the current condition of transportation funding. Many admit privately that the state will have great difficulty in meeting its obligations for any of its three transit projects as well as the challenges of dealing with BRAC. But the vast majority of state politicians simply will not tolerate any tax increases for transportation. Delegate Bill Bronrott (D-16), whose constituents are about to be swamped by traffic from the Walter Reed BRAC expansion, introduced a bill to index gas taxes (as the Governor originally proposed). It attracted no co-sponsors and has not moved out of committee. Senator Madaleno’s bill increasing the gas tax by 5 cents has also attracted no co-sponsors and has not moved. The same fate has befallen Delegate Charles Barkley’s (D-39) bill raising the gas tax by 10 cents. Delegate Sheila Hixson’s (D-20) bill raising the gas tax by 5 cents drew two co-sponsors (District 16 Delegate Bill Frick and District 11 Delegate Jon Cardin) but has not moved in Ways and Means despite the fact that Hixson chairs the committee. And a Republican bill to suspend gas taxes for new vehicles has attracted more sponsors (five) than any of the increase bills.

Since the special session, the state’s political leadership has demonstrated no will, no strategy and no interest in meeting the transportation needs of its citizens. The reason for this is that while state politicians have correctly diagnosed voter resistance to new taxes, they do not perceive overwhelming support for new transportation spending. But that is a miscalculation. The business community has called for new transportation revenues over and over and over again. Building trades unions and contractor associations would celebrate the opportunity to go to work. Groups like Action Committee for Transit and Purple Line Now would embrace any opportunity to steer money to transit. And many ordinary voters are fed up with traffic congestion, a problem beyond the ability of county governments to fix by themselves. By bringing in stakeholders like these, the state can build political support and formulate a strategy for moving new projects forward.

And that is exactly what Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15) proposes to accomplish with his bill calling for the creation of a transportation infrastructure funding task force. The task force will be comprised of 15 individuals, including four state legislators, four Cabinet secretaries, a representative from WMATA and 6 individuals from the private sector who will examine revenues, public/private partnerships, economic development and infrastructure maintenance. Oregon started its new push on transportation with a similar task force. Their report has formed the basis for a strategic approach to dealing with the state’s problems that is now working its way through the legislature. There is no reason why Maryland cannot do the same.

Finally, there are significant political benefits for state leadership in creating the Garagiola Task Force. The measure will please business, labor and transportation advocates. Because the final report is not due until January 2011, it gives state politicians a way to park the issue until after the next election. Transportation stakeholders will provide lots of political cover for any solution based on the task force’s report. And all of this can be bought for a paltry cost of MDOT and DLS staff time.

Senate President Mike Miller has called for a new commission to examine the state song. What is more worthy of consideration: the state song or state transportation?


Thursday, March 26, 2009

O'Malley Comments on DNA Collection

The Economist magazine is holding a debate on the ethics of DNA databasing. Following is Governor Martin O'Malley's comment on the subject from 3/27/09.

In January 2007 I was sworn in as Governor of the State of Maryland. I inherited a shameful backlog of 24,000 convicted offender samples that had not been tested for DNA. These samples were keys to convictions, justice, exoneration and, to the extent possible, closure for victims of violent crime.

In my first year of office, we eliminated that backlog. In my second year, in collaboration with the Maryland General Assembly, our state took the courageous next step of expanding our DNA testing from convicted offenders to those charged with crimes of violence. And as a direct result of these actions, in just two years more than 130 murderers, rapists, robbers and burglars were behind bars in Maryland, thanks to DNA. Simply put, when we increase the library of DNA samples in our state against which evidence can be matched from the scenes of crimes, we solve more crimes.

Every day that we fail to recognise our ability to collect DNA fingerprints and match them against crime scene evidence to solve crimes, is another day when Marylanders are unnecessarily made vulnerable to repeat violent offenders.

Thirteen states have enacted legislation to require DNA samples to be taken from certain felony arrestees. The practice is legal, constitutional and has withstood judicial scrutiny.

Both the high courts in Maryland and Virginia have found that requiring a DNA sample after arrest does not violate the Fourth Amendment (Anderson v Commonwealth of Virginia 634 S.E.2d 372 (2006) and State v Raines 844 A.2d 427 (2004)).

In Anderson, the court held that the taking of a DNA sample at the time of arrest "is permissible as a part of routine booking procedures. As such, no 'additional finding of individualized suspicion' much less probable cause, must be established before the sample may be obtained." The court cited Raines for the proposition that the DNA profile "is akin to that of a fingerprint. As such, appellees and other incarcerated individuals have little if any expectation of privacy in their identity."

