Monday, December 31, 2007

The Best of 2007

The central committee of Maryland Politics Watch has voted. The most popular posts of 2007 are:

Long Ago and Far Away by Adam Pagnucco

Who the Frick is Bill??? by Kevin Gillogly

Town of Chevy Chase Sold by David Lublin

Apologies to Del. Bill Frick for turning his name into an expletive in the manner of "frack" on Battlestar Galactica. However, these three posts caused the most buzz and reaction of any in the past year. The one that just fell short of making it into the top three was probably the one which compared the votes of senators and senators on slots.

Many thanks to Adam Pagnucco, Paul Gordon, and Kevin Gillogly for their many contributions throughout the year. They've added a tremendous amount to MPW

Happy New Year to all. David


Duchy Pulls Controversial Press Release

Presidential politics has caused a kerfluffle in Montgomery County politics. A minor mistake by Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg's part appears to have become a full scale tempest in a teapot. Trachtenberg supports Hillary Clinton while Dan Clements, the attorney who called attention to Trachtenberg's action, supports Barack Obama.

The Gazette reported:

Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg faced questions about using public resources to distribute news of her personal political activities from The Gazette and an Annapolis attorney.

The Dec. 21 release described her plans to travel to Iowa to campaign for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in advance of the Jan. 3 caucuses.
Now, posting activities of a primarily political nature with no relation to council business was probably a bad call. However, the expense involved was minor--computer resources are cheap. I imagine one could also question the amount of time county employees spent on this release which could have been focused on county business but it is still hard to get excited about it.

Still, Duchy magnified the attention by first defending her decision as generally appropriate before pulling the press release:
On Wednesday, she called the release reasonable.

‘‘I think it’s legitimate to present information to the general public on the activities that council members are engaged in,” said Trachtenberg, a first-term councilwoman. ‘‘I certainly didn’t see this as anything inappropriate.”
Except that one tends to think that the county website is not just a taxpayer-funded version of Twitter, designed to advertise all activities on the part of members of the Council, but intended to focus on information related to the County. Nonetheless, I can see how this is a debatable question subject to interpretation.

Duchy's real gaffe was giving a disingenuous justification for the press release:
She justified the item, saying her trip to Iowa would involve NOW forums, not Clinton campaign events.

Trachtenberg said the announcement was similar to council members describing their out-of-town speaking engagements.

‘‘Council members do have schedules outside the council building,” she said.

But the six-paragraph statement puts the emphasis on the political elements of the trip. The main headline reads: ‘‘Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg Heads to Iowa to Help Clinton Campaign.” A smaller headline reads: ‘‘Montgomery County Legislator Has Been Asked to Speak About the Candidate with NOW Activists.”
It's always bad when the headline of your own press release contradicts your statements to the media. And one suspects that a past president of Maryland NOW might not feel the same way if a pro-life councilman used the Council's website to trumpet their out-of-state activities to promote pro-life candidates.

It's never the original action but the cover-up that gets politicians every time. This rather minor judgment call might never have appeared on the front page of the Gazette of Politics and Business if Duchy had simply said it was a mistake and pulled the press release without defending or justifying it in ways easily disproved. If she had simply pulled the press release or stuck to her defense of this sort of press release as common, it is hard to imagine this story gaining much traction.

Duchy's final strategic error was to look afraid of the media:
Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
The Gazette is the widely distributed newspaper which covers Montgomery County politics closely. They also are not known for slice-and-dice reporting, so one should keep on good terms with its reporters and return their calls.

Like I said, a real tempest in a teapot. But also not the type of a press a councilmember completing her first year in office likes to attract.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Next Generation of State Leadership From Montgomery County

MPW is pleased to welcome Marc Korman. Marc is a law student at the University of Maryland and one of District 16's members on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. He worked as a policy advisor and legislative assistant on Capitol Hill for five years. He has previously served as president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats.

In Montgomery County, the past year and a half has brought a generational shift in our county's legislative delegation. November of 2006 saw the election of Jeff Waldstreicher (28), Saqib Ali (32), Craig Rice (35), Heather Mizeur (35), and Tom Hucker (40), and the reelection of Rob Garagiola (35) and Anne Kaiser (39).* Recent vacancies have led to the appointment of Kirill Reznik (33) and Bill Frick (33). When the legislative session opens in January of 2008, nine of Montgomery County's 32 state legislators will be 40 and under. 19 of 32 will be 50 and under. The average age of Montgomery County's Delegation has dropped from 56 years of age in 2006 to 48 years at the beginning of 2008.

Experience and seniority are important traits in state legislators. With experience can come an increased ability to navigate the legislature, pass bills, and achieve results. With seniority can come increased power in a legislative body such as committee chairmanships and leadership roles. However, it is also important that new and young individuals are brought into the legislature to ensure strong leadership not just next year, but in the years and decades to come. Younger legislators also bring new perspectives on education, homeownership, and a host of other policy issues our legislature must grapple with.

Many of these younger legislators have already taken on leadership roles. For example, Senator Garagiola is a Deputy Majority Leader in the Senate. Delegate Heather Mizeur spearheaded passage of a major healthcare reform bill requiring insurance companies to issue coverage for domestic partners and dependent children up to 25 years old. But perhaps more important is the potential these legislators have to represent Montgomery County in Annapolis for years and decades to come.

