Thursday, December 21, 2006

District 18 Activist Aaron Kaufmann Fights for Learning Centers

One of the more interesting and important articles in the Gazette this week is about the proposal to shut several learning centers which serve Montgomery County students with special needs. The centers would be closed under the current rubric of promoting "inclusion" which sounds like a repackaging of what used to be called "mainstreaming". However, I cannot help but wonder if advocates for the centers, including District 18's Aaron Kaufmann, would be correct to suspect that this may simply be an effort to dress up a budget cut:

. . . Kaufman is a 19-year-old freshman in the prestigious Montgomery Scholars program at Montgomery College in Rockville. He graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda in June with a 3.98 grade point average.

He credits his success to WJ’s secondary learning center, a program that gives extra attention to special needs students so they can master the general education curriculum.

That’s why Kaufman and special education advocates are concerned by the $1.98 billion operating budget proposed last week by schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. Weast recommends that the learning centers be phased out.

The decision is part of a move toward ‘‘inclusion” — putting more special education students in regular classrooms.

It is an idea that Kaufman said is ‘‘nice in theory,” but does not work for every student.

Lyda Astrove, a special education advocate from Rockville whose son graduated with Kaufman, agrees.

‘‘The secondary learning center model provides special education students who need that level of service with the opportunity for smaller class sizes, individualized instruction, case management, transition planning, coordination of accommodations across classes and more,” Astrove wrote in a Dec. 11 e-mail to school and county officials. ‘‘Many students who have graduated from Walter Johnson and benefited from the learning center program have gone on to college.

‘‘It would be a terrible, terrible shame for Montgomery County to lose this program countywide,” she wrote.

The state’s goal is to have 80 percent of students with disabilities in general education classes — about 10 percent more than the county school system provides for its 17,000 special education students.

Weast’s proposal calls for learning centers at eight secondary schools, which serve about 650 students, to be phased out.

No more new special education students will be enrolled in the learning centers, which will close when the last students graduate.

The phase-out will free up about $2 million that will be used to expand a way of assigning teachers based on how many hours of attention the students need. Traditionally, the county has assigned teachers based on how many students they had.

However, Superintendent Weast argues that the learning centers just don't work and that shifting students are resources to the schools will improve performance:

Twenty-one of the county’s 38 middle schools did not meet progress goals on the Maryland School Assessment tests in math and reading last year. Of those, 18 attributed missing their targets to the poor performance by special education students.

‘‘We’ve done the learning centers and tried to do them well for a number of years,” Weast said last week. ‘‘While they’ve felt good, they haven’t been as academically supportive of students for the next level.”

Students who are bused to learning centers would benefit emotionally and academically from returning to their home schools, he said. ‘‘What the data says is they will do better if they are back home and have inclusion and have that support system,” Weast said.

He cited a 32-point increase in sixth-grade math performance on the Maryland School Assessment among Silver Spring International Middle School special-needs students.

Silver Spring International and Forest Oak Middle School in Gaithersburg are piloting the hours-based approach for the first time this year.

Silver Spring International used a similar approach last year by concentrating special education teachers in reading and math classes, an effort that officials credit for the gains on the MSA.

The pilot program doubled the number of teachers and aides to seven each and required training for both special education and general education teachers throughout the year, said Vicky Parcan, principal at Silver Spring International. ‘‘It allows us to have a full inclusion special education model here,” she said. ‘‘We’re able to provide support for special education [students’] needs in mainstream classes.”

Parcan said she is a ‘‘big believer” that a regular classroom is the best place for students to learn.

Still, if inclusion works so much better for all these students, one cannot help but wonder why former students and their parents are fighting so hard against it. One reason may be that students with physical or learning disabilities can get lost in the shuffle in a larger school. Moreover, officials at local high schools may be sorely tempted to focus resources on the top students whose entry into highly selective colleges help make their schools desirable and give them a hot reputation. Advocates for the learning centers seem to agree and make some powerful arguments:

‘‘For some, inclusion works, and that’s great,” said Janis Sartucci, a special education parent and advocate from Potomac. ‘‘But other kids need another self-contained classroom, and that’s what’s being eliminated.”

Weast’s assertion that learning centers are not preparing students for life after high school and that they would have more support in their home schools has left parents and former students puzzled.

Kaufman said almost all of his classmates in the Walter Johnson learning center have gone on to college.

‘‘In the learning center, teachers got to know our families ... they got to know us as a person,” he said. ‘‘With [students with] disabilities, it’s important to make an academic connection as well as an emotional connection.”

. . .

Jeanne Taylor, a mother of three special education students from Silver Spring, worries that students who cannot handle the general education setting will be forced into classrooms for students with emotional problems.

‘‘That’s an academic no man’s land” where services often do not follow the students placed there, Taylor said. The emotional disabilities programs are often ‘‘a dumping ground” for children with many different issues, she said.

‘‘Kids who shut down get the short end of the stick,” she said.

Inclusion can also be complicated because students who can manage some classes well may struggle tremendously in others. I'd be curious to hear from others with more knowledge in this area. Anyone want to guest blog on this issue?


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Aren't We Glad. . .

. . . this jackass lives in Virginia and is a Republican:

In a letter sent to hundreds of voters this month, Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, warned that the recent election of the first Muslim to Congress posed a serious threat to the nation’s traditional values.

Mr. Goode was referring to Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat and criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student and was elected to the House in November. Mr. Ellison’s plan to use the Koran during his private swearing-in ceremony in January had outraged some Virginia voters, prompting Mr. Goode to issue a written response to them, a spokesman for Mr. Goode said.

In his letter, which was dated Dec. 5, Mr. Goode said that Americans needed to “wake up” or else there would “likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”

“I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped,” said Mr. Goode, who vowed to use the Bible when taking his own oath of office.

. . .

Mr. Ellison dismissed Mr. Goode’s comments, saying they seemed ill informed about his personal origins as well as about Constitutional protections of religious freedom. “I’m not an immigrant,” added Mr. Ellison, who traces his American ancestors back to 1742. “I’m an African-American.”

. . .

“I’m not a religious scholar, I’m a politician, and I do what politicians do, which is hopefully pass legislation to help the nation,” said Mr. Ellison, who said he planned to focus on secular issues like increasing the federal minimum wage and getting health insurance for the uninsured.

“I’m looking forward to making friends with Representative Goode, or at least getting to know him,” Mr. Ellison said, speaking by telephone from Minneapolis. “I want to let him know that there’s nothing to fear. The fact that there are many different faiths, many different colors and many different cultures in America is a great strength.”

. . .

Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, urged Mr. Goode to reach out to Muslims in Virginia and learn “to dispel misconceptions instead of promoting them.”

“Keith Ellison serves as a great example of Muslim Americans in our nation, and he does not have to answer to you, to me or anyone else in regards to questions about his faith,” said Mr. Pascrell, whose district includes many Arab-Americans.

The fracas over Mr. Ellison’s decision to use the Koran during his personal swearing-in ceremony began last month when Dennis Prager, a conservative columnist and radio host, condemned the decision as one that would undermine American civilization.

“Ellison’s doing so will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones, as Islamists, rightly or wrongly, see the first sign of the realization of their greatest goal — the Islamicization of America,” said Mr. Prager, who said the Bible was the only relevant religious text in the United States.

“If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress,” Mr. Prager said.

In his letter, Mr. Goode echoed that view, saying that he did not “subscribe to using the Koran in any way.” He also called for ending illegal immigration and reducing legal immigration.

Linwood Duncan, a spokesman for Mr. Goode, said the Virginia lawmaker had no intention of backing down, despite the furor.

“He stands by the letter,” Mr. Duncan said. “He has no intention of apologizing.”

Oh, the inaptly named Rep. Goode was elected as a Democrat before becoming an independent enroute to his current Republican label. I say they can keep him.


Van Hollen New Leader of DCCC

The power of Maryland in the new House got an incredible boost when Rep. Steny Hoyer beat out Rep. John Murtha for the post of House Majority Leader. Now, Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi has appointed Rep. Chris Van Hollen to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Rep. Van Hollen has a tough job in the wake of the party's 2006 successes:

After Democratic victories in 30 districts held by Republicans, political analysts say, Van Hollen faces a significant challenge.

"This is a campaign committee that lost no seats in 2006, and that's virtually impossible to duplicate," said Amy Walter, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report who tracks House races.

However, supporters warmly describe him as ready to take on the challenge and to be misunderestimated by the Republicans:

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) called Van Hollen a hard-working go-getter who should never be underestimated.

"He doesn't take no for an answer. He pursues his goals tenaciously," Miller said yesterday, recalling Van Hollen's anti-tobacco and anti-gun legislation in Annapolis. "We'd try to get him to moderate his views, and he'd just go busting forward with a Chevy Chase, Kensington agenda, and we'd have to adjust."

In the past year, Van Hollen worked closely with Emanuel as a leader of the campaign committee's effort to pick up seats in Republican strongholds. He spent months traveling from Pennsylvania to Ohio and Indiana to identify and mentor candidates, then helped build fledgling campaign and fundraising operations.

Van Hollen said he drew on his experience from 2002 and worked to convince potential candidates that running against "incumbent members who hadn't faced challenges in a long time was doable, that they could win."

The challenge now, he said, is "to continue recruiting to make sure we're in a position to continue the momentum to change direction in Washington."

On the Hill, Van Hollen is considered part of a younger generation of Democrats whom Pelosi is grooming through leadership opportunities. He is a member of the 30-Something Working Group, an informal team that helped spread the party's message from the House floor during the campaign. He is considered a reliable liberal and has voted against Bush tax cuts, a ban on "partial birth" abortion and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said Van Hollen's appointment is a vote of confidence by Pelosi in his political judgment, ability to recruit candidates and raise money. He's one of "our bright young stars," Daly said.

Although Pelosi's selection of an Emanuel lieutenant signals an interest in continuity in the party's campaign strategy, Van Hollen's low-key, cerebral style contrasts with that of his high-wattage, profanity-prone predecessor, colleagues say.

"Rahm is Type-A on steroids, and Chris is very even-keeled, very levelheaded, so you couldn't get two people more opposite personality-wise," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who co-chaired the so-called Red to Blue project with Van Hollen. "But the most important similarity is they both have an incredibly strong work ethic and a devotion to detail."

Observers will be looking to see if the committee moves toward the 50-state strategy favored by DNC Chair Howard Dean and many liberal bloggers or focuses primarily on a select key races like his predecessor, Rep. Rahm Emmanuel.


Election Day is Not Forgotten

The Baltimore Sun reports that leaders of the General Assembly plan to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow early voting in Maryland early in the upcoming legislative session:

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Assembly leaders presented plans to Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley on Monday and decided that one of the first bills to move forward during the 90-day session would be the constitutional amendment permitting five days of early voting.

Such an amendment is necessary after the state's highest court said in a decision released this month that the Maryland Constitution clearly requires that elections be held on one day and votes be cast in home precincts. The ruling, however, does not apply to absentee voting.

"The court was overly zealous in its opinion," Miller said. "They read things into the constitution that were not there. We're going to amend the constitution and ask voters to give themselves the same rights that have been given to voters in 30 other states."

A constitutional amendment requires the approval of three-fifths of both legislative chambers and is not subject to a gubernatorial veto. The change would then be put on the 2008 ballot for voters to decide.

This year, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly overrode vetoes by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of two early-voting bills with more than three-fifths support in both houses. The legislature's efforts were stymied when three Ehrlich allies sued and the courts ruled in their favor.
While early voting seems to be on a fast track, the question of what to do with the state's voting machines remains unclear:
The question of what technology the state deploys to count ballots, however, is going to require more study, Miller said.

O'Malley has formed a working group to devise options for the state. Former Secretary of State John T. Willis is leading the effort, which is expected to issue its findings in late January, Abbruzzese said.

Some have suggested election officials ask voting machine manufacturer Diebold Election Systems Inc. to attach a printer to the state's machines, which would create a paper record of votes and enable an independent recount. Diebold, however, does not have a product ready -- only a printer prototype, company spokesman Mark Radke said.

"It has not gone any further because a printer requirement has not become law in Maryland," he said. "We would be glad to work with the state to develop that printer."

Miller suggested that the election officials could negotiate with Diebold to replace the state's machines with a newer model already equipped with a printer. He would like the state to be able to purchase new equipment at a discount, he said.

State budget officials estimate that when Diebold's contract with the state expires, the state will have paid the Texas-based company $106 million.

Radke also suggested upgrading to the newer model, pointing out that it is used in other states.

Concerns about the built-in printers, however, abound, including recent evidence from Cuyahoga County, Ohio, that they jam, creating an unreliable back-up for close contests. The paper print-outs also slow the voting process, meaning the state would have to purchase more machines to avoid long lines.

Doing nothing, however, could result in the state running afoul of pending congressional and federal agency mandates. Two Democrats, U.S. Rep. Rush D. Holt of New Jersey and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, plan to introduce legislation in the next Congress requiring such paper trails.

The House bill would include $150 million to help states and municipalities, including Maryland, to upgrade their equipment, said Matt Dennis, a spokesman for Holt. A decision on funding in the Senate bill has not been made, said Howard Gantman, incoming staff director for the Senate Rules Committee.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat, said that a return to paper ballots that are tallied by optical scanners would be the cheapest way to meet potential mandates. A Bobo bill to use optical-scan equipment unanimously passed the House of Delegates this year, but died in the Senate.
If Congress passes a requirement for a paper trail, it might force Maryland down a path which many are already urging it to take. Meanwhile, notice that Diebold is urging the state to "upgrade" the machines which it just purchased. Is this company's product the new Microsoft Windows of election machines?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

School Board Shifts Direction

The Board of Education selected Christopher Barclay to fill the vacant District 4 seat formerly held by Valerie Ervin who now serves on the County Council (D-District 5). The Examiner reported that the decision was not without controversy with Sharon Cox and Stephen Abrams accusing MCEA of exercising too much influence on the Board's choice:

Stephen Abrams, who has been on the panel for 11 years, called Barclay the candidate hand-picked by the district’s 11,000-member teachers’ union, and he opted instead to lend his support to Victor Salazar, an Army officer who made a highly emotional and personal plea for the job.

Even though she did not single Barclay out by name Saturday, Board Vice President Sharon Cox plainly said she refused to vote for the finalist with a “mighty advocate” in the Montgomery County Education Association in his corner, and was instead backing Salazar.

“That kind of influence is a concern for me,” Cox said.

Barclay, however, defended himself against accusations of any improper influence, saying he had worked hard to make the victory happen.

“Every person who was considered in that top five at least had some conversations with representatives beyond the board and community. I think it’s completely appropriate to speak to them about those decisions,” he told the Examiner. “As far as the union, I was happy to have an opportunity to meet with them. There was no indication after my meeting with them that I was ‘their guy.’ I didn’t think I was anyone’s guy.”

Even before the finalists’ 20-minute interviews, Abrams said he had grave concerns that board members had already made up their minds based on deals made with the MCEA. After the decision was announced, he told The Examiner that his fears were realized when Barclay got five of the seven votes.

“The union ordained it, and the lemmings marched to it,” Abrams said. “I think he may be a better board member than even the union envisioned ... We’ll see what he’s made of.”

Judy Docca was one of the board members who voted for Barclay. On Sunday, she said Abrams’ assertions were complete “hearsay” and that she had independently decided Barclay was the best fit based on his past experience.

“The union never approached me about it. I don’t know anything about that,” she told The Examiner. “We got quite a bit of e-mails of support, especially from the finalists ... but I don’t think that influenced it at all.”

Besides runner-up Salazar, the other finalists were Sheldon Fishman, Alies Muskin and Beth Wong.

A father of three children in the school system, Barclay has been active in the school community, particularly on the county’ s PTA and NAACP Parents Council. As a black man, he said his main focus on the board will be to close the achievement gap so that all students can excel.

Vote tally

Who the Montgomery County School Board members individually supported for the empty District 4 seat:

Stephen Abrams — Salazar
Judy Docca — Barclay
Sarah Horvitz — Barclay
Sharon Cox — Salazar
Patricia O’Neill — Barclay
Shirley Brandman — Barclay
Nancy Navarro — Barclay

(See the Gazette story as well.) Barclay is African American, so the appointment will also raise the number of minorities on the Board to a new high of three. Judy Docca is also African American and Nancy Navarro is Latina. No Asian American, the third major minority group in the County currently sits on the Board or the County Council. There are three Asian American delegates in our county delegation to the General Assembly.

The new alignment on the Board was also apparent in the selection of Nancy Navarro as Board President and Shirley Brandman as its Vice President. Stephen Abrams was the only member of the Board to vote against either choice; Sharon Cox withdrew as a candidate for Board President before the Board voted. Cox put a negative spin on the shift in the Board when she spoke to the Gazette:

‘‘The recent election has resulted in what I believe is a significant philosophical shift among members of the board in regard to the board’s role and responsibilities.”

That shift, ushered in by November’s election, puts more emphasis ‘‘on constituent services than to focus on teaching and learning in the classroom,” Cox said Monday.

How that shift will play out in the direction the board takes on issues before it next year, ranging from middle school reform to a possible renewal of Superintendent Jerry D. Weast’s contract, remains to be seen, Cox said.

On Tuesday, Navarro said she plans to carry out her duties under the guiding principles that ‘‘every child can learn and succeed, the pursuit of excellence is unending” and that the integrity of an open board is ‘‘invaluable.”

‘‘All [board members] are deeply committed to student achievement and we will match our skills and that will lead us to success,” she said.

The Board has clearly undergone a shift with Abrams and Cox obviously being the odd couple on the Board. We'll have to wait and see exactly what it means for Board policy. While many have expectations, I don't know enough to predict the impact of the change in leadership with certainty. Moreover, alignments don't always last as long as some expect as new issues arise.


Council Resolution on Transit

The following is the Action section of the resolution on transit passed by the Montgomery County Council on December 12th:

The County Council for Montgomery County, Maryland approves the following resolution:

1. The Council expresses its strong support for the Bi-County Transitway (Purple Line) and Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), and it urges the Maryland Department of Transportation to proceed expeditiously to the design and construction of these projects. For both the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, the Council supports:

· a generally at-grade light rail line that is primarily on its own right of way;

· excellent service linking the places identified in the Background section of this resolution;

· completion of a hiker-biker trail alongside the Purple Line from Bethesda to Silver Spring and the Corridor Cities Transitway for its entire length; and

· a community- and environmentally-friendly design that mitigates negative impacts in a cost-effective manner without impeding the speedy implementation of these projects.

2. The Council strongly urges Congress to pass H.R. 3496 or substantially similar legislation to provide WMATA with a desperately needed infusion of revenue to keep up with the maintenance of its existing infrastructure and to acquire enough rail cars and buses to relieve overcrowding.

3. The Council strongly urges the State of Maryland to provide resources for transit that will meet the funding requirements in support of the federal legislation.

4. The Council also recognizes that in order for the State of Maryland to fund the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, and other critical transportation infrastructure, significant supplemental revenue sources will be required. The Council intends to work cooperatively with the General Assembly to develop a mix of resources that will provide this necessary funding. From an environmental, energy, and transportation policy perspective, the Council believes that an increase in the state gasoline tax is one appropriate means to provide supplemental transit funding and urges the General Assembly to approve such an increased, as well as other substantial revenue enhancement.


Dems Pick Up Last U.S. House Seat

The victory of corrupt incumbent Democratic Rep. William Jefferson over his also Democratic challenger in the recent Louisiana runoff was a pyrrhic victory at best. Jefferson's campaign included gay bashing and support from the white sheriff who blocked African Americans from crossing into Jefferson Parish from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I'm sure Speaker-Elect Pelosi wishes she didn't have to figure out what to do with a Democrat who had $90,000 hidden in his freezer.

Last night's victory of former Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriquez over incumbent Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla in a Texas runoff was far more satisfying. The result was made possible because of the Democratic lawsuit challenging the DeLay-directed re-redistricting. Although the lawsuit as a whole was not as successful as Democrats hoped, it did force the redrawing of this district to protect Latino voting rights.

To be frank, Rodriguez will be no great light in the House. However, I think he is bound to do a far better job than Bonilla at representing Latinos and, more broadly, support the Democratic agenda. While Bonilla is also Latino, Bonilla lost the Latino vote by overwhelming margins. Rodriguez's victory means that Texas no longer has a single Latino Republican in Congress.

The result wasn't nearly as close as expected. Bonilla is on track to receive 3 percent less than the 49 percent he won in November. Rodriguez's victory also raises the number of Democratic pickups in 2006 to 31 seats, if one includes the seat in Vermont formerly held by left-leaning independent Senator-Elect Bernie Sanders. Indeed, the And that is something Pelosi, and all Democrats, will surely want to celebrate.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

MoCo Council Endorses the Purple Line

The Action Committee for Transit issued the following press release:

Transit supporters hailed today's unanimous endorsement of the Purple Line by the Montgomery County Council. In a landmark 9-0 vote that overcomes 20 years of division, the Council endorsed building the new transit line as a light rail line running generally above ground from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

The Council also broke new ground by going on record for building the Corridor Cities Transitway, which would run from Clarksburg to Shady Grove, as light rail rather than a busway. The resolution further endorsed providing more assured funding for Metro, and identified the three transit items as the county's highest transportation priority.

The Purple Line has previously won the unanimous support of the Prince George's Council, and Governor-Elect Martin O'Malley repeated his support for it at yesterday's Committee for Montgomery breakfast. "Consensus has been achieved at long last," commented Action Committee for Transit President Ben Ross. "Now let's get on with the job and get it built."

The unanimous County Council support for the Purple Line reflects the results of the November election, in which Purple Line supporter Roger Berliner defeated the County Council's last remaining project opponent. Each of the last three council elections has increased the number of Purple Line supporters; from a shaky 5-4 majority in the council elected in 1994, to 6-3 support in 1998 and a 7-2 majority after the 2002 election.


Georgetown Bookshop Closing

The Georgetown Bookshop, located at 4710 Bethesda Ave., is closing its doors on Christmas Eve. Originally located in (surprise) Georgetown, this fine used bookstore relocated to a space at 7700 Woodmont Ave. in 1989. In 2003, it was forced to move due to rising rents and relocated again to its current, smaller location just down the street from Barnes & Noble.

When I asked why he was shutting down, the owner told me that too many people were browsing instead of buying. All books are 50 percent off at their going-out-of-business sale. The Georgetown Bookship appears to be following the trend of moving to the internet where the overhead is much lower, important since the internet has also pressured prices downward. However, the owner plans to focus on posters instead of books.

I'll miss this wonderful local institution.


Recount Today in Anne Arundel

The Washington Post reports:

The Anne Arundel County Board of Elections will begin today to recount absentee and provisional ballots cast in the House District 31 election race in which Republican Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. defeated Democratic Del. Joan Cadden by 28 votes.

Cadden filed a request yesterday with the Maryland State Board of Elections asking for a recount after absentee and provisional ballots cost her the 719-vote lead she had over Dwyer on election night.

"It was statistically impossible," Cadden said yesterday.

The recount sets up another face-off between Dwyer, a conservative who is leading an effort to ban same-sex marriage in Maryland, and Cadden, a moderate Democrat who embraces "smart growth." Dwyer has said his "number one priority was to take Delegate Cadden's seat from her."

The two candidates did not run directly against each other but were among a field competing for three seats in District 31 of the House of Delegates. Cadden's third-place lead dwindled to 30 votes after most of the absentee ballots had been counted and then became an 11-vote deficit after the provisional ballots were tallied, with the final absentees giving Dwyer his 28-vote victory.

Cadden said she was "very optimistic" about her chances in the recount. "I feel very comfortable in doing the recount, and as I've said, I've been encouraged by nearly everybody in the state," she said.

The deadline for candidates to request a recount was yesterday, three days after the state board certified election results.

Andrew D. Levy, an attorney for Cadden, said his appeal specifically asked that the absentee and provisional ballots be "hand read and counted."

Anne Arundel Election Director Barbara L. Fisher said the manual count will involve slightly more than 3,300 ballots and will be conducted by a four-member team: one individual calling out the votes, another checking to make sure the vote was called correctly, and two others separately tallying the votes -- work that will be cross-checked.

Fisher projected that the recount could be completed by tomorrow.

Barbara Samorajczyk, an Anne Arundel Democrat who lost to Republican Ronald A. George by 53 votes in House District 30, conceded this month, saying she did not think there was a "meaningful way to do a recount" with electronic voting machines.

We'll see if Samorajczyk is right about it being impossible to do a meaningful recount. It seems that one could at least recount provisional and absentee ballots which are cast on paper.


Bush Very Unpopular

The latest Washington Post-ABC poll reveals that President Bush's popularity has not recovered since last month's election. On the contrary, relative to previous Post polls, his public standing has deteriorated further. Seventy percent disapprove of how President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq and 60 percent say the war was not worth fighting.

Only 36 percent of Americans approve of how the President is doing his job, compared to 62 percent who disapprove--the second lowest figures ever recorded by the Post. Even more tellingly, 49 percent of Americans "strongly disapparove" of how Pres. Bush is handling his job while only 18 percent "strongly approve". On the President's handling of the Iraq War, the numbers are even worse. Fifty-seven percent strongly disapprove the President's handling of Iraq compared to just 12 percent who strongly approve.


O'Malley Supports ICC and Purple Line

According to the Washington Post:

O'Malley arrived at the Bethesda North Conference Center more than 45 minutes late yesterday after getting stuck in rush-hour traffic. He expressed support for completing the $2.4 billion intercounty connector "on time" and for the proposed Purple Line that would link Metro's Bethesda and New Carrollton stations.


Leggett Calls for Gas Tax Increase

The Washington Post reports today that newly elected Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has renewed his call for an increase in the state gas tax. While the story didn't make clear Leggett's rationale for supporting the increase, presumably it is primarily because the money would help fund additional transportaton improvements. According to the Post, each penny increase in the gas tax would add an additional $30-35 million to the transportation fund. Roger Berliner and Nancy Floreen also said they would support the increase.

Governor-Elect Martin O'Malley's response was that this is an "interesting proposal" but didn't rush to embrace the idea. Senate President Mike Miller apparently thinks it would be hard to convince the General Assembly to pass it. Both responses from state officials make it all the more interesting that Montgomery officials have taken the political risk of calling for a tax increase where they cannot be sure that they will see any of the benefit and without having the power to make it happen.


Monday, December 11, 2006

GOP Senators Deadlocked

Republican U.S. Senators made the odd decision to restore Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, a fan of Strom Thurmond for president, to their leadership after soon-to-be former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum didn't just get defeated but lost his seat by a humiliating 18 percent margin. Maryland Senate Republicans are exhibiting the same finely honed skills in a different way. The Gazette reports that they cannot even agree on their leadership:

The two senators who want to be minority leader offer colleagues divergent approaches: Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris (R-Dist. 7) of Cockeysville is a strident conservative who will bird-dog the Democratic majority, while Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of Frederick is considered a moderate consensus-builder more likely to work with Democrats to pass GOP-backed legislation.

. . .

By the time they gave up Tuesday, senators had cast at least 15 ballots, each resulting in a 7-7 tie. Alexander X. Mooney (R-Dist. 3) of Urbana was vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands and voted by proxy.
So will the Republican Senate chooses to work productively with the Democrats or to oppose their every move?


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Don't Confuse Me with Karl. . .

According to the Economist, confusing someone with Karl Rove is a firing offense not just in the U.S. but in Australia:

SINCE it lost power to the conservative coalition government led by John Howard ten years ago, Australia's opposition Labor Party had changed leaders four times. Kim Beazley, in his second stint, was preparing to lead Labor into a general election due in late 2007. But a series of recent gaffes gave his colleagues the jitters. First, he ignored pressure to include in his shadow cabinet Peter Garrett, a popular former rock singer with a knack for talking clearly about global warming. Then he publicly confused Rove McManus, an Australian television talk-show host, with Karl Rove, an adviser to George Bush. On December 4th, Labor members of parliament changed leaders a fifth time, dumping Mr Beazley in favour of Kevin Rudd, the party's foreign-affairs spokesman.
Let's hope none of our newly elected officials confuse House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch with the one who lives in the big white building at 1600 Penn. Ave. That would probably put you on the fast track to a seat behind a pillar in the House Chamber and relegation to the House Facilities Committee.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Good Week for Gay Marriage

Opponents of same-sex marriage had a bad week here in Maryland, in the U.S., and even internationally. First, in Maryland, the state's most influential paper lent its support to the effort to convince the Court of Appeals to find that Maryland Constitution requires the recognition of same-sex marriage rights. The Sun argued that it is utterly legitimate for the Court to protect the rights of same-sex partners and that the arguments of marriage opponents before the Court were quite unconvincing.

Meanwhile, the idea that homosexuality is inherently antithetical to organized religion took a beating as Conservative Judaism agreed to allow gays and lesbians to be ordained as rabbis and for Conservative Congregations to hold ceremonies honoring same-sex unions. You know opponents of same-sex marriage are on the ropes when even organizations with"conservative" in the title are endorsing same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, Canada's Conservative government failed in its effort to repeal that country's recognition of marriage as including same-sex unions by 175-125. Both the Conservative and Liberal parties, the two largest parties in the Canadian House of Commons, allowed a free vote on the issue. The Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats whipped their members to vote against the motion. Fifteen Conservative MPs defected from the government to oppose the motion.

Onward and upward.


Sun Shines on Gay Marriage

The Baltimore Sun wrote this morning:

It may mean nothing to the ultimate decision, but the state's argument before the Court of Appeals this week in defense of Maryland's ban on same-sex marriage was remarkably weak.

Essentially the case made by Robert Zarnoch, counsel to the General Assembly, was that there is no fundamental right in Maryland to same-sex marriage, there is no violation of equal rights guarantees because both genders are equally affected, and if gay couples suffer legal, financial and emotional hardships because of their relationships, only the legislature can address their grievances.

Under that logic, the state's ban on interracial marriage would likely still be in place, and unpopular minorities or those without political clout would have little prospect of equal treatment under the law.

The central issue of whether marriage itself is accepted as a fundamental right of liberty and privacy may well be, as some courts have suggested, an evolutionary matter. As this page has frequently observed, it seems a social as well as legal question that is advancing by fits and starts with the increasing acceptance of gays in society.

Even the tone of the debate has elevated, losing some of its shrillness.

But to contend that legal and financial discrimination can only be remedied by a majority vote of the General Assembly is to ignore the courts' critical role in the system of checks and balances. Such a contention also ignores the pattern of history, which shows that legislatures are notoriously slow at correcting abuses of fairness and human dignity - often requiring the courts to kick them into action.

New Jersey's high court tried to split the difference in a ruling this fall. The court unanimously endorsed the principle that same-sex couples must be accorded the "same financial and social benefits and privileges" as more traditional partners. But by a narrow margin, the court left up to the legislature the question of whether same sex unions should be called "marriage" or something else.

Maryland's top jurists gave little hint during the arguments of their inclination. But at a minimum, they should soundly reject the notion that they have no role in protecting the rights and addressing the grievances of the thousands of gay couples in this state.

If that's the best case the state can make, it deserves to lose.
I think the last four words say it all.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rep. Chris Van Hollen on Political Pulse

Charles Duffy's interview with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) will appear on Political Pulse on Thursday, December 7th at 9PM and Tuesday, December 12th at 9:30PM on Channel 16. Tune in to learn more about what our representative thinks about the Iraq War and other topics.


FRC's Lies Make it No Friend of the Court

Box Turtle Bulletin (what a great name for a blog!) rips to shreds the Family Research Council's amicus brief on the same-sex marriage case in Maryland.



Who says elections don't matter? The Washington Post reports that the Montgomery County Council is getting ready to step on the building brakes:

The new president of the Montgomery County Council signaled her intention yesterday to quickly move in a different direction, calling for a freeze on dozens of large residential and commercial projects for the next seven months.

Moments after being selected as the council's leader, Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) introduced a temporary moratorium to give the council time to revamp the county's approach to managing growth.

Developments already approved by the Department of Park and Planning, and those near Metro stations, could be built even if the measure is approved when it comes to a vote next month.

Praisner's proposal, which came one day after the newly elected council was sworn in, was a sure sign that pro-growth sentiment on the nine-member panel has faded and that slower-growth proponents are in charge. The measure sets up an early litmus test for the council and for County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett (D), who campaigned to slow growth in Montgomery.

Planning analysts told the council that Praisner's proposal could affect plans for more than 5,000 housing units and more than 3 million square feet of other types of development -- including a more-than-$100 million expansion of Westfield Montgomery mall, a remodeling of a 1970s-era Giant Food store and a Winchester Homes condominium complex.

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson said the measure could have limited impact.

"If the objective is to stop development for some period of time, it would not do that, because it does not stop the issuance of building permits," he said.

About 30 projects could be approved before the moratorium would take effect, said development review chief Rose Krasnow.

Marc Elrich, (D-At Large), a newly elected council member, backed the moratorium, which he called a "pause."

"It's not like development is going to come to a screeching halt," he said. "This is the sensible thing to do to get our growth policy in shape."

Not too long ago, the Town of Chevy Chase went through a similar six-month moratorium while it developed new ordinances designed to deal with the problem of McMansions and teardowns. Of course, doing the same thing on a countywide level is a bit more complicated. For starters, there are no commercial properties in the Town.

Some questions for the Council:

What is the purpose of the moratorium? What do you plan to accomplish during this period?

The County is currently growing at approximately the same rate as the state as a whole and growth appears to be slowing currently for economic reasons. Is the long-term goal to further slow or stop growth? Or is it to have "smart growth"? Or to make developers pay a greater share of the infrastructure improvements?

What would the effect be on employment of a moratorium and, over the long term, of slowing growth? How many people would lose jobs and how many jobs will not be created which otherwise would have been?

Will the slowing of employment growth in Montgomery further exacerbate our terrible traffic problem by forcing more people to commute elsewhere for work?

Similarly, what would the effect be on county tax receipts and expenditures of a moratorium and of switching the County to a slower growth platform? Would it significantly reduce revenue? Or would concentrating and slowing growth greatly reduce the cost of building and maintaining new infrastructure?

What is the definition of "near a Metro stop" for purposes of the moratorium? What will it be if encouraging more development by Metro is part of the long-term plan? For example, is White Flint Mall, which is slated to be torn down and replaced with (wait for it) high-rise condos, near a Metro stop?

And I thought things might get dull after the election.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Same-Sex Marriage in the Dock

The Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, will hear oral arguments in Conaway v. Dean and Polyak, the same-sex marriage case at 10am on Monday. You can hear the argument live or after it all happens on the Court of Appeals website. Earlier this year, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooker Murdock ruled that the Maryland Constitution requires the state to allow same-sex marriages. The Court of Appeals will decide later this year if her decision stands and if same-sex couples can get married in the Free State.

If the Court of Appeals upholds the decision, it will not be easy to reverse. Amending the Constitution requires the support of 60 percent of the total membership of the House of Delegates and the Senate before the amendment can before the voters. Moreover, another three years would pass before state legislators faced the electorate again. The experience of Massachusetts suggests that support for same-sex marriage will rise as most Marylanders discover that allowing it has no negative impact on their marriages or lives.