Anderson goes on to state that "the analogous treatment of the taking of DNA samples to the taking of fingerprints has been widely accepted." The opinion cites federal courts in the Fourth Circuit, the Second Circuit and the Ninth Circuit which support this premise. Anderson also cites state appellate courts in New Jersey and Oregon which have held that buccal cheek swabs are not more intrusive than fingerprinting and thus an additional finding of individualised suspicion is not required before a sample can be taken.

Forensic DNA samples are not used for genetic predisposition, medical or familial purposes. The genetic markers used in law enforcement databases, often characterised as junk DNA or non-coding DNA, do not constitute a threat to privacy. DNA profiles simply list the number of repeats found in 13 non loci or STRs (Short Tandem Repeats) These loci have little if any medical predictive value or significance and thecurrent understanding of the selected 13 loci is that they lack a biological function. The 13 loci have not been determined to cause a physical trait, but are accurate in establishing identity.

Crime labs do not have the expertise, equipment or capability to delve into all the medical possibilities or fingerprints or DNA. Simply put, the DNA analysed in our criminal justice process does not contain genetic information on individuals or their families. It is not the same DNA sampling that is performed by medical doctors. The DNA loci analysed yields purely identification data. The DNA data do not supply codes for cancer, genetic diseases, birth defects or other medical information. DNA sampling upon arrest is an entirely different process from DNA research that is conducted in the medical field.

There are existing laws in place to protect the DNA collection and storage process, and there have been no proven cases of the misuse of DNA samples. At the Federal level, harsh penalties for misuse of DNA are already in place. Under the Federal Justice for All Act (2004), the penalties for misuse of DNA increased. That law provides that anyone who misuses DNA analyses under 42 U.S.C. §14133(c)(2) or who violates the privacy protection standards under 42 U.S.C. §14135e, is subject to a fine of not more than $250,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. Prior to this amendment, the penalty was a fine of not more than $100,000.

Additionally, misuse of DNA information is also prohibited by Maryland law (Section 2-512 of the Public Safety Article, Maryland Code).

Collecting DNA samples at the time of arrest can prevent a certain number of violent crimes from occurring. Providing for the public safety of Maryland's residents is the government's highest obligation. In Chicago's Study on Preventable Crimes, the city determined that waiting to collect DNA until conviction can cost lives. Their examination of the criminal timeline of eight individuals demonstrated that 60 violent crimes, including 53 murders and rapes, could have been prevented if DNA had been taken during the booking process of suspects of violent crime. In Maryland's Study on Preventable Crimes, if DNA samples had been required upon arrest for three individuals in the study, 20 crimes could have been prevented.

Maryland's study cites the case of Alphonso Hill. During the past 30 years, Mr Hill was arrested over 30 times for rape, sex offences, kidnapping, assault and burglary. If Maryland had required him to give a DNA sample during his first felony arrest for assault with intent to rob in June 1979, a DNA match could have been obtained with the DNA evidence recovered from his first rape in July 1978. Upon conviction for that July 1978 rape, seven future victims could have been saved from subsequent rapes, sex offences, kidnapping, assault, burglary and sodomy, all committed by Mr Hill.

Collecting DNA samples at the time of arrest helps solve crimes and exonerate innocent people.

The comparison of crime scene DNA with the DNA of suspected offenders provides increased opportunities for conviction and exoneration. Since 1989, there have been more than 213 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States. Countless potential suspects have been cleared prior to arrest as the result of comparing DNA crime scene evidence with a suspect's stored DNA sample.

DNA databases also help purge racial bias from the criminal justice process. The science of DNA is blind to race and, unlike some eyewitness testimony, is not more likely to misidentify a minority suspect.

Maryland's pre-trial DNA collection law has extensive expungement and destruction provisions in it for instances when cases never make it to trial. This is an additional check and balance to ensure our law is respectful of privacy rights while focused on the ultimate goal of a safer Maryland.

In conclusion, the use of DNA technology to identify offenders and solve criminal cases quickly is a vital instrument in Maryland's mission to provide safe and sustainable communities for every Maryland resident. DNA provides vital identification information for us to rule out suspects and focus our scarce resources on those offenders who prey on our citizens. DNA is almost required by today's modern juries in their decision to convict the guilty. We have vowed to fight back against violent crime whenever and wherever it occurs in our state. This is not some pervasive enemy that remains beyond our reach, the constant scourge of civil society. By bringing together our innovation and technology against crimes of violence, we can better protect not only the rights of the accused, but our communities and neighbourhoods while we save lives.


Leggett and Trachtenberg to Endorse Kramer, but Not Elrich (Updated)

Citing sources close to the Kramer campaign, the Post's Ann Marimow originally reported that County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council Members Duchy Trachtenberg and Marc Elrich were set to endorse Ben Kramer on Monday. But minutes later, Marimow removed any mention of Elrich from her article. No explanation of the change appears. Did Kramer's people jump the gun?

Update: The Gazette has more.


Career Fire Fighters Endorse Kramer

Following is their press release.

March 26, 2009
CONCTACT: John Sparks (240-876-1920)

Montgomery County Fire Fighters Endorse Ben Kramer for District 4 Seat

(Rockville, MD) The Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association ("MCCFFA") announced today its endorsement of Delegate Ben Kramer to fill the vacant District 4 seat on the Montgomery County Council. The special primary election will be held on April 21, 2009.

"Ben Kramer is the only candidate in this race with a proven record of supporting issues that are important to all of us," said John Sparks, President of MCCFFA. "He is a strong advocate on public safety issues, a defender of working families, and an independent legislator who is not beholden to special interests."

"We won't agree with Ben all the time, but we know he is honest, he keeps his word, and he is fair. Those are characteristics we all want in our Council representative, and that's why we are proud to support him," Sparks added.

Sparks noted that "MCCFFA goes back more than 20 years with Ben and his family. The Kramer name is synonymous with public service and a commitment to public safety. Ben has been working hard for us as a member of the House of Delegates, and we want to bring him - and that commitment and dedication - to Rockville."

MCCFFA represents more than 1,000 fire fighter/paramedics employed by the Montgomery County Government.



Council Members Urge Action on Economic Development

In a tart letter to County Executive Ike Leggett, County Council Members George Leventhal, Nancy Floreen, Valerie Ervin and Mike Knapp refer to a “leadership crisis” in the Department of Economic Development and urge the appointment of a new Director “at the earliest possible date.” Former Director Pradeep Ganguly has resigned due to a conflict of interest. Chief Administrative Officer Tim Firestine told the Post that there will be no national search to replace him.

Montgomery County Council
Rockville, Maryland

March 24, 2009

County Executive Isiah Leggett
Executive Office Building
101 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear Ike,

As you know, Montgomery County has historically enjoyed its reputation as a leader and innovator in the regional business community. This reputation currently hangs in the balance, and we are deeply concerned about the future of the Department of Economic Development.

The recent departure of former Economic Development Director Pradeep Ganguly, who you appointed, heightens our apprehension about this important office being rudderless during the current economic storm. While this current leadership crisis is troubling, it creates a new opportunity for Montgomery County. This department needs a leader who has a comprehensive vision for the county’s economic future and realistic strategies that will enable the county to navigate these troubled economic waters and reclaim the county’s competitive advantage among neighboring jurisdictions. The county needs you to appoint a new economic development director at the earliest possible date.

Now more than ever before, economic development issues need to take priority. The Department of Economic Development needs to aggressively attract, create, expand and retain businesses in Montgomery County. As you know, employment has stalled and is now declining. Since December 2007, Montgomery County’s unemployment rate has increased by 84 percent to 4.6 percent in January 2009. This is the highest level of unemployment in the county since 1990. Home sales, which were down 20.5 percent in 2006 and 23.4 percent in 2007, fell another 17.8 percent in 2008. Average home sale prices have fallen 11.9 percent in 2008 and the most recent residential assessments plummeted 16.3 percent and commercial property assessments declined by 6 percent. Taken together, these indicators suggest continued weakness in county income, property, and transfer and recordation tax revenue.

Memoranda of understanding with China are intriguing; however at this time, we are focused closer to home and believe the county should be directing resources to bioscience, technology, green jobs and business innovation. We also need to support and promote minority and local small businesses. The county should be reaching out to other countries only after we are assured that existing businesses will be able to ride out the current economic crisis. These businesses have helped spur the economic engine of the county, and we can not turn our backs on them during this time of unprecedented need.

In summary, we are looking to you to appoint an economic development leader, who will undertake aggressive strategies for enlarging the county’s economic tax base by attracting new, forward thinking companies and enhancing the competitiveness of the businesses located in the county. This person needs to have a mandate to act as your representative to swiftly address our current business crisis and to carry out your economic directives.

We would be happy to provide you with our input as you go through the selection process. We also hope that your staff will engage in due diligence investigation of leading candidates so that policy makers can take into consideration any and all matters that might detract from a potential appointee’s ability to gain the confidence of the County Council, the staff of the Department of Economic Development, the business community and county residents. Again, we respectfully request that you appoint a new economic development director as soon as possible.


George Leventhal
Nancy Floreen
Valerie Ervin
Mike Knapp


Campaign Finance Loophole Case Study: William Rickman

Maryland is notorious for its lax campaign finance laws. The state’s infamous “LLC loophole” allows a business owner to found an unlimited number of limited liability companies and have them direct huge amounts of money to candidate accounts. Today we look at one individual who has made good use of that loophole: race track owner William Rickman.

William M. Rickman, Jr. owns Ocean Downs Racetrack in Berlin, MD and Delaware Park in Wilmington, DE. Both tracks feature horse racing; the latter track has slots. Rickman also owns W. M. Rickman Construction Company LLC, a family construction business based in Shady Grove, MD.

Rickman has been working for many years to gain permission to operate slot machines at his Ocean Downs site. He has been a prolific campaign contributor. But he does not contribute merely as an individual – he has an array of business entities that steer cash to politicians. We have identified three individuals and eight firms operating from his business and home addresses that have collectively given $344,320 to state and local politicians since 1999:

The state’s contribution limit for individuals is $4,000 per cycle. But Rickman’s use of multiple corporate entities for campaign contributions is perfectly legal under state law. Below are all candidate accounts that have received at least $4,000 from Rickman’s network since 1999:

In the 2007 Special Session, the General Assembly passed HB 4, the constitutional amendment for slots that was later approved by voters. The amendment authorizes a “video lottery operation license” at five sites, including “Worcester County, within 1 mile of the intersection of Route 50 and Route 589.” Below is a satellite map of that area roughly corresponding to a 1-mile range:

See the rounded object to the northeast of the intersection? That’s Ocean Downs racetrack. How fortunate for Rickman!

William Rickman is no better or worse than any other business or special interest in Maryland. Everyone with an issue before state or local governments has an irresistible incentive to use every legal measure possible to gain maximum political leverage. The politicians may never get rid of the LLC loophole because incumbents and parties receive so much money from it. But unless they take action against it, the above history will repeat itself... forever.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reining in the Credit Card Industry

By Marc Korman.

I have only been married ten months and I am not used to paying bills for two yet. So a few months ago I was a few days late in paying one of the bills for a credit card my wife and I share. A BA, Masters, and half complete law degree had not prepared me for the ensuing fees, interest payments, and balance adjustments. I am not alone, as two articles in the Sunday Washington Post made clear.

In the Sunday Business section, the paper discussed the national changes coming to credit card rules. The Federal Reserve recently required credit card companies to make some changes that will begin to take effect in mid 2010. Among the highlights of the rules, credit companies will no longer be able to allocate payments to the balances with the lowest interest rates first, allowing balances with higher interest rates to continue accruing. The rules will also impose new notice requirements for interest rate increases. More information is available here.

Happily, my own state Delegate and the rest of the General Assembly are not just waiting for the feds, as discussed in the Metro section. The House of Delegates recently passed Delegate Bill Frick’s HB 1048. The legislation amends state contract law to limit the ability of credit card companies to:

1. Reserve the right to change material terms. Under current law, if a credit card company reserves the right to change material terms of the agreement, they can increase the interest rate on an existing credit card balance without an explicit provision allowing them to do so. If a cardholder cannot pay off the balance immediately, they are stuck with the new interest rate on the existing balance. HB 1048 would require the credit card companies to be more explicit if they are reserving the right to alter the rate on existing balances.

2. Trigger a default penalty based on another obligation. Currently, credit card companies can apply penalties to one credit card bill based on problems you have with other credit cards. So even if you pay your Visa bill each month, if you default on your American Express bill Visa can apply a default penalty.

Delegate Frick’s bill passed the House of Delegates 136-1 and now heads to the Senate for action. But it is not without controversy. There are questions about whether state action is preempted by the federal government in this area. But some legal uncertainty is no reason to oppose the bill. In 2006, Maryland passed breakthrough healthcare legislation requiring employers with more than 10,000 employees in the state to demonstrate that 8% of wages be applied towards employee healthcare. Courts found that the law was preempted by the federal government, but it helped advance the issue. One of the companies affected, Wal-Mart, has since revamped its employee healthcare practices. Although not perfect, their current policies are a major improvement of their old policies.

Similarly, even if Delegate Frick’s bill is later struck down by a court, credit card companies need to feel the pressure that their customers are tired of practices that abuse and confuse us. The new Federal Reserve rules and HB 1048 will increase the pressure on credit card companies and convince them to rein in their practices.


Ike Leggett, Fiscal Conservative

Budget documents are not merely financial statements. They are also political statements. And County Executive Ike Leggett’s FY 2010 budget recommendation states quite clearly that he is running for re-election as a fiscal conservative.

Most politicians hate tight budgets. They tend to interfere with one of their highest priorities: handing out goodies to supporters and contributors. So when tough times come, many politicians become cranky and defensive. They will claim that they cannot be held responsible for the poor state of the economy and their opponents could not do better anyway.

Ike Leggett has done no such thing. The wily old pro has been around a long time and knows how to convert challenges into political opportunities. By law, he is required to submit balanced budget recommendations to the County Council. But he has done much better than that: he has wrapped himself in the flag of fiscal conservatism because he has calculated that that is what the voters want.

Consider this excerpt from his press release on the budget:

Leggett’s budget brings the County government’s tax-supported growth rate down from a 14.1 percent increase in FY07, the year before he took office, to less than zero – an actual decrease of 0.4 percent for the coming fiscal year – the lowest level in18 years.

In the three budgets Leggett has prepared, he has closed nearly $1.2 billion in shortfalls, which is unprecedented in County history.

“When I first took office, Montgomery County’s spending was out of control and unsustainable,” said Leggett. “And that was before the economic downturn.

“It was clear that we had been living beyond our means. Over the last three years, I have been aggressively working to restore fiscal prudence to our County government by dramatically slowing the rate of growth of both the operating and capital budgets. As the economic news has worsened, I have continued to press ahead on long-term cost savings that minimize the future burden on taxpayers while preserving public safety, education, and our safety net for the most vulnerable.

“In my first budget as County Executive in FY08, we faced a $200 million budget shortfall, so I reduced the tax supported rate of increase in spending by the County government from 14.1 percent to 6.9 percent. In FY09, the projected shortfall increased to $401 million, so we imposed a hiring freeze, produced mid-year savings of more than $30 million, abolished over 225 positions, implemented a retirement incentive program, and slowed the rate of growth to 1.6 percent. This year, we face a daunting gap of $587 million that my recommended FY10 budget successfully closes.”
Consider these charts in his transmittal letter to County Council President Phil Andrews:

Leggett is constructing a political narrative that fits with his emerging record, a record that has been largely imposed on him by a failing economy. He is claiming that his budget restraint is not a necessary evil, but a positive good. His administration represents a sober, prudent break with the free-spending past. Ike Leggett, a responsible and trustworthy leader, is a careful custodian of the people’s money.

Let’s put aside the fact that Leggett recommended breaking the property tax charter limit last year. And let’s also forget that Leggett himself voted in favor of several much more generous budgets while he was on the County Council in the 1990s. Leggett is developing his message for an electorate that sent thousands of angry emails over last year’s tax hikes, voted for the Ficker Amendment and voted for slots (an issue on which Leggett changed his position). No sitting county politician has a better instinctual sense for where the voters are headed than Ike Leggett. Past records do not count for much compared to future positioning. After all, Leggett is a politician who voted for the pro-development Pay and Go policy in 1997, was embraced by both pro-growth and anti-development at-large County Council candidates in 1998 and ran as a slow-growth County Executive candidate against Steve Silverman in 2006. Ike Leggett is a master of the political black arts.

In addition, it’s difficult to look at the above rhetoric and charts and not think of former County Executive Doug Duncan. Ever since Duncan released a blistering Op-Ed criticizing Maryland’s leaders for their lack of vision and failure to embrace “zero-based budgeting” (which Duncan himself never did), speculation has swirled around his possible return to politics. Leggett is sending a signal to Duncan or any Duncan ally that is thinking of challenging him in 2010: I know where the voters are and I am closer to them than you are.

Last summer, we christened Ike Leggett “the great chess master” and quoted a politician who said, “He’s over in his office, moving his pieces around the board. He’s one step ahead of everyone else and only he knows where he’s going.” Indeed, the cunning old player has begun to set up the board for next year.