In 2006, 13 of our legislators were 60 and over. Today, we only have 6. Montgomery County is lucky to have seasoned legislative veterans like Senator Brian Frosh and Delegate Sheila Hixson representing us in Annapolis. But we are also lucky to have younger legislators in Annapolis to keep Montgomery County well represented when our veterans retire.

Montgomery County Legislators 50 and Under:

Jeff Waldstreicher (28)
Saqib Ali (32)
Bill Frick (33)
Kirill Reznik (33)
Craig Rice (35)
Heather Mizeur (35)
Rob Garagiola (35)
Anne Kaiser (39)
Tom Hucker (40)
Herman Taylor (41)
Roger Manno (41)
Jim Gilchrist (42)
Richard Madaleno (42)
Mike Lenett (45)
Jamie Raskin (45)
Brian Feldman (46)
Kathleen Dumais (49)
Kumar Barve (49)
Ben Kramer (50)

*Ages listed are the ages of each individual at the beginning of 2008


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Republican Follies at the Court of Appeals

Remember all those Republican posters from the 2000 election which said "Sore-Loserman". Republicans endlessly moaned that going to court was a failure to accept the will of the people. Not to mention bad sportsmanship.

Times have changed.

The GOP now embraces Sen. Joe Lieberman (no longer D but not quite R-CT). They also think going to court is now just a grand idea. Having lost in the legislature, Maryland Republicans are now going to court to overturn the results of the special session.

No, they don't dispute something important--like if the votes were accurately counted. Instead, the lawsuit relies on one of those legal technicalities which Republicans like to decry. The heart of the lawsuit is that the Senate unlawfully adjourned for more than three days without the consent of the House of Delegates.

Of course, one doesn't exactly recall a cry rising up from the Republican benches of the General Assembly at the time. However, as reported in the Baltimore Sun, they now they see fit to take up the time of the Maryland court system with this lawsuit which would have no real impact even if the GOP managed to win:

But Dan Friedman, author of a book on the Maryland Constitution, said courts are historically loath to probe the provenance of legislative records. "Under the separation of powers, they don't dig in," he said. "Courts will presume in these procedures that the legislature is following the rules."

Even if there were procedural irregularities involving the adjournment's consent, Friedman predicted the courts would not allow the plaintiffs to exploit them to reverse major legislation.
And they wonder why the people of Maryland turfed them out in 2006.


Legislative Vacancies: Amendment Being Drafted

It appears that the serious flaws in Maryland’s system for filling state legislative vacancies (see my December 13 post on the topic) will be discussed during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

Senator Rich Madaleno has formally requested that legislation be drafted that would amend the Maryland constitution to democratize the process. Specifically, it would mandate a special election during the midterm to allow voters in a district to elect a replacement for the rest of the term.

The cost of a special election should not be high: Since the midterm for state legislators is always a presidential election year, every election board in the state is already putting on an election.

Even if the amendment is passed by the General Assembly in the upcoming session and approved by the voters in November, the first midterm where it could come into play would not be until 2012. So there is no rush: We’ll get the same result even if the amendment doesn’t pass until 2010.

That gives Madaleno and his allies three regular sessions to build support for this reform in Annapolis.

And, according to Madaleno, we may need that time.

That’s because many legislators may see this as “just a Montgomery County problem.” Given our county’s numerous unexpected legislative vacancies within the first year of the four-year term, we clearly see the need for reform. But other parts of the state have not seen such a high level of unexpected turnover so early in the term. Consequently, voters outside of Montgomery County are not demanding change. Madaleno is concerned that many legislators in Annapolis, seeing this as a Montgomery County problem, will have little incentive to change the status quo.

Madaleno sees a parallel with another electoral problem that applies statewide but which is generally categorized (and ignored) as a Montgomery County problem: the constitutional provision for adopting local charter amendments. Enacted in 1916, it establishes the minimum number of signatures needed to get a charter amendment on the ballot: At least 20% of the registered voters in the jurisdiction, but no more than 10,000 people. Back in 1916, Baltimore was the only chartered locality, had a much smaller population than today, and severely limited the right to vote, so the no more than 10,000 provision might have made sense.

But today, there are more chartered localities, and some have much larger voting populations — like Montgomery County. 10,000 signatures would represent a mere 2.5% of the county’s almost 400,000 registered voters.

That’s why Montgomery County frequently has a number of charter amendments on the ballot — amendments that do not necessarily have substantial popular support or probablity of passing.

According to Madaleno, efforts in Annapolis for a constitutional amendment to update the anachronistic 1916 provision have always run into opposition. Why? Because it’s seen as a Montgomery County problem. With its large population, Montgomery County is impacted by the no more than 10,000 people provision far more than most other parts of the state.

Similarly, the constitution’s legislative vacancy provisions may be seen as a Montgomery County problem by much of the General Assembly. And that means it could take time for the issue to get significant attention.

With that in mind, Madaleno sees the drafting of a constitutional amendment as an opportunity to start the discussion with his colleagues.

It will be interesting to see how recent events in District 35A will affect the discussion.


Legislative Vacancies: Harford County

Del. Barry Glassman (District 35A) was recently selected by the Harford County Republican Central Committee to replace Sen. J. Robert Hooper, who announced after the special session that he is stepping down for health reasons. And just last weekend, the Central Committee unanimously selected one of its own members — Howard Wayne Norman — to replace Glassman in the House of Delegates.

Another Central Committee member, Theresa Reilly was also a candidate. According to the Dagger Press
blog, neither Norman nor Reilly cast a vote, nor did they participate in the Committee’s interviews of other candidates.

Norman’s selection occurred less than a week ago. Once the holidays are over and the General Assembly is in session, we shall see if there are any repercussions from the Central Committee’s decision to elevate one of its own.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Photos of Jane Lawton

I thought Jane's many friends my like to see this nice photo album of pictures of Jane in the General Assembly which Del. Bill Bronrott put together. Many of these photos are also posted at the photo tribute on the Montgomery Delegation website.


Marie Garber and Mary Rodgers

The conduct of elections and election officials have come in for a lot of scrutiny and much criticism since the 2000 election. So it is nice to see the Washington Post recognize two people, Marie Garber and Mary Rodgers, who improved our election system:

MARIE M. GARBER of Montgomery County and Mary S. Rodgers of the District were two conscientious elections administrators who knew how to get results when it mattered most in their jurisdictions. They held their posts over the same period and -- as fate would have it -- died within a fortnight of each other. At one critical point in the District's chaotic introduction to voting for local self-government, Mrs. Garber and Mrs. Rodgers even teamed up to reorganize the city office and end a string of nightmarish electoral calamities: computer cards that jammed in counting machines, malfunctioning machines that once delayed tallies for 12 days and ballot boxes that fell off the back of a truck on the way to being counted.

In Montgomery, Mrs. Garber -- one of the most knowledgeable elections experts in the country -- led an effort to modernize the county's electoral system, introducing computerized registration and vote-counting methods and making the election office a national model of efficiency. In 1987, when incoming Gov. William Donald Schaefer foolishly replaced her with a political crony, Mrs. Garber went on to become an elections consultant, helping to set up voting systems around the world. "She was years ahead of her time," said former Montgomery County executive Douglas M. Duncan, who worked in Mrs. Garber's office in the 1970s. "She ran one of the best election shops in the country."

Mrs. Rodgers had to endure the mismanagement of several predecessors before she finally was promoted from longtime staffer to acting administrator and eventually to administrator. Her patience, steady hand, sense of humor and in-office popularity proved just the tonic. She knew where the glitches were and wasted no time righting the system along with an energetic new executive director, Emmett Fremaux Jr., who purged the voter rolls of thousands of dead or transplanted voters, commingled with bum addresses. Soon gone were the voting horrors that had been so singularly embarrassing to residents who had fought so long for a measure of self-government. Their hard-won franchise remains precarious, but the Election Day guffaws and growls in Congress have subsided over the years.

Mrs. Garber, who died at 83, and Mrs. Rodgers, who was 82, were exceptional public servants who shared a most treasured belief. Each valued deeply the importance of the vote and of the need to ensure its integrity. And each contributed mightily to the strength of the region.
Hat tip to Del. Bill Bronrott (D-16).


Friday, December 21, 2007

How MoCo Does Special Elections

Montgomery County Council vacancies are filled by special elections. So why shouldn’t we do the same for state legislator vacancies?

Here’s how the county process works. When a council vacancy occurs, a special election must be held if the vacancy “occurs before December 1 of the year before a year in which a quadrennial state election will be held.” (County code, Chapter 16, Sec. 16-17(a)(4)) So, if a county council member stepped down on 11/30/09, a special election would have to be held. But if a council member stepped down on 12/2/09, the rest of the council would appoint a replacement who would serve out the rest of the term (County charter, Sec. 106).

When a special election is held, it “must be conducted in a manner consistent with provisions of state law that govern special elections to fill vacancies in the office of representative in Congress.” (County code, Chapter 16, Sec. 16-17(c)(1)) The council must adopt a resolution that sets the dates of both the special primary and the special general election.

However, “if the Council vacancy occurs during the period beginning 120 days before the next regular or special primary or general election conducted in the County under state law and ending 40 days before that election, the special primary election provided for by this Section must be held on the same date as the other election. If a second regular or special primary or general election conducted in the County under state law is held more than 30 but less than 60 days after the special primary election referred to in the preceding sentence, the special general election held under this Section must be held on the same date as the second other election.” (County code, Chapter 16, Sec. 16-17(d)(2))

So by using the same dates as other elections, the cost of special elections can be reduced and turnout can be elevated.

The last time a county council vacancy occurred was when District 5 council member Derick Berlage stepped down in June 2002 to become the county’s Planning Chairman. As the date was too late to trigger the special election requirement, the county council appointed Donnell Peterman to serve out the remaining months of Berlage’s term. Peterman was appointed on the condition that he not leverage his appointed incumbency to seek office that year. Peterman honored that commitment in 2002, choosing instead to run (unsuccessfully) for an at-large seat in 2006.

Now doesn’t this sound a lot better than the appointment process for state legislators, which brought us this and this and this?

The excuses for why we should not hold special elections for state vacancies are rapidly disappearing.


Council and MCEA Set for New Round of Budget Clashes? Perhaps Not.

It's a lot easier to govern when economic times are good and the revenue flows into the treasury. In good times, officials can increase spending and sometimes even throw in a tax cut at the same time. Lean times make for tougher choices and unhappy voters as spending cuts are often combined with tax increases as the special sessions showed at the State level.

Although cuts made to the counties in the special session were smaller than feared, and Montgomery did well compared to other major jurisdictions, Montgomery County still faces a sizable budget deficit. According to the Gazette, the deficit is almost 10%:

Montgomery, with a $4.1 billion fiscal 2008 operating budget faces a $401 million deficit for fiscal 2009.
Will this lead to new clashes over spending between MCEA which wants to see increases in salaries, the bulk of the sizable school budget, and the County Council, which has to balance the budget?

There are lots of reasons to think so. In the Washington Post, Councilman Phil Andrews said that the deficit is due to high spending rather than slack revenues:
A record $401 million deficit predicted in Montgomery "is not a revenue problem," said County Council Vice President Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville). "Our revenues are solid and strong. It's primarily the rate of spending at an unsustainable level that reveals itself when the economy slows down."
The same article links the spending increases, and thus the deficit, to pay agreements:
Montgomery, which unlike Virginia localities can impose an income tax, derives only 33 percent of its operating revenue through property taxes. This year, it negotiated labor agreements that give some workers cost-of-living increases totaling 17 percent over the next three years in addition to annual step increases of 3.5 percent, one reason why spending has grown an average of 7.8 percent annually since 2001. The accord was finalized this spring by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) but is largely the legacy of his predecessor, Douglas M. Duncan (D).
Understandably, School Superintendent Jerry Weast has proposed the smallest year-on-year increase in spending since 1997:
Weast said county officials guided him to cap new spending at $110 million, or about 5.6 percent of the $1.99 billion budgeted for the county this fiscal year.
Nevertheless, one wonders where the County will find the money. The rate of increase is still several points above the rate of inflation. And it's not like the school system is a small part of the County budget. Based on the figures in the paper, the schools are roughly one-half of the County budget. Even if the rate of increase in spending is relatively low, the County may just not have the money.

Does this set a showdown between the Council and MCEA over the rate of increase in school spending?

Perhaps not.

County Executive Ike Leggett seemed happy with the budget request:

Leggett applauded the school system for proposing a budget plan that is "significantly below the rate of growth we've had in the budgets these last few years." The operating budget has nearly doubled in size under Weast's tenure, with yearly increases averaging 8 percent.

"This is closer to the range I would hope to be at," Leggett said of Weast's request, although he would not guarantee that the County Council would approve the entire amount. The spending request goes to the council for action in May.

Moreover, if the Council remains united, admittedly a big if, my guess is that MCEA will not be tempted to go to the wall unless the increases are unacceptably low. MCEA certainly showed great influence in the 2006 elections but even MCEA would not be a rush to try and dethrone the entire Council at once. County Executive Ike Leggett's satisfaction with the budget increase indicates that the proposed budget may be in range of the possible. The Council may trim but perhaps the outcome will be one MCEA, the Council, and the voters can accept.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

You Can Call Him Delegate Al

Delegate Alfred Carr was sworn in as the most junior member of the House of Delegates by Speaker Michael Busch. Barrie, his wife, held the Bible as Al took the oath. His mother and aunt traveled from Ohio to watch and join the crowd of well wishers.

A number of politicians attended the ceremony and publicly welcomed Al, including Comptroller Peter Franchot, Senator Rich Madaleno, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Garrett Park Mayor Carolyn Shawaker. Montgomery Democratic Central Committee Chair Karen Britto and Member Tracey Terrell as well as former District 18 Caucus Chair Sheldon Fishman also attended the ceremony and reception afterward at Harry Browne's sponsored by the Town of Kensington.

I don't remember much about the speeches except that Al Carr made a gracious reference to his predecessor, Jane Lawton, and thanked all of his supporters. Tom Perez said that Al had been the "go to guy in Kensington". I teased Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman, a friend and strong supporter of Al, that maybe he could be the new go to guy now that Al is in the House.


Hoisted from the Comments: Nancy Floreen Responds

Here is Councilmember Nancy Floreen's Response to the post below highlighting recent articles in the Gazette on growth policy:

Actually, I wasn't "attacking" anyone. I merely pointed out a fact that I believe people should know - our budget is premised on some amount of growth - this year, over 150 million dollars worth. That is not peanuts. I hadn't expected our fiscal numbers to look so bad so early, according to Ike's release right after we voted. Less growth means less revenue and more budget impact.

I never said the vote single handedly would bring our economy to a standstill - but I did say that I believe that it will contribute to shifting costs more directly to the shoulders of current residents. We'll see if I am right, but I think voters want us to worry about things like that. These debates we have are often bundled in lots of concerns, some, rather impenetrable, as Adam has pointed out. And the press rarely picks this stuff up, so if we want to make a point, we sometimes have to do it on our own.

Growth policy debates are rarely conducted in a budget environment, but this was a good opportunity to identify the relationship between decisions in one context, and their possibly unintended, un-noted consequences in the fiscal world.

I think it is useful to recognize the real life costs of our work as we proceed. What is the tipping point? we don't really know, but it is worth worrying about.

I believe us elected officials owe the public full, frank and reasoned explanations of why we do what we do and a recognition of the implications of our actions. Read Max Bronstein's piece in the Gazette as well for another take.

My reply:

Nancy, Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts.

The comment says: "Actually, I wasn't 'attacking anyone'. . ." In my earlier comment, I said you "attacked the policy" which still seems reasonable to me. Your column was entitled "County's dirty little secret", referred to "all the political spin", and is negative on the policy. Perhaps "attack" was a little strong on my part--and I apologize for making it sound like a more confrontational situation than it is--but there is clearly a clash of views.

The comment also says: "I never said the vote single handedly would bring our economy to a standstill - but I did say that I believe that it will contribute to shifting costs more directly to the shoulders of current residents." I agree. The post says: "Last week, Councilmember Nancy Floreen argued that the new controls are going to undermine the County's currently fragile economy and thus County revenues" which sounds--at least to my ears--like a paraphrase of what you said. Perhaps you are disagreeing with the column written by your colleagues on the Council and not myself?

I did later say: "it will be interesting to see if attitudes in the County shift if the economy slips into recession and growth grinds to a complete halt." After all, recessions can happen regardless of growth policy but negative growth (a key part of a recession) with the resulting impact on employment, salaries, revenues, and services can make many desire higher rates of growth--which I believe is not at odds with the point you make.

I would like to understand more clearly why you think the higher fees shift costs to county residents that they didn't pay before. After all, if the money to pay from infrastructure and its maintenance doesn't come from the fees, it has to come from taxes. I'm no expert so maybe you can help unscramble this for us growth policy novices.

Thanks again for the comment. I've always appreciated your willingness to explain and discuss your views in a forthright manner.


Raskin Leads Voting Rights Fight for 17-Year Olds

Sen. Jamie Raskin's effort to restore the right of 17-year olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the date of the general election appears to have succeeded. As reported in the Washington Post, Attorney General Doug Gansler has reversed a decision of his staff interpreting a recent Court of Appeals decision in a contrary manner.

AG Gansler made the right call. Although the government has the right to regulate selected activities of political parties, the right to freedom of association in the First Amendment protects the right of parties to determine most aspects of their own activities (unless they conflict with protections elsewhere in the Constitution, particularly those on discrimination). Both Democrats and Republicans wanted to include 17-year olds who would turn 18 by Election Day, and the government has no compelling reason to overrule them.

However, don't expect a massive increase in voter turnout as a result.

According to the Washington Post article:

Deputy Elections Administrator Ross Goldstein said that 2,308 17-year-olds voted in the 2004 Maryland primary and that 3,800 have registered to vote this year.
Remember that turnout in primaries is small and people are more likely to vote as they age. Still, even if the turnout is small, I don't see any harm in letting 17-year olds vote in the primary if they'll be 18 by the general election. Indeed, many democratic nations engage in efforts to make sure that every eligible citizen is on the voting rolls without imposing a registration requirement.

Sen. Jamie Raskin was a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi show. You can listen to the recording of the broadcast to learn more about the controversy.


Apologies for Blog Tech Problems

Sorry for the problems that left only the first paragraph of the blog unreadable to many. The problems did not appear in Firefox (my usual browser) but showed up when I attempted to access it in Explorer. I'm still getting the hang of expandable posts.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Council Acrimony Over Growth Policy Moves to the Papers

While I doubt they will ever beat out The Biggest Loser or Survivor, ratings for television broadcasts of County Council meetings could rise above zero to measurable levels if the tension in the Council on display in the papers moves to their public meetings.

After a tough debate, the Montgomery County Council adopted changes to the County's growth policy. However, the Council has not been able to move on from the issue. Indeed, Councilmembers are now taking their debate out of the Council and attacking each other in the Gazette.

Last week, Councilmember Nancy Floreen argued that the new controls are going to undermine the County's currently fragile economy and thus County revenues:

Market forces have now achieved what 20 years of arbitrary regulations could not — the reduction of growth to a crawl. And the new growth policy will only worsen our fiscal situation.

By establishing impossible-to-meet growth controls, it will discourage private sector investment and the creation of new jobs, new housing and tax revenue. Unless government picks up the check, at most we will only see more of the luxury housing, chain retail and huge corporations that can pay the price. So much for the economic and social diversity that Montgomery County has cherished.

Councilmember Valerie Ervin largely agrees:

County Executive Isiah Leggett is on record as stating that the ‘‘charges imposed on residential development are ultimately reflected, in whole or in part, in the pricing of homes and care must be taken so that homes are not priced even further out of the reach of residents of moderate income.” I agree. Limiting new development makes our county a more exclusive and expensive place to live. Once housing prices get out of reach for most average people, individuals who work in the county will be forced to look for housing in other jurisdictions.

I have serious concerns about limiting growth in areas where the county has a history of encouraging development, such as near Metro stations. This is not my idea of smart growth. Some claim that theses areas are where robust development is taking place, but data show that 80 percent of commercial rentals are occurring outside these areas.

This week, Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich, Marilyn Praisner, and Duchy Trachtenberg fired back, arguing that their colleague got it wrong:

First, the effect of the growth policy won’t be felt immediately. Development already approved will continue to move forward. That approved development includes 31,616 housing units (projected timeline for build-out: six years), and 32,210,095 square feet of commercial space (projected timeline for build-out: 11 years). If the county experiences a slowdown in the coming months or year, it will be due to economic forces, not the newly adopted growth policy. A national recession that affected this entire country caused the funding shortfall the county experienced in the early 1990s, not a restrictive growth policy.

Second, Ms. Floreen’s contention that the growth policy will amplify the recent weakness in the housing market is also off base. Growth in housing and commercial development always ebbs and flows due to national economic forces. It is not something the county controls. What we can affect through the growth policy is the obligations on new growth, and who pays for it. Many of the county’s current budget problems have been caused by trying to catch up with infrastructure needs caused by past growth.

Thirdly, growth does not always pay for itself. New housing requires new roads, schools, recreation centers, parks, libraries and other infrastructure. Providing this new infrastructure costs money. With that in mind, the new growth policy included impact taxes to assure that new growth helps pay for itself, so that the burden of new growth does not fall solely on our current residents.

The Council quad is certainly right that many projects are already approved. Many projects already in the planning pipeline are on hold or going more slowly due to the economic slowdown rather than to the changes in the county growth policy.

My impression in the southern part of the County is that residents will welcome a bit of a breather. In Bethesda and Silver Spring, the slower pace merely means that growth will proceed at a steady, albeit slower, pace instead if the pell-mell fever which has gripped the area in recent years with white development signs sprouting like daisies in urban centers.

And let's not forget BRACasaurus. The expansion of the Naval Medical Center--not to mention the growth of NIH across the street--promises to place incredible new stresses on the already burdened Wisconsin Ave./Rockville Pike corridor and the Beltway. Neither the County, the State, or the Feds are willing (or able?) to contribute the significant sums needed to address this serious issue as Adam Pagnucco has pointed out.

Still, it will be interesting to see if attitudes in the County shift if the economy slips into recession and growth grinds to a complete halt. Many years ago, voters in Fairfax County elected a team of Democrats on anti-growth Democrats and tossed them out in favor of pro-growth Republicans when the County went into recession.


Chris Van Hollen's Eulogy for Jane Lawton

Chris Van Hollen's office has received a lot of requests for a copy of his eulogy for Jane Lawton at her memorial service on December 2nd. I'm happy to post a copy here:

“Hey darling, how you doing?” Jane would ask in her endearing drawl. The first time I heard that accent, about twenty years ago, I thought it was southern. No, she informed me, it was a voice straight from the American heartland. It was the voice of a daughter of Oklahoma. Jane had first come to Washington to work for Speaker of the House Carl Albert. She never forgot her roots. In a political world filled with too much posturing and too many pretensions, Jane was authentic and down to earth. And how she made us smile. Her full Oklahoma laugh was infectious.

She left us at the top of her game – making her mark though her many important achievements in the Maryland legislature, her job protecting the interest of consumers as Cable Administrator and, most of all, as everyone knows, delighting in the talents and accomplishments of her wonderful daughters – Kathleen and Stephanie. She was so proud of you two.

To all of us, Jane was a friend, and what a friend she was. “It will be fun!” Jane would say, no matter where she was going – whether it was going to a long hearing, the eighth meeting of the day, or a party. Whatever it was, every step along Jane’s journey was a moment of adventure. And with Jane, no matter where you were, it WAS fun and her enthusiasm swept you along with her. And of course she was a complete nut case when watching football games – Redskins, University of Oklahoma – yelling at the teams through the television.

Jane had a long and very distinguished resume, but that is not the measure of who she was. She was caring, compassionate, directed – always trying to help others. She tackled the big issues important to the entire community, but with equal vigor she would take on an issue of great moment to just one constituent. If it was important to a constituent, it was important to Jane. She extended a helping hand to all. Her own needs were at the bottom of the list – if you needed something as an individual, as a group, or as a community, Jane was there to help. Sometimes she helped by passing a bill. Sometimes she helped by bringing fresh flowers and warm pumpkin bread to a friend in need.

So many people from all parts of our community and, indeed, from around the nation, have placed moving reminiscences and tributes on Jane’s website. They all have one theme – Jane made an important difference in their lives. Whether it was as a member of the General Assembly, in her professional life in the cable communications world, as Mayor of the Town of Chevy Chase, as Special Assistant to former County Executive Neal Potter, as a leader in the PTA, as a mentor to women and students, as a cousin or family member, or as a friend to turn to in tough times – Jane touched each one of us. She encouraged and inspired us and cheered us all on.

Like many gathered here whom she helped along the way, I will always be grateful to Jane for being on the front lines of my campaigns for the Maryland legislature and the U.S. Congress. You just could not go wrong with Jane Lawton on your side. No one could say “no” to Jane. And we were all thrilled when she decided to run for the State legislature in her own right. There is a great story in one of the entries on Jane Lawton’s website that beautifully captures her irrepressible and irresistible style. It is from Adam Pagnucco. It reads:

Jane did not mention she was running for office the first time I met her. It’s not that she was shy. I think she just forgot. But the second time I met her she definitely did mention it. It was the Taste of Wheaton day and there was a huge crowd. Jane saw me, gave me that big Oklahoma laugh of hers and cried out, “Hey! It’s Adam the carpenter!” And then she slapped me right on the chest. Whap! I looked down and saw that she had planted a “Lawton for Delegate” sticker on my shirt. She turned on that irresistible grin and said, “Now I’ll bet you really wanted one of those, didn’t you?” If another politician had done that, I would have found it to be very presumptuous. But this was just how Jane was and it was really funny. After all, how could someone shoot the breeze with Jane for ten minutes and not want a “Lawton for Delegate” sticker? That made sense to Jane, and it made sense to me too. What a way to get drafted as a Lawton supporter!

It is no wonder that Jane Lawton won that election by a large margin. Then she took Annapolis by storm. Sometimes when elected officials get to Annapolis they have an air of reserve, of excessive formality. Not Jane. She couldn’t help but yuk it up with everyone she met. “Hey, Charlie!” “Hey, Mike!” “Hey, Maggie!” she would call out. And not everyone knew what to make of her. But once they saw her in action, with her brilliant, unassuming and incredibly effective style, they knew that she was something special. Something extraordinary. She got it done, and they quickly knew what she was all about.

Jane’s time here with us was way too short, but she accomplished so much. She also had a great faith in the future and each of us here has an obligation to keep faith with Jane by carrying on the many good works she began. We must make her work our work and re-dedicate ourselves to making our community and state an even better place to live, work and play.

To Steve, to Kathleen and Andy, and to Stephanie – you know Jane was extraordinary. You know how much she loved her family. Thank you for sharing her with us all these years. She was one-of-a-kind, and we will miss her enormously. We hope that you will each be comforted by her amazing legacy and by the many people whose lives she touched. We are each privileged to have known her and to have counted her as a friend.

So, when we hear Jane’s voice calling down from heaven, asking: “Hey darling, how you doing?,” we have an answer.

“Jane, we are not doing well without you right now, we miss you dearly; but our lives are so much better for having known you and the world is a better place because you were here.”


That's Nice, But Where Are You Getting the Money?

Lt. Governor Anthony Brown is promising billions to pay for BRAC projects. But not so fast.

At an event marking the release of Maryland’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) report, Brown announced an ambitious plan to pay billions for education and transportation needs. The money is needed to adjust the state’s infrastructure to accommodate thousands of new jobs created by the military’s shifting of more capacity into Maryland. Brown’s proposal includes $1.6 billion for 26 transportation projects, with half the money due for projects to commence next year.

But wait – where is the money coming from? In the recent special session, the General Assembly turned down a proposal from the Governor to raise the gas tax. Instead, they chose to devote a portion of the sales tax increase to transportation. Of the estimated $400 million in annual funds generated by the legislature, roughly $250 million would go to maintenance of existing capacity. That leaves $150 million for new projects, or about the cost of one interchange project per year. That’s right – one interchange. In the entire state. Per year. That prompted some Montgomery County politicians to float the idea of a local gas tax for transportation.

No one denies Maryland’s transportation needs. The BRAC projects are another addition to a long list including Baltimore’s Red Line, Montgomery County’s Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, and countless much-beloved little projects. But in the aftermath of the special session, the General Assembly may have little appetite for more tax hikes. So where are they getting the money for BRAC?

Transportation funding is a huge budgetary issue that is not going away. Stay tuned.


Analysis of Progressivity of Special Session

The Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute (.pdf) views the results of the special session as regressive but says that Maryland still does better than other states.

Some of the key conclusions are:

Most of the revenue in the special session’s package comes from increasing the sales tax. This affects all consumers alike if their buying patterns are the same. But they aren’t. Lower-income taxpayers expend more of their income on purchases than higher income taxpayers do (they save less). And they spend more of their income on goods, which are generally subject to the sales tax, compared with services, which are generally not taxed. The Department of Legislative Services estimates that a poverty-level taxpayer pays almost twice the share of her income in sales tax as a household making $100,000. . . .

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that the overall effect of the tax package is regressive.5 The poorest 1/5 of taxpayers will pay nearly 0.8% more of their income in taxes. The middle 1/5 will pay half that percentage: just over 0.4%. The wealthiest 1/5 will pay between 0.3% and 0.5% of their incomes in increased taxes. This overall regressive distribution occurs because the regressive nature of the sales tax rate increase overwhelms the progressive features of the income tax changes. . . .

Maryland’s tax system does more than most states to spare citizens living in poverty. The very poor are protected from paying state income tax. For example, for a two-parent family of four, no tax is due in incomes below $31,000. Only six states have higher tax thresholds. For working families, Maryland provides a refundable earned income tax credit (EITC). As a result, a family of four with wage earnings and the poverty level of income would actually receive a $423tax refund to supplement their earnings.

Maryland relies more on income tax revenue than most states: 42% versus the national average of 35%. The flip side of this fact is that Maryland relies less on the general sales tax: 23% versus the national average of 32%. Since the sales tax is less responsive to incomes, it hits lower-income families harder. Maryland’s revenue system draws less from this regressive tax than most other states.


Our New Look

Maryland Politics Watch is going through some growing pains

I've added expandable posts so more can fit on the "front page". Just click on "Read more. . ." to see the full post and "Summary only. . ." to collapse the post.

I've also changed the template of the blog from "harbor" to "stretch denim".

Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments.

In order to add expandable posts, I had to upgrade to a new Blogger format. Unfortunately, the old :"harbor" template, originally chosen because the tower looks vaguely like the cupola on the State Capitol, looks ungainly in its "upgraded" version.

Suggestions for a better subtitle are also welcome. I dumped the old one ("Inside the Beltway but Outside Washington") because most of Montgomery is, after all, outside the Beltway.


Is MoCo a Giant ATM?

Reflecting the wrestling over taxes which characterized the recent special session of the General Assembly, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown had a slight disagreement at the Committee for Montgomery breakfast last week.

During his short but effective address, Ike Leggett proclaimed that Montgomery is not an ATM for the rest of the State. Keynote Speaker Anthony Brown began his talk by taking his ATM card out of his wallet and unsuccessfully attempting to retrieve funds from the podium.

Congratulations to Chevy Chase Mayor Linna Barnes for organizing a successful event and, even more amazingly, getting an array of political luminaries to actually stick to the time limit so people could get to work. No wonder she was asked to run it again this year.


Purple Line Perestroika?

Departing from its policy of releasing information to the public strictly on its own timetable and a need-to-know basis, MTA will release information to the public. Plunging straight into the deep end of the pool, MTA will even respond to questions and information requests. Could posting all of this information to the web be next?

Apparently, I am not the only one who thinks MTA needs to open up and subject its conclusions to public scrutiny as members of the Purple Line Advisory Committee raised the same issue last night. At that meeting, Tom Autrey said he would pass along requests from committee members to MTA which would then provide data and answers. When Mier Wolf raised the question of whether a FOIA request would be needed to obtain information, Tom Autrey assured him that this was not the case.

Kudos to the Committee for demanding that MTA be far more forthcoming. Let's hope MTA is generous with data and gives complete, responsive answers.


On Political Pulse

Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown will be on the Political Pulse TV Show on:

Thursday, December 20th at 9 p.m.
Tuesday, December 25th at 9:30 p.m.
Thursday, December 27th at 9:00 p.m. and
Tuesday, January 1st at 9:30 p.m.

Topics that will be discussed include the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) Report recently released by the Maryland sub-cabinet group chaired by the Lieutenant Governor. BRAC will result in tens of thousands of new jobs in Maryland and the Lieutenant Governor will talk about what the State is doing to get ready for the influx of jobs and people. A substantial number of jobs created by BRAC will be coming to the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Montgomery County and the Lieutenant Governor addresses that issue and many other topics as well.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The 411 on 911

From Sally Hand:

Sunday evening I received and email saying that 911 services had been restored. This worried me a bit since I had never received any notice that the 911 system had been down. Today in the Washington Post, I read that the service was down for 3 hours and the police where not aware because no one had called the police to say that the 911 service was not working. What is wrong here – I can't call 911 because it is down, yet I need to call 911 to tell them the system is down?

We live in a world of computers – it is easy to set up a program that will alert the police that 911 is not working – no one should need to call. This is the second time in three months that the 911 system has gone down. Who is in charge of making it work? As the center of our civil defense system the 911 system should be one of the highest priorities. This system is surely needed daily for fires and accidents, but what if a terrorist decided to set off a bomb or a crazy sniper rears his head again? President Bush keeps telling us we are at war; local officials aren't acting like they have anything to worry about. Homeland Security – please send MoCo money to get a 911 system that really works. We don't need wire tapping – we need infrastructure.


Racial Diversity in Montgomery's State Legislative Delegation

State Legislators
District White Black Asian Latino
White Black Asian Latino
14 58.9 19.6 13.6 6.2
3 1 0 0
15 65.0 8.5 18.0 7.0
3 1 0 0
16 75.8 4.4 10.9 7.0
3 0 1 0
17 49.2 12.8 17.7 19.0
3 0 1 0
18 50.5 14.3 10.8 21.9
1 0 1
19 51.5 18.2 13.6 15.3
4 0 0 0
20 32.7 33.5 11.8 23.1
4 0 0 0
39 50.4 17.2 16.3 14.2
3 0 1 0
ALL 54.9 15.9 13.3 13.8
25 3 3 1

Much of the discussion over state legislative vacancies was dominated by the need to increase the share of women and the racial diversity of the County's delegation. Today, I take a quick look at the current level of racial diversity among state legislators from Montgomery and the relation to the racial composition of legislative districts.

Whites form just under 54.9% of the County's population but 78.1% of the County's state legislative delegation. Blacks, Asians, and Latinos form 15.9%, 13.3%, and 13.8% of the population, respectively, but only 9.4%, 9.4%, and 3.1% of the legislative delegation.

Asians would need just one more legislative seat to achieve parity with population. African Americans would require two more seats to reach parity. Latinos have the largest gap between share in the population and the delegation. High rates of non-citizenship among Latinos account for a portion, though not all, of this gap.

Interestingly, there is little relationship between the racial composition of a legislative district and the share of minority legislators. The correlation between these two factors is actually negative (r = -0.36) indicating that one is more likely to find minority legislators in districts with relatively few minority residents.

Districts 19 and 20 help explain this surprising outcome. Although District 20 is the only district in the County in which whites form significantly less than one-half of the population, all of the its state legislators are white. Four districts (Districts 17, 18, 19, and 39) are roughly one-half white. District 19 has no minority state legislators while Districts 17 and 39 have one. District 18 has two due to the recent appointment of Delegate Al Carr.

In contrast, