Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gansler and Simms on Kojo

You can hear the candidates for attorney general spar politely on streaming audio of the Kojo Nnamdi Show earlier today (Real Audio / Windows Media).


Van Hollen Makes Haaretz

Junior members of the minority party don't usually get much foreign press coverage but the minor fracas over Rep. Van Hollen's letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seems to have caused a columnist for Haaretz, a major Israeli daily, to make an exception:

Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, ran into a problem - he unintentionally found himself in the camp of Israel's enemies. All he wanted was an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon. A few weeks ago, as the war raged, he sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and asked her to do something. He was trying to take aim at the Bush administration - which is what a Democrat is expected to do on the eve of elections - but it turned out that this is not how Israel's friends saw things. Van Hollen was called in for a little chat with officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Some accepted his explanations - he did not apologize, just clarified his statements - but others thought that was not enough and that Van Hollen had crossed the red line.

At the root of the American administration's support for Israel lies the assumption that this is not a subject of controversy. One can attack George W. Bush, but not at Israel's expense. Van Hollen's district in Maryland is very pro-Democrat, and is also populated by many Jews. Some of them may reconsider their congressional choice.
I suspect neither AIPAC nor Van Hollen appreciate this sort of press coverage which is more blunt than the average op-ed in an American newspaper but about par for the course in Israel. However, Van Hollen can at least take comfort in the fact that the author thinks he will be a member of the majority party when the next Congress convenes.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Financial Times

The Gazette has published a campaign finance update for the delegate race in District 18 as of the August 15th pre-primary report. I'll sum up the numbers here and fill in a few additional bits of information from the campaign finance database.

Dan Farrington leads in the money race. He has raised $115,756 of which $30,000 is a loan from himself to his campaign. The Gazette reports that Dan spent a lot of his money on consultants. He had $58,363 left in his account when the report was filed.

At $113,309, Jeff Waldstreicher is not far behind Dan in terms of money raised, though $79,025 was donated by the candidate to his own campaign. Jeff is clearly committed to this race as he made these contributions as donations rather than as a loan. Jeff had $90,441 left in his account when his treasurer filed his last report so he had significant more cash-on-hand than Dan even if Dan outraised him by around $2400.

Dana Beyer has raised $98,071 of which $75,000 is a loan from herself to her campaign. Dana had $51,401 left in her account when her campaign filed the report.

James Browning, who has made public financing of campaigns one of his major issues, has raised a total of $42,720 of which $4000 is a loan to his campaign. James had $20,167 left in the kitty at the time the report was filed.

Al Carr reported a total of $23,620 in contributions of which $15,000 is a loan to his campaign. Al has been husbanding his bank account and had $17,880 left to spend on his campaign when his treasurer filed the report.

Calculating the money raised and spent by the incumbents, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Jane Lawton, is a bit tricky because they have their own campaign funds as well as a combined slate treasury. Nevertheless, even including the state's funding, they together lag behind the top four candidates in terms of recent fundraising. On the other hand, they both have reserves which leave them in better shape that the Gazette's focus on recent contributions would make matters appear. The District 18 Slate (which also includes Senate candidate Rich Madaleno) has raised a total of $21,235 of which $8460 remained in the bank at the time that the slate's treasurer filed the report. None of the contributions to the slate was in the form of a loan. Jane Lawton has raised a total $11,640 of which $5000 is a loan. However, Jane had $18,467 remaining in her account when the report was filed due to earlier fundraising efforts. Ana Sol Gutierrez has raised a total of $5920 of which none is a loan. Ana had $16,720 left in the bank thanks to previous fundraising.

Noah Grosfeld-Katz has raised a total of $7204 of which $200 is a loan. Noah had $6433 remaining in the bank when the report was filed.

The final pre-primary campaign finance reports are going to be issued tomorrow. Indeed, a few have already popped up on the net.

Disclaimer: I have been volunteering for the District 18 Slate. If any candidates think I inaccurately reported their numbers here, please let me know. I'm not sure late night posts are conducive to accurate typing.


On the Maryland Politics Hour

Want to hear the candidates but just can't make it to a political event? You can listen to streaming audio from the Kojo Nnamdi Show.

The noon segment of the Maryland Politics Hour (RealAudio / Windows Media) featured:

Peter Franchot, a candidate for comptroller;

Donna Edwards, challenging incumbent Al Wynn for Congress;

Ida Ruben, the incumbent senator in District 20; and

Jamie Raskin, challenging incumbent District 20 Sen. Ida Ruben.

The 1pm segement of Maryland Politics Hours (RealAudio / Windows Media) featured:

Jack Johnson, the incumbent Prince George's County Executive; and

Rushern Baker, challenging incumbent Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson.


Franchot's Advertisement

I thought I'd put up Peter Franchot's commercial since I had put up one for Janet Owens. Franchot's advertisement is harder hitting, undoubtedly because he is down in the polls. Franchot claims the poll is worthless because the pollster worked for Owens in the past. Owens, who is running close behind Schaefer, has a positive feel-good piece on the air. If anyone knows of an available Schaefer commercial, let me know.


Seeing Purple in District 18

Most Montgomery County politicians claim to support building the Purple Line. Indeed, Steve Silverman hopes to ride his promise to build it to the County Executive's office. As I've mused in earlier postings, I wonder if the debate over the proposed light rail system between Bethesda and New Carrolton is somewhat academic because the money may not exist to pay for it and Montgomery cannot afford it without massive state and federal dollars.

However, the Purple Line is controversial in District 18 as most of the Montgomery County portion of the line would cut through the district. People who live in homes and communities close to the tracks are especially concerned about how light-rail would affect them. Of course, many users of the current trail also live in the district.

Some opponents of the Purple Line think that supporters have unfairly used pictures of Metro cars and Metro maps in their literature even though light rail would be different from Metro. Supporters of the Purple Line are similarly peeved that opponents have gathered signatures against on the Capital Crescent Trail across from Barnes and Noble in Bethesda which would not be affected by the Purple Line.

As one delegate candidate who I happened to run into this morning pointed out, the MSM has made little effort to distinguish the positions of candidates on the Purple Line, though you can learn more on your own if you are willing to wade through the candidate answers to questions on the Gazette website as well as Action Committee for Transit's scorecard, though one doesn't always get exactly the same report from all sources.

Here is my perception of the positions of the candidates on the Purple Line:

Dana Beyer, James Browning, and Ana Sol Gutierrez favor building the Purple Line.

Jane Lawton and Jeff Waldstreicher favor building the Purple Line if it is underground.

Al Carr, Dan Farrington, and Noah Grosfeld-Katz oppose building the Purple Line (at least on its proposed route on the trail). This is also the position of Rich Madaleno who is unopposed for the senatorial nomination.

If anyone thinks I've got their position wrong, let me know. As always, I should mention that I have been volunteering for the District 18 slate.


And the Post Picks Edwards Over Wynn

The Washington Post has endorsed insurgent challenger Donna Edwards over incumbent Al Wynn for Congress. According to the Post, Wynn has championed the wrong conservative causes and spent too much time trying to dominate county politics:

REP. ALBERT R. WYNN has represented Maryland's 4th Congressional District since 1993, and in that time he has never faced a serious challenger. This year, in Donna Edwards , he does. Ms. Edwards, a lawyer and foundation executive with a distinguished record of civic activism, is Mr. Wynn's opponent in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. Tough, articulate and knowledgeable, she is one of the smartest and most impressive newcomers in Maryland politics.

The 4th District, comprising parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, is heavily Democratic, a profile that meshes with Ms. Edwards's long involvement in liberal causes. She has championed a higher minimum wage, campaign finance reform and an array of environmental issues, and she fought for legislation to curtail domestic violence. Locally, she was an ardent opponent of National Harbor, the multibillion-dollar development underway in Prince George's, but she came around to supporting it when she was satisfied that it would include a balance of commercial, entertainment and residential components. Her assent removed one of the project's last major hurdles -- a fact that testifies both to her skill as an advocate and her openness to reasonable compromise.

Ms. Edwards worked for Mr. Wynn as a clerk in the 1980s, when he served in the Maryland House of Delegates. Initially she backed him for Congress, but since then, she says, Mr. Wynn has betrayed the principles that first got him elected. In making that point in a debate with Mr. Wynn this month, she left him out of sorts and on the defensive.

No wonder. As we've noted in the past, Mr. Wynn has often seemed more involved in playing the role of a kingmaker in Prince George's than in his duties in Congress. On key federal issues, he has cast himself as the most bipartisan member of Maryland's congressional delegation. That's great in theory, but too often his votes have been at odds with good government and the interests of his constituents. He has backed the estate tax repeal, a measure that benefits the richest Americans at the expense of the poor and middle class. He supported the Bush administration's energy bill in 2003, offering subsidies to oil and gas companies even as they were headed toward record profits. He has flip-flopped on fuel efficiency standards and opposed campaign finance reform. And he has tried to clear the way for casino gambling in Prince George's. All in all, it is a lackluster record.

On the war in Iraq, Ms. Edwards has scored points by attacking Mr. Wynn as Maryland's Joseph I. Lieberman -- a supporter of the war portrayed as too close to the Bush administration. Mr. Wynn backed the war at the outset, but he has since recanted, saying he was misled by bad intelligence. More to the point of today's debate, both candidates are calling for a U.S. withdrawal, a scenario that we believe would leave chaos in its wake.

Mr. Wynn insists he has been a successful pork-barrel politician; we suspect Ms. Edwards, razor-sharp and relentless, would be at least as effective. We disagree with her on some important issues, but we are convinced she would be the more forceful, principled and effective representative. And while her insurgent candidacy is an uphill battle, it should put Mr. Wynn on notice that voters expect quality representation in Congress, not just a local political boss.

The Post validates the belief of many disgruntled liberals that Wynn is all too willing to support Republican causes that do not benefit his district. It is still an uphill battle for Edwards but this is becoming an interesting race. I just wish every challenger would stop calling themselves the next Ned Lamont. Personally, I think Donna Edwards is more quick-witted and less wealthy than the Connecticut Democratic senatorial nominee even if she hopes to follow in his footsteps by defeating a seemingly entrenched incumbent in the primary.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gazette Endorses for State Legislature

The Gazette has published its endorsements for the state legislature and has lobbed a few surprises, especially in District 18. The districts it covers vary from edition to edition so you need to check out the online edition to get the whole county.

Here is a quick late-night rundown:

District 14: All of the incumbents were endorsed.

District 15:
The general election is the real battle here as there are no primary battles in Montgomery's one marginal district.

District 16: All of the incumbents were endorsed, including Del. Marilyn Goldwater.

District 17: The Gazette encourages the reelection of Del. Kumar Barve and Del. Luis Simmons. For the third seat, they endorse Laura Farthing Berthiaume.

District 18: This district is the real shocker as neither incumbent Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez or Del. Jane Lawton was endorsed. Instead, the Gazette picked newcomers Al Carr, Dan Farrington, and James Browning. I believe that these are the only cases in which the Gazette did not endorse the incumbents who were not mentioned in the short editorial.

District 19: In the three-way senate race, the Gazette recommends Del. Carol Petzold for the open senate seat. For the House of Delegates, they suggest incumbent Del. Hank Heller as well as Roger Manno and Alec Stone.

District 20: In the County's nastiest state legislative race, the Gazette ultimately picked incumbent Sen. Ida Ruben over challenger Jamie Raskin. For the delegate slots, they endorsed incumbent Del. Sheila Hixon as well as Takoma Park Councilwoman Heather Mizeur and Lobbyist Tom Hucker.

District 39: The Gazette endorsed all four incumbents for the House of Delegates, including incumbent Del. Joan F. Stern who was not included in the district slate by her colleagues. Bet it could be awkward next session if they get their way and challenger Saqib Ali doesn't replace Stern.


Van Hollen Responds to Concerned Constituents

Columnist Robert Novak didn't exactly do Rep. Chris Van Hollen a favor when he characterized him as a "critic" of Israel based on a letter that Rep. Van Hollen sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As I explained in an earlier post, I thought Van Hollen's letter was a lot friendlier to Israel and far more nuanced than Novak's quick characterization of it even if I disagree with him on some points. Most critically, I think the letter came from the perspective of a concerned friend rather than an unblinking critic.

Rep. Van Hollen has sent letters explaining his position further to constituents who wrote to him expressing their concern about his letter to Secretary Rice. Due to the controversy, it seems worthwhile to repeat that letter to constituents here even if it is a bit long for a blog entry so that Rep. Van Hollen gets a chance to speak for himself:

Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns with my July 30, 2006 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Like you, I take this matter extremely seriously and I appreciate the opportunity to comment on issues that have been raised regarding the letter.

First and foremost, I hope you will read the letter in the context of my deep-rooted support for the State of Israel. I have always stood proudly in solidarity with Israel, and supported every pro-Israel resolution in the Congress. I understand that Israel faces determined enemies that seek its total destruction, and I have been and remain totally committed to fighting to ensure the security of Israel. That commitment is based on my personal conviction regarding the strong historical, moral, and strategic ties that bind us together. Supporting a strong Israel is in the best interests of America. I have repeatedly made the point that on 9/11 Americans experienced the kind of terror that Israelis must confront on an ongoing basis. The United States and Israel have common values and share a joint determination to prevail in the war on terror. I have said that many times before and it is in that spirit that I wrote the letter to Secretary Rice.

Israel is under siege. As I stated in my letter to Secretary Rice, Hezbollah rocket attacks “have fallen indiscriminately in Haifa and other population centers.” They are fired with one purpose – to kill innocent people and terrorize the community. Israel is once again fighting a foe, armed by Iran, both of whom would like to wipe Israel off the map. Israel is fighting for its life and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that America continues to stand with it in this struggle. I recognize the absolute gravity of the situation and certainly did not intend for my letter to the Secretary to cause any anxiety to those most affected by the crisis. Indeed, it was intended to address issues vital to the security of Israel and the United States.

The overarching theme of my three-page letter to Secretary Rice was a critique of what I believe to be the consequences of the Bush Administration’s failed policies in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, especially the war in Iraq. I believe those policies have severely diminished our influence in the region at a critical moment. The war in Iraq has inflamed anti-Western sentiment and boosted the most radical Islamic forces in the region. The biggest beneficiary has been Iran, which has successfully exploited the chaos and instability in neighboring (and, like Iran, predominantly Shia) Iraq to expand its influence in the region, including through its support of Hezbollah. My letter to Secretary Rice also addresses the internal tensions in the way in which the Administration has pursued its democracy promotion efforts (i.e., pushing for elections at the same time that our policies – like the war in Iraq – are bound to produce governments hostile to Israel and America). It also addresses the false claims the Administration made regarding the positive impact the war in Iraq would have in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (I raised this issue not in the context of the current crisis with Hezbollah, but as another example of claims made by the Administration regarding the benefits of going to war in Iraq that have not been borne out by subsequent developments.)

That is the overall framework and purpose of my letter to Secretary Rice. I believe many Bush Administration policies have failed to advance the shared interests of the United States and Israel. I am sorry if my strong criticism of the Bush Administration’s failures has been interpreted as a criticism of Israel’s conduct in the current crisis. That was certainly not my intention.

A key issue addressed in my letter to Secretary Rice is how to best isolate, disarm and defeat Hezbollah. I have long held that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that needs to be defeated, including most recently in a July 28, 2006 letter that I sent to the European Parliament along with some of my congressional colleagues. I believe the Bush Administration and the international community should have been much more proactive prior to the current crisis in working to effectively implement Security Council Resolution 1559. It was absolutely clear that the Lebanese government and army did not have the military capability to confront Hezbollah (even if they had the will). Yet we did little to strengthen those capabilities or assist them in interdicting arms shipments to Hezbollah from Iran via Syria. That failure helped precipitate the current crisis.

I also believe that in the current crisis the Bush Administration missed an opportunity to exercise effective leadership. You may disagree with that conclusion, but let me explain the basis for this belief as I address misinterpretations made by some regarding two points in my letter to Secretary Rice – one relating to the scope of military force used by Israel and the other relating to the issue of a cease-fire.

Scope of Military Force: My letter to Secretary Rice makes four things absolutely clear. First, that “Hezbollah precipitated the current crisis in the region.” Second, that “Israel has the right and responsibility to defend itself.” Third, that “Israel is entirely justified in using the maximum force necessary to hit Hezbollah military targets.” And fourth, that “Hezbollah is undeniably the culprit” for the killings of civilians and the destruction of infrastructure, not only in Israel, but in Lebanon. My letter is absolutely clear that Hezbollah bears responsibility for all those losses. Moreover, I endorsed and supported that view when, on July 20, 2006, I voted for H. Res. 921 that “condemns Hezbollah for cynically exploiting civilian populations as shields, locating their equipment and bases of operation, including their rockets and other armaments, amidst civilian populations, including homes and mosques.” Obviously, when we are fighting a war of this nature there will be civilian deaths despite Israel’s best efforts to avoid them. Therefore, and I want to make this crystal clear, I have never suggested that Israel’s military actions are not justified. Nor have I suggested that anyone, except Hezbollah, was culpable in the loss of civilian lives and infrastructure in both Israel and Lebanon. For that reason, I have rejected the charge made by many that Israel has used disproportionate force in Lebanon. I intentionally did not use that phraseology in my letter because I believe the extent and level of force used have been justified.

The point I made in my letter is more narrow and practical. It does not have to do with whether the level and extent of force used by Israel is justifiable. It is. The issue I raised was whether the Bush Administration had an opportunity to help resolve the crisis at a moment when most of the world had turned against Hezbollah by, among other things, asking Israel to temporarily slow down parts of its justifiable military offensive. By all accounts there was a point in time when the majority of people in Lebanon, including Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, blamed Hezbollah for dragging Lebanon into the conflict. At that juncture, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, as well as the Arab League, issued unprecedented denunciations of Hezbollah. I believe that was a moment when effective American diplomacy -- combined with the ongoing threat of Israeli military action -- could have politically isolated Hezbollah and made it easier to neutralize them and focus united international pressure on Syria and Iran.

I may be wrong about that. We will never know. What we do know is that at some point in time many Lebanese people opposed to Hezbollah concluded that they were becoming the victims of the war. The tide of public opinion has now turned. Hasan Nasrallah, the man who was seen as putting Lebanon at risk, has now been hailed in the Arab, and much of the Muslim world, as the protector of Lebanon. We must now work tirelessly to ensure that the end result of the current course of action is not a Hezbollah that wields even greater influence in the region.

The Cease Fire Issue: On this issue, I believe some ambiguity in my letter has created understandable confusion. I want to make it clear that I deliberately declined to co-sponsor the legislation (H. Con. Res. 450) introduced in the Congress calling upon the President to push for an immediate cease fire and commit U.S. diplomats to multi-party negotiations “with no preconditions.” As I stated in my letter, any such cease-fire must be accompanied by “the rapid deployment of an international force in southern Lebanon.” Moreover, the cease-fire I envisioned in the letter would allow Israeli forces to stay in place in southern Lebanon until the deployment of the international forces, a matter that is now a subject of debate at the United Nations. Obviously, it makes no sense for Israeli forces to withdraw only to have Hezbollah fill the void.

As I stated later in my letter, the international forces deployed in Lebanon must have a “strong mandate” and the “starting point should be the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the dismantling of all independent militias in Lebanon.” I intentionally did not call for the deployment of United Nations forces. History, as well as the current crisis, has demonstrated their inability to prevent Hezbollah attacks on Israel. In addition, I expressly raised reservations about the ability, and, increasingly, the willingness of the Lebanese army to confront Hezbollah and implement Resolution 1559. A viable and effective international force will be required to ensure that Hezbollah can no longer attack Israel.

I also believe that international forces should be deployed along the Lebanese-Syrian border to block the re-supply of rockets and other armaments from Syria and Iran to Hezbollah. That must be a priority. As I stated in my letter, “The United States must do more to rally international efforts to pressure Syria and Iran to end their support for Hezbollah and Syria.” It was for that reason that I was an original co-sponsor of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. That legislation gave the Bush Administration a full array of tools to use to apply greater pressure on Syria. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has failed to exercise many of its authorities under that legislation. For that reason, on August 1, 2006 I joined with some of my colleagues in Congress in sending a letter to the President urging him to take tougher action.


As I stated at the outset, I remain resolute in my support for Israel. My letter to Secretary Rice was sent in the firm belief that policies of the Bush Administration in the Middle East and Southwest Asia have unfortunately failed to adequately address serious security challenges faced by the both the United States and Israel. I am sorry that my letter to the Secretary has caused misunderstandings. I hope this letter has addressed your concerns or, at the very least, distilled the points of disagreement. You may dispute certain policy conclusions that I reach, but I hope you won’t question my motivation. While we may disagree on certain points, we share the common goal of ensuring that the United States and Israel will prevail in the war on terror and in guaranteeing the long-term survival and vitality of the State of Israel.


Chris Van Hollen
Member of Congress

I should also probably mention that Rep. Van Hollen made a trip to Israel in the wake of the recent war with Hezbollah. You can find out more about his thoughts about U.S.-Israel relations on his campaign website.


Perez Backs Simms

The Baltimore Sun reports that Perez announced his support for Stu Simms at an event in Montgomery County. The report also said that Simms has been trailing in the polls. Doug Gansler's campaign has been buoyed by support from the editorial boards of the Post and the Gazette. His spending advantage has allowed him to run television advertisements. See also this report in the Washington Post which says that Montgomery Sheriff Raymond Kight is now backing Gansler since Perez has been forced out by the recent court decision.


Owens Advertisement

Like so many of you, I've discovered YouTube. I've been watching YouTube clips on other people's blogs for sometime. I was amazed to discover how easy it is to embed these clips. I promise to try not to go overboard though I thought I'd put one up. However, as we discovered with Sen. George "Macaca" Allen, a reality-based YouTube can have a greater impact than a thousand campaign advertisements.


No on Signing Bonuses

Democrat Martin O'Malley has proposed paying school principals a signing bonus of $200,000 over four years in order to attract high quality principals to troubled schools.

I've generally been impressed by O'Malley's political moves but this one strikes me at first blush as a bad one from both a policy and a politics viewpoint. It would further expand the gap between administrators who are already relatively highly paid and the teachers in the trenches. Moreover, even the best principal cannot do much good if they have little latitude to operate and make changes without approval from the school district.

It is a bad political move because it smacks as a quick fix and a gimmick rather than a serious attempt to continue Maryland's work to improve the schools. It reminds me of Dan Snyder's repeated desperate hiring of new coaches for the Redskins at astronomical prices. Though I suppose the Redskins did make the playoffs last year for the first time in eons.

Maybe O'Malley can modify his idea to more broadly apply the stronger idea of incentives at the heart of the proposed initiative to pay signing bonuses to principals. Continuing to increase teacher pay will help spur the best people to enter into teaching and that our good teachers can afford to stay at it. We can also use incentives to attract teachers as well as administrators to schools which have had difficulties.

Of course, fixing the schools is going to require a lot more. And we can't afford to get a failing grade on this one.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Elections Board Asks to Keep Perez's Name on the Ballot

The State Board of Elections has filed a motion with the court to allow Tom Perez's name to remain on the ballot because it is impossible to prepare an entirely new ballot before the September 12th primary. The Board proposes placing prominent signs explaining that Perez is ineligible to serve and votes for him will not be counted.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Someone Should Warn Kojo!

The Maryland Politics Hour on WAMU 88.5 will feature both District 20 senatorial candidates, incumbent Sen. Ida Ruben and challenger Prof. Jamin Raskin on Wednesday at noon. Hopefully, Ruben and Raskin will join Kojo Nnamdi by phone so he doesn't have to worry about getting any of the mud that has been flying in this campaign on himself or the microphone. I suppose one shouldn't criticize Raskin and Ruben too much. The District 20 campaign may be ugly but it sure isn't boring!

Del. Peter Franchot will also be on for good measure. I hope WAMU also invited the two other comptroller candidates, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens and incumbent Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, even if they declined to participate. I really enjoy Kojo Nnamdi's show and really like his style. Kojo manages to be open and allow guests to say their piece without leaving the key questions unasked like syncophant Larry King. However, Kojo's show could sometimes do a better job making sure they have representatives from both sides of an issue or campaign.


Maryland Court Rulings Cause Serious Problems

I don't like the impact of the Friday's state court rulings. I favor early voting and think Perez should be on the ballot. However, the court has yet to release its opinions yet so I cannot judge their interpretation of our state constitution which is a rather long and ponderous document. My favorite article involves off-street parking in Baltimore City. One should point out that a majority of the judges on the Court of Appeals, our state supreme court, were appointed by Democrats so one should be careful not to label it a partisan machination by manipulative Republican judges. I don't know yet if the judges are being cramped in their interpretation of the constitution. However, they are certainly moving deep into the political thicket. The Court of Appeals voided portions of the state redistricting plan not so long ago.

The ruling on early voting causes very serious problems for Maryland's upcoming election. The first absentee ballots went out last week. Candidates have already mailed literature to absentee voters to solicit votes. I have been working for a candidate who mailed literature to one absentee voter in Vanuatu the other day. It is unclear how the state will deal with this problem. One idea is that they will allow people to submit another absentee ballot if they so choose. Others think they may need to remail all ballots because Perez voters may not hear of the decision and should have to take an active step to reclaim their vote. The state also needs to reprint all of the absentee ballots yet to go out and reprogram all of the state's voting machines. It is a mystery to me how they plan to accomplish this in a timely fashion.

Tom Perez was probably going to come in a respectable third in the primary for attorney general. I served as the moderator in the first attorney general debate and can assure you, however, that he was a serious candidate and certainly qualified by any reasonable measure. He teaches and has practiced law and is currently the Montgomery County Councilman from District 5 which has around 180,000-200,000 residents and has served as President of the Council of this County of nearly 1 million people.

He is one of the most important and promising Latino elected officials in the state. He also has a good sense of humor. When I checked on how to pronounce his name, I mentioned that I didn't want to confuse him with the former Israeli Prime Minister. Without missing a beat, he replied, "You mean cousin Shimon?" I bet he did just fine in the Jewish precincts of his district.

Amending the constitution to allow early voting or weaken the requirements to hold the office of attorney general requires a fair amount of consensus as it requires a three-fifths majority in both houses of the General Assembly before it goes before the voters. The initiative does not exist in Maryland though some laws can be petitioned to referendum, something that mercifully does not occur with great regularity. While we usually have a few relatively dull state constitutional and county charter amendments on the ballot, we do not have anything like the situation in California where voters confront pages of ballot initiatives. When abortion became a big issue in the 1970s, changes were made by booting out pro-life Democrats instead of through the initiative. We did get to vote on gun control directly once.


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cardin Kicking it Up a Notch

In a much earlier post, I chastized Rep. Ben Cardin's mysterious absence from the Washington metro area. I wondered how this Baltimore representative expected people in the Washington metro area to get to know him.

However, I think we can now safely say that the man, who has after all been in politics for forty years, has some idea what he is doing. His "Barbecues for Ben" successfully helped generate buzz for the candidate. He is running television advertisements which will continue until the primary. The bottom appears to have fallen out of the small support for Josh Rales since Cardin began running his advertisements.

Most impressively, his supporters were out in force door knocking around Montgomery today. I was knocking on doors for the District 18 slate in Woodside and ran into people who had already knocked on most of the precinct's doors for Cardin. When I arrived home about four miles away, I discovered that someone had knocked on my door while I was out. An enviable degree of organization in a county that, while receptive to Cardin, is hardly his home base.

Let's hope Cardin has the general election as methodically planned out. Lite Gov. Michael Steele is running very good advertisements that would make you think he is an independent reformer rather than a flip-flopping shill for Bush who has never won office in his own right. Cardin's commercials nicely emphasize issues and his experience but hardly break the mold. Click on the links in this paragraph to watch for yourself and see what I mean.


Passing of Pioneer Lena Lee

Former Del. Lena Lee, one of the first African-American women in the General Assembly, died at the age of 100 yesterday at her home in Baltimore City on Thursday. She founded the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus in 1970. Read about her life in the Baltimore Afro-American and the Baltimore Sun.


Leggett and Silverman Mix it Up

The leading candidates for Montgomery County Executive are starting to kick up a bit of sand as their competition for the Democratic nomination. As reported in the Washington Post, Steve Silverman has sent out flyers attacking the record of Ike Leggett, his opponent:

This week, Silverman sent out two new mailers targeting Leggett.

"Ike Leggett would support using state funds to pay for private-school textbooks and busing private-school students," one reads.

Another notes that Leggett voted against the Purple Line, a proposed light-rail link between Bethesda and New Carrollton. "Now he claims to support it," it reads.

"That's a mischaracterization," said Leggett, who faulted Silverman's tactics and said he was running a positive campaign.

Said Silverman: "Rather than defend his positions or statements, he is personally attacking me and my integrity, and it's unfortunate that a man of his distinction should turn around and personalize this campaign."

Leggett told an audience of private-school parents in May that he would consider using public money for private-school textbooks if it were constitutional. In recent weeks, he has said he would never support that. As for the Purple Line, he voted against a version of it as a council member in 2001 and 2002.

Leggett in turn claims that Silverman has been using push polls (see also the discussion in Free State Politics):

The candidates also sparred over a Silverman campaign poll. Leggett called it a "push poll," referring to a technique in which interviewers spread negative information about a candidate under the guise of conducting a poll. Silverman said his pollsters had simply been gathering research about issues.

"We tested out a variety of factual statements about Leggett's votes and positions. And by every definition of a push poll by pollsters, it's not a push poll," Silverman said.

I suppose it isn't very pretty but at least they are debating issues and tactics relevant to their campaign and not joining the list of candidates who are campaigining on issues that seem only distantly related to their responsibilities.


Post Chooses Franchot

The Washington metro area's two most influential papers have split in the comptroller's race. The Gazette went for Janet Owens, while the Washington Post has now endorsed Peter Franchot:

WILLIAM DONALD Schaefer, former mayor of Baltimore, former governor and Maryland's current comptroller, has been a colossus of Maryland politics for decades -- a refreshingly forthright public servant and a stand-up guy. His effectiveness in office and compassion for constituents earned him the affection and admiration of many Marylanders, which is exactly why so many of them have been disappointed by his obnoxious and embarrassing statements in recent years. We wish he had decided to retire with dignity at the age of 84 rather than seek reelection, for we cannot support him again.

His Democratic primary challengers are Del. Peter V.R. Franchot of Montgomery County and Janet S. Owens, the Anne Arundel county executive. Our choice is Mr. Franchot, whose occasionally strident partisanship is outweighed by his smarts and independent-mindedness, qualities that would make him a fine comptroller.

The comptroller is Maryland's chief tax collector and overseer of its multibillion-dollar pension fund. Just as important, the comptroller serves as one of three members (with the governor and state treasurer) of the Board of Public Works, a virtual mini-legislature charged with passing final judgment on practically every major contract let by the state.

As a member of the General Assembly's powerful Appropriations Committee and chairman of its transportation and environment subcommittee, Mr. Franchot, a 20-year veteran lawmaker, has exercised sound judgment. He has been a tough advocate for funding public education and an outspoken opponent of expanding slot machine gambling. It is safe to say that if Mr. Franchot is elected comptroller, he will exercise a salutary independence no matter who is governor. By contrast, we doubt that Mrs. Owens, though an able county executive, would add as much to the mix, particularly at the Board of Public Works.
A major boost for a campaign that has been flagging in the polls up until now. Two questions remain: (1) who will the Sun endorse? (2) will the support of the Post merely boost Franchot's vote total sufficiently to deny Owens a plurality and assure incumbent William Donald Schaefer renomination.


Friday, August 25, 2006

The Decision is Still Hot Off the Presses But. . .

. . . the pundits are already speculating on the impact of Tom Perez's forced withdrawal on the race for attorney general. There are two competing theories on this one.

(1) Like Tom Perez, Doug Gansler is also from Montgomery. All those Montgomery votes which would otherwise go to Perez will now go to hometown favorite and current State's Attorney Doug Gansler. Indeed, some might wonder if the lawsuit, filed by Montgomery School Board Member Stephen Abrams, was really intended to benefit Doug Gansler for this reason.

(2) Tom Perez was running as a strong progressive. His supporters cannot stand Doug Gansler, who is running as a tough prosecutor and also his geographic rival Perez's active supporters and his voters will now move to Simms and give him a valuable boost as he faces the more strongly funded Gansler candidacy.

The Baltimore Sun guardedly favors the idea that it will aid Gansler though they also give space to those who don't share this point of view. A commenter (Yockel) on my original post thinks it will aid Simms.

I also wonder what impact that Perez's absence will have on Latino turnout in the Democratic primary. He did a great job mobilizing Latinos in his successful run for the District 5 seat on the Montgomery County Council. His candidacy had the potential to mobilize Latinos, already stimulated by the marches on immigration, to again return to the polls in large numbers.


Perez Statement

Councilman Tom Perez issued an extremely gracious statement tonight after the Court of Appeals decision which threw him off the ballot and ended his candidacy for attorney general:

I am deeply disappointed by the ruling that was delivered today by the Maryland Court of Appeals. While I respect the rule of law, I strongly disagree with its assessment. It is indeed regrettable that the fate of my candidacy will be determined in a courtroom instead of at the polls. Although I disagree with the decision, the Court of Appeals makes the rules and I play by the rules.

While disappointed, I am humbled and grateful for the support that I have received across this great and beautiful state. Since announcing my candidacy last Spring, I have made friendships that will last a lifetime. I have developed a joyous appreciation for the aspirations, challenges and character that define the Maryland people. I will always cherish the experiences of the past year. Life is a chapter book, and I have cherished every chapter of my life. The past year is no exception.

I will take from this campaign a renewed commitment to the causes that I have fought for during this campaign and over the course of my career in public life. I will continue to fight for access to quality health care, the constitutional right to a quality education, preservation of our endangered natural resources, and protection of Maryland's embattled consumers from predatory forces. While the actions taken by the court today close the book on my campaign, my dedication to public service and progressive values remains stronger than ever.

On behalf of my family, I thank everyone who has uplifted this campaign with their support, guidance and best wishes. I would like to thank my staff, as well as those in the progressive movement who worked so hard on my behalf. I look forward to working to build a more progressive, inclusive Maryland, and will work harder than ever to elect Democrats such as Martin O'Malley, Anthony Brown and others who share my progressive vision for Maryland.

Like Councilman Perez, I accept the decision of the Court of Appeals. However, I cannot say I am happy with it either. I thought all three Democrats running for attorney general were well-qualified and deserved a chance to make their case to the voters. I met Councilman Perez for the first time when I moderated the first attorney general debate at Prince George's Community College. He struck me as an intelligent man whose genuine and obvious commitment to fighting for his beliefs you had to respect.

Perez is a talented candidate and a real asset to the Democratic Party. I write this not as a political epitaph but in the full expectation that we will see more of him in the future.


Perez Thrown Off the Ballot

The Court of Appeals has been very busy today. According to the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, they have thrown Montgomery Councilman Tom Perez off the ballot because he does not meet the constitutional requirements to run for the office because he has not practiced law in Maryland for ten years. Councilman Perez's campaign website is now down except for a short note saying that a statement will be forthcoming shortly.


Early Voting Law Rejected

The Court of Appeals has just issued a decision rejecting the state's early voting law according to the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post. I am curious to learn why the early voting law violates our state's constitution but not those of so many other states. Or perhaps it is something which can be fixed by modifying the original legislation. The Court has not yet released its opinion so this is unclear. If they uphold the lower court's ruling that elections must be held on one day, I don't see how absentee voting is legal. Hopefully, the Court's opinion will clarify their reasoning on all of these questions.

In any case, I don't buy the Republican claim that early voting inherently promotes fraud. If anything, one would think that reducing the lines on Election Day would make it easier to accurately check the registration of individuals and prevent problems. One doesn't have to be overly partisan to suspect that their real fear is that a high turnout would work to the disadvantage of their party. Of course, the Democrats think a high turnout will aid them too but they at least have the moral argument in favor of strengthening our democracy by encouraging participation on their side.

If it is constitutional issue, we should consider changing the Maryland Constitution to allow early voting, a practice which is now common in a majority of our sister states.


Delegate Candidates in the Mail and on the Hustings in District 18

The eight candidates for the three delegate seats in District 18 have been stepping up their pursuit of voters in advance of the September 12th primary:

Kensington Councilman Al Carr held a press conference this morning at the Kensington MARC station to promote improvements to the system.

Meanwhile, Jeff Waldstreicher is pelting me with mail. I received not one but two flyers from him yesterday. One outlines his position on global warming (he's against it). The other links his impressive list of endorsements with his issue positions (for paying teachers more, against traffic, for choice on abortion, against pollution, for a minimum wage of $9.25, against foreign oil dependence) and shows pictures of Jeff listening and talking to people.

I received a copy of Jim Browning's introductory flyer yesterday though I've heard others have just gotten one touting his strong pro-Purple Line stance. It also touts his past work for Common Cause and features pictures of James with wife and James with wife and baby. Browning has also sent out a short press release about his endorsement by Clean Water Action and Montgomery NOW.

Earlier this week, I received my first flyer from Dana Beyer which links her advocacy of universal health care with her past work as a physician both in practice and as a volunteer in places including Mississippi and Africa. No baby photos but there is a shot of Dr. Beyer with her two adult sons.

Dan Farrington's latest campaign update boasts that "Team Farrington" has knocked on the doors of more than 20,000 voters--quite impressive since that is substantially more than one can expect to vote in the September 12th primary. Dan's email also says that he has twice as many unique contributors than his nearest opponent.

No news this week from Noah Grosfeld-Katz.

I am volunteering for the District 18 slate which includes Ana Sol Gutierrez and Jane Lawton, who are also candidates for delegate, as well as Rich Madaleno, who is unopposed for the nomination for the senate seat. They are planning a door-knocking blitz this Saturday and are meeting up at 9:30AM at Kirsten's Cafe on Georgia Ave near Seminary Rd.


Pardon Me

The Washington Post ran an extremely complimentary piece on how Gov. Robert Ehrlich has bravely used his power to pardon more people as governor than his predecessors. Indeed, this news item practically elides into an editorial in its one-sided presentation, even including a compliment of Ehrlich by Tom Perez, a Democratic candidate for attorney general.

Perhaps the Democrats should start researching what the people Ehrlich has let out of jail have been up to in their new capacity as productive members of society. After all, this tactic has worked rather well for Republicans in the past.


Post Endorses Gansler

Doug Gansler got a double boost in bid for attorney general as the Washington Post not only ran a profile of him but endorsed him. Here is what they said:

The best of three Democratic candidates seeking the job in the Sept. 12 primary is Douglas F. Gansler , an experienced prosecutor whose vigor, vision and savvy make him well suited to the job.

Mr. Gansler, a former federal prosecutor and for the past eight years the state's attorney in Montgomery County, has irritated plenty of people in Maryland by his unabashed ambition for higher office and sometimes unseemly zeal for the limelight. His reprimand by the state Court of Appeals in 2003 for unguarded public statements led some to question his character. But if ambition and an appetite for publicity were disqualifying traits in politicians, the halls of government would be empty. In Mr. Gansler's case, the bottom line is that whatever his foibles and occasional lapses in judgment, his performance in office has been strong.

He inherited a solid prosecutorial office in Rockville but strengthened it by directing resources to targeting gangs, Internet crime and crimes against the elderly. He insisted on prosecuting sniper John Allen Muhammad despite the imposition of a death sentence in Virginia. Mr. Gansler drew flak for that decision, but it was the right one: Six people were shot to death in Montgomery County in the series of killings by Mr. Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, and Mr. Malvo's testimony at trial provided new revelations. Those two facts justified Mr. Gansler's stance.

In addition to his solid credentials as a prosecutor, Mr. Gansler, who has coveted the attorney general's office for at least five years, has developed a thoughtful, sophisticated agenda for the state's top law job. He seems particularly determined to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by going after agribusiness polluters, even those out of state, by using state and federal tools that he contends are underused. His sense of urgency will replace what has often seemed to be the state's complacent approach to the bay.

Moreover, Mr. Gansler has sensible ideas about stepping up prosecutions against gangs, possibly by the passage of a state racketeering statute, and about cracking down on Internet sexual predators.

Mr. Gansler's two Democratic primary opponents are Tom Perez, a Montgomery County Council member, and Stuart O. Simms, the former state's attorney in Baltimore. Mr.

Perez is a lawyer of uncommon idealism and integrity. But on occasion he has let his passion for liberal causes outstrip his judgment, for instance, by pushing for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada -- an action deemed illegal by the federal government. Mr. Simms is a solid, substantive candidate with a commendable record of public service, but he is no match for Mr. Gansler when it comes to energy and forward-thinking resolve.

Now, if Gansler could somehow get the endorsement of the Baltimore Sun, he might have this race locked up. However, I'm told that the Sun has a penchant for endorsing Baltimore-based candidates over ones from far off places like Chevy Chase, Gansler's home.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Growth Slowing on Its Own?

Candidates for public office in Montgomery are attacking growth and its associated ills with the fervor of a preacher at a revival meeting. However, development may be slowing already due to economic forces. In the past few days, we have learned that the number of unsold homes is reaching its highest level in more than a decade, though we still need more details on Montgomery's market to draw firm local conclusions.

However, there is certainly some evidence that the slowdown has reached Montgomery. Canyon Ranch is considering shelving a major new development near Old Georgetown Square where 270 and the Beltway meet. One also cannot help but notice that some construction projects are moving along very slowly. Another year has passed and the plush Adagio condominium development on Wisconsin Ave. next to Staples in Bethesda remains a giant hole in the ground.

Still, other projects proceed apace. The old Giant ("That was my Giant!") on Arlington Road has finally been demolished and Federal Realty is moving ahead with its construction of a new condo/retail project in the heart of Bethesda. Similarly, the building at the corner of Woodmont Ave. and Old Georgetown Rd. in Bethesda has been razed and construction of the new posh and pricey Lions Gate condo complex moves along. However, in a market where prices are falling, will people really pay upwards of $1.2 million for condos which will overlook a noisy intersection that can sound like Indianapolis 500 even if you can walk to Metro?

Of course, one should note that the Bethesda projects are all "smart growth" type projects since they are infill in an areas of the County close to Metro and public transport. Unless one opposes all new growth until the County's infrastructure expands, these are the sort of new projects I suppose one would tend to favor even though they will provide lots of what will be unaffordable housing to most people.

The question remains, however, whether Montgomery will elect a slate of anti-growth candidates just as the economic boom grinds to a halt.


Franchot's Advertisement

I'm all for a woman's right to choose but I wish "Real Democrat" Peter Franchot's new advertisement were longer so he could explain why it is important that we have a pro-choice comptroller. Surely, he could also have come up with a better cite for the attack on Janet Owens as the "Queen of Sprawl" other than "constituents" say she is. That's like saying Bush did a bang up job on Katrina because he found one person who will say so.

However, unlike abortion, Franchot righly raises the issue of sprawl as the comptroller has a voice in decisions which affect growth. I recall Gov. Glendenning and Comptroller Schaefer getting in a spat over whether Brookville should have a by-pass so all the Georgia Ave. traffic doesn't pass through this small Montgomery town. For what it is worth, Janet Owens is pro-choice. Indeed, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland "proudly endorses" Owens for comptroller.

The fact that Franchot is running advertsiements suggests that he actually is willing to spend the money he loaned his campaign and that it is not merely a set-up job to inflate his campaign finance report even if Franchot neglected to mention the loan in the press release touting his fundraising. Perhaps we'll know more when the next campaign finance reports are released.


Ike and Steve on Kojo at Noon Today

Kojo Nnamdi will interview Ike Leggett and Steve Silverman, the two major candidates for Montgomery County Executive, during the noon hour on WAMU 88.5.


The Two Faces of George

I spoke too soon. Virginia Sen. George "Macaca" Allen has invented a new version of the non-apology apology in which the candidate apologizes profusely but his campaign manager continues to blame the "nattering nabobs of negativism" as former Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew once said. Even though Allen called S.R. Siddarth personally to apologize, his campaign went on the offensive to claim the victim mantle for their candidate. Once again, the Washington Post has a beaut of an editorial:

The senator's gesture was apt, but it hardly seemed sincere. Even as he apologized, his campaign continued its two-faced strategy of simultaneously scoffing at the entire incident as what Dick Wadhams, Mr. Allen's campaign manager, has said is a contrivance. To Mr. Wadhams, politics means never having to say you're sorry.

Mr. Wadhams, an itinerant political hit man known for his nasty attacks on opponents, told Republican leaders in a memo sent over the weekend that the Webb campaign and the media had ganged up "to create national news over something that did not warrant coverage in the first place."

He continued: "Never in modern times has a statewide office holder and candidate been so vilified." In other words, Mr. Allen is the victim -- not the 20-year-old student whom he mocked with an insulting, possibly racist slur in front of scores of chortling supporters and demeaned by saying, "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!"

Unlike Mr. Allen, whose contrition has become increasingly abject over time, Mr. Wadhams has been consistent. His first pronouncement to journalists, a week and a half ago, was to refer to the "macaca" story with a barnyard epithet and insist that the senator had nothing to apologize for. He has stuck with that assessment.

With Mr. Allen plummeting in the polls and his reelection prospects now in doubt, he and Mr. Wadhams are in damage-control mode. They have dropped their far-fetched insistence that the word "macaca" referred to Mr. Sidarth's hairstyle. But they ought to get their stories straight. Is the Allen campaign really sorry? Or are the senator's adversaries just making a mountain out of "macaca"?

So what will Sen. Allen do next? Will he rebuke his campaign manager? Sen. Allen has learned a hard lesson from this incident: you can run but with YouTube you just can't hide. Oh, and welcome to Virginia senator, where these sorts of comments just don't play anymore.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Meanwhile Across the Potomac

I realize that it is outside the normal purview of Maryland Politics Watch but I couldn't resist noting that Virginia Sen. George "Macaca" Allen is now doing a full Swaggart according to the Washington Post.

No more of the famous Washington non-apologies which always take the formula of "If I have done something wrong, then I am sorry." No admission of guilt. No real contrition. But still more than President Bush can bring himself to say.

Seeing his poll numbers tumble to the 40s and just a few points ahead of his challenger, Democrat Jim Webb, seems to have moved Allen along to a more fullsome apology. The Washington Post deserves some credit on this one both for their delicious editorial as well as not letting the story fade into the background. Which seems fitting because that is, after all, exactly what Allen did to college student and Webb volunteer S.R. Sidarth.


Wednesday News Roundup

Former Gov. Glendenning has endorsed former Rep. Kweisi Mfume for the Senate.

The Gazette has endorsed John McCarthy for State's Attorney. In school board race, the Gazette picked Shirley Brandman for the at-large seat, Judith Docca for the District 1 seat, Patricia O'Neill for the District 3 seat, and Nancy Navarro for the District 5 seat.

The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun have both profiled Montgomery Councilman Tom Perez, candidate for Attorney General.

The Gazette profiles both John McCarthy and Daniel Fox, candidates for State's Attorney.

The Gazette also sizes up the race for Montgomery County Executive.

Running Advertisements

Michael Steele has some excellent new advertisements that tout him as a "different type of senator." He is now trying to spin his constantly changing relationship with President Bush as the mark of someone who criticizes what is wrong in both parties. Don't believe it but watch it here to see why Democrats better take Steele's challenge very seriously. He is much better scripted than when he is front of an audience.

Comprtroller Candidates Peter Franchot and Janet Owens are also cranking up the ad machine.


More on District 18 Debate

You've had my take on the big debate. Now, get the view from the Gazette.


Silverman Running on the Purple Line

Steve Silverman's campaign for Montgomery county executive has the dubious distinction of having replaced Virginia Sen. George "Macaca" Allen on the front page of the Washington Post today. The paper that broke Watergate has now uncovered the shocking news that Silverman has received money from developers. As "developer" is a word loathed even more than "macaca" in Montgomery County these days due to snarling traffic and development scandals, this story isn't exactly one the Silverman campaign would have drafted. Silverman's opponent, Ike Leggett, also received developer money but not nearly as much.

Silverman is working hard to distance himself from the developer taint with campaign mailings that are among the best designed I've seen this year. The first one announced "Steve Silverman's plan to limit and manage growth and protect open space." Apparently, Silverman is using all that developer money to write brochures attacking developers because this one says that Silverman will fight to make sure that "developers pay their fair share" and promises to protect the agricultural reserve while building the Purple Line. I loved Silverman's second mass mailing because I've always been a sucker for maps of the Metro system. This one contrasts Silverman staunch pro-Purple Line position with supposed waffling on the part of Leggett, who dithered on the issue in the past but now says he is a supporter.

The brochure I received from Leggett highlights his impressive biography and experience. It also promises to "slow the pace of growth by fighting the special interests that want to clog our communities" and somehow produce "safer, less congested roads through support of common sense transportation solutions that always take into account community concerns." No direct mention of the Purple Line (or other specifics) though one could read that last sentence to read that he favors a below grade, less intrusive version of the Purple Line. No wonder Chevy Chase, which borders the proposed route for the Purple Line, is a forest of Leggett signs but I haven't yet seen one for Silverman there.

I am not sure Silverman is wise to tie his campaign so closely to traffic relief and the Purple Line. First, no candidate is going to "solve" traffic. People are going to be "tired of sitting in traffic" four years from now too. If Silverman is seeking reelection in 2010, his opponents are going to have a lot of fun with that slogan from this campaign.

Second, Montgomery's major traffic bottleneck is arguably caused by people heading from the Rockville-Gaithersburg area to the Dulles corridor (and then home again in the evening). The Purple Line will do nothing about this problem since it doesn't provide a new bridge over the Potomac. New Carrollton and Prince George's are in the other direction.

Third, Silverman is tying his future to a project over which his control is limited because the bulk of the money will have to come from state and federal funds. Even a county as large as Montgomery cannot pay for more than a fraction of Purple Line construction costs. The state is already committed to spending a bundle in Montgomery to build the ICC. Both Ehrlich and O'Malley claim favor the Purple Line though Ehrlich is a recent convert. However, one suspects that building Baltimore's Red Line would take priority for these two Baltimoreans.

When I spoke with Silverman at an event, he convincingly argued that the Purple Line is more likely to be built if the County Exec is strongly behind it. Still, there is a big difference between stating "I will see that it [the Purple Line] gets built" and "I will fight to build the Purple Line." Guess which his campaign literature says? Silverman should be more careful; he could get stuck spending his weekends laying track himself if the state doesn't come through.

Fourth, speaking of Red Lines, the existing Metro system is likely to gobble up state and federal dollars. Powerful Fairfax Rep. Tom Davis has proposed to give $1.5 billion to Metro if each of the region's three juridsdictions will create a dedicated funding source for Metro. Maryland would be foolish to leave this money on the table, especially when funds are desperately needed to fix escalators and buy more cars for the Red Line. If we don't get the federal money, Metro may need the money even more.

Of course, if Montgomery cannot get money for the Purple Line, this whole debate may be moot and we should all probably vote based on other issues or even which candidate we like or trust more. In truth, despite the magnification of differences between Silverman and Leggett, these two experienced candidates differ only by degrees.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

AG and Comptroller News Roundup

The candidates for attorney general debated again last night just in time for the Sun to release a profile of Doug Gansler. The Post recently did its profiles of two candidates for comptroller, Peter Franchot and incumbent William Donald Schaefer. Peter Franchot's campaign has not responded to my inquiry made via his website as to whether he really plans to spend all that money he loaned his campaign while Janet Owens did respond to an question by a commenter on this blog about her stand on abortion (she says she is pro-choice).


Monday, August 21, 2006

Record Number of Gay Candidates for the Legislature

The Washington Blade reports that there is a record number of gay, lesbian, and transgender candidates for the Maryland General Assembly. Three won election in 2002. Del. Rich Madeleno is certain to become the first openly gay senator as he is unopposed for the Democratic nomination in a overwhelmingly Democratic district. Baltimore City Del. Maggie McIntosh and Montgomery Del. Anne Kaiser are locks for reelection. Del. McIntosh formerly served as House Majority Leader is currently Chair of the Environmental Matters Committee. Del. Kaiser is on the Ways and Means Committee.

Candidates seeking to win election for the first time include:

Openly gay challengers include pastor and radio commentator Anthony McCarthy in District 44 (Baltimore), former Takoma Park Councilmember Heather Mizeur in District 20 (Montgomery County), restaurateur Tim Quinn in District 37 (Dorchester and Wicomico counties), and business professional Mary Washington in District 43 (Baltimore).

Dana Beyer, a retired doctor who is transgender, is running for Madaleno’s open House seat in District 18 (Montgomery County).

Having members in both bodies will likely prove invaluable as the Maryland General Assembly takes up gay and lesbian rights issues, including fallout from the forthcoming decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, on whether the state's constitution requires that the state allow gay marriage.

Certain districts appear especially gay friendly. Beyer is running in the same district as Madaleno (District 18); Washington is running in the same district as McIntosh (District 43). Mizeur is running in lesbian-friendly Takoma Park. On the other hand, Tim Quinn will probably find winning on the Eastern Shore especially tough for a gay candidate.

Washington or McCarthy would be Maryland's first openly gay or lesbian African-American delegates if they gain election. Except in Quinn's Eastern Shore district, the Democratic primary will likely be decisive so watch how they do on September 12th.


Legally Circumventing Campaign Finance Law

The Baltimore Sun outlines how easy it is to circumvent Maryland's campaign finance laws:

Maryland campaign finance laws say donors may not give more than $4,000 to a candidate for state office and cannot donate more than $10,000 overall to state candidates during a four-year election cycle. The limits are designed to ensure that a small group of wealthy contributors do not unduly influence the outcome of a race.

But those limits, albeit legally, are being circumvented in several ways. Donors, particularly to Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his Democratic opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, are giving through multiple companies or to state and federal campaign accounts controlled by state parties that then shift the money back to candidates.
Both Democrats and Republicans benefit from the system. I'm not quite sure how one would fix the system. The people usually don't seem very keen to pay for campaigns out of the public kitty even though public financing is a favored idea of reformers. I'm also not sure if it would be legal to ban transfers from federal accounts. One danger with limiting donations further is that candidates spend even more time raising money and the system becomes even more skewed to incumbents who are able to gather cash from many sources.

I don't worry too much in a gubernatorial campaign like this one where both sides are well-funded. While more money is always nice, the impact of more spending declines after a certain point. However, challengers like O'Malley must be able to reach a certain level of spending in order to be competitive. Even if O'Malley ends up outspent by Ehrlich, he will still have plenty of money to run a competitive campaign.

Reformers will still worry that both candidates end up politically indebted to various interest groups even if more optimistic observers think that interest groups simply give to their preferered candidates. Of course, it is difficult to avoid the appearance of impropriety even if nothing improper occurs. It is hard to differentiate between an official taking a position because of donations and an official receiving donations because of their position.


Post Endorses Cardin

The Washington Post has endorsed Baltimore Rep. Ben Cardin for Maryland's open Senate seat. However, they have kind words for former Baltimore Rep. Kweisi Mfume even if they prefer Cardin:

First, a word about Mr. Mfume, an electrifying orator and impressive leader with an inspirational life story. Born into a tough neighborhood in Baltimore and in trouble with the law as a youth, he rose to become a community leader, making his mark in the Baltimore City Council before being elected to Congress in 1986, the same year as Mr. Cardin. After service in the House, where he delivered for his Baltimore district, Mr. Mfume left Congress to become the NAACP's executive director, resigning last year to run for the Senate.

Despite Mr. Mfume's generally liberal orthodoxy -- he is an opponent of free trade and job outsourcing -- he has not always been beholden to that wing of his party. He sided with President Clinton on welfare reform and, as director of the NAACP, warned Democrats not to take African American voters for granted. In the current campaign, he has attacked Maryland's Democratic leadership for embracing Mr. Cardin without giving him a fair hearing.

Yet, Mr. Mfume is not Mr. Cardin's equal as a legislator.

Once the boy wonder of Maryland politics, Mr. Cardin has 40 years of legislative experience to his credit, including a stint as one of the youngest-ever and best speakers of the state House of Delegates. In Congress he has forged strategic alliances with key Republicans, thereby breaking from the pack of Democrats who have struggled in an era of GOP dominance to make a mark; he has thus been able to craft important bills to enhance the financial security of retirees and streamline the Internal Revenue Service.

On those measures, his partnership with former representative Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who is now the White House budget chief, is a textbook lesson in how a minority-party lawmaker can wield influence.

The rap on Mr. Cardin is that he is a legislator's legislator -- a quiet, colorless insider who embodies the system but is ill-equipped to shake it up. In fact, a hallmark of Mr. Cardin's legislative record is tough-minded independence. He was one of a minority of Democrats to vote against the war in Iraq, though once troops were on the ground he acted responsibly by supporting bills to fund and equip them. He broke with many Democrats and labor unions to back the North American Free Trade Agreement. At the same time he has stood against the Bush administration's fiscal recklessness, opposing estate tax cuts for the rich.

Mr. Cardin is a recognized expert on health care, tax and trade policy, and his tough-minded, sensible record has made him one of the House's most respected members on both sides of the aisle.

Both candidates favor a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, though neither offers a convincing explanation for how that would improve the situation there. The early efforts by Mr. Mfume and other Democrats in the race to portray Mr. Cardin as somehow hawkish on Iraq fell short, given his vote against authorizing the war.

In short, the Post prefers Cardin's positions on trade policy and just thinks he is more likely to rack up accomplishments in the Senate. They also rightly debunk the idea that Cardin, a solid liberal Democrat, is some sort of closet conservative.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Central Committee

On September 12th, Democrats and Republicans will not just nominate candidates for elected office, they will also elect their party's central committees. In the minds of those of us who were around before the demise of the USSR, the term "central committee" evokes sinister behind-the-scenes Communist politics. In Maryland, the central committees are the much more mundane governing bodies of the party. No one has the right to send anyone off to Siberia, or even Delaware, but the central committee provides structure and organization for the party.

Although they are unknown to most people, central committees become very powerful when a state legislator steps down before the end of their term. While many states hold special elections to fill vacancies, Maryland allows the central committee of the party of the official who is being replaced to choose the new legislator. As a result, the Democratic Central Committee members are far more important in Montgomery and Prince George's than their Republican counterparts. There are almost no Republican officials in Montgomery or Prince George's so the Republican Central Committee almost never gets to fill a vacancy.

Vacancies occur with some degree of regularity. For example, Del. Susan Lee of District 16 and Del. Jane Lawton of District 18 both became delegates between elections after their election by the Democratic Central Committee. The Central Committees in both Montgomery and Prince George's can expect to fill vacancies over the next four years due to the large size of the state legislative delegations in both counties.

One of the first vacancies in the new legislature could occur in District 16. Del. Marilyn Goldwater is currently ill. Nevertheless, it seems highly likely that she will win reelection despite the presence of two challengers in the district. In 1980, the voters of Prince George's County paid tribute to Rep. Gladys Noon Spelman by reelecting her even though she was in a coma. Voters are reluctant to fire legislators they respect even if they suffer from health problems.

Moreover, Del. Goldwater has a long record of outstanding service stretching back to the 1970s, is well-known in the area, and is part of the District 16 Democratic slate. In short, she would normally be a lock for reelection. Assuming that Del. Goldwater wins reelection this year, one can nevertheless imagine that she might choose to retire sometime during the next session.

If Del. Goldwater steps down before the end of her next term in 2010, then District 16 will have two delegates who were originally selected by the central committee. Del. Lee, also an excellent delegate in my opinion, was returned to office by the voters in 2002. Her status as an incumbent and as part of the District 16 slate surely aided her reelection bid a great deal.

Just another example of how relatively obscure rules can play an important role in who represents you.


Sunday News Roundup

The Washington Post endorsed Rushern Baker over incumbent Jack Johnson for Prince George's County Executive:

JACK B. JOHNSON, the Prince George's county executive, who is running for a second four-year term, is a tireless campaigner and a nimble politician; he is much less interested in governing. That's too bad, because he leads an enormous, diverse county whose vast potential is imperiled by the double-edged threat of poor schools and pervasive crime. Yet despite those challenges, his ambitions and achievements over four years in office have been strikingly modest.
However, I suspect that the Post's writ runs less strongly in Prince George's than it does in Montgomery so I am not sure how badly injured Johnson is by the endorsement which can be portrayed, correctly, as that of the white establishment.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Ike Leggett and Steve Silverman are beginning to take the gloves off in their race for Montgomery County Executive. In a rather tired story, they report the standard tropes of this campaign: that Silverman is beholden to developers and Leggett is a flip-flopper.

However, another Washington Post story nicely shows why Gov. Bob Ehrlich's attacks on the state of Baltimore City's schools under Mayor Martin O'Malley is bound to fail. O'Malley can always respond by referring to his strong support from Maryland's teachers. Indeed, Baltimore's teachers seem to view Ehrlich's attack on their schools as an attack on them. The Ehrlich's administration's attack on school funding early in his term, which he began to reverse far from coincidentally just as this year's election approached, make him a far from credible education governor.

Finally, the Washington Post reports that, like Montgomery's candidates for county executive, Ehrlich is being forced to deal with questions about affordable housing and the cost of growth. One cannot help but wonder if we will elect a bunch of anti-growth officials just in time for growth to grind to a halt, as it did in Fairfax after the election of Audrey Moore.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reports that Ehrlich is still chasing slots for Maryland, his pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow:
"I anticipate a school construction budget that will create 21st- century places of learning with the resources necessary to reach every student in the state and a funding source that will pay for it that will pass next year," he said.

A top administration official confirmed that the governor was referring to slots.
Of course, slots only highlights Ehrlich's incompetence as governor. Maryland's governor is arguably the most powerful in the nation. Ehrlich had a strong ally in Senate President Mike Miller. Yet, Ehrlich couldn't get the deal done. At the same time, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner could arrange a tax increase to pay for education with the implacably anti-tax Republican legislature of the Old Dominion even though Virginia's governor is much weaker. And we seemed to have managed without the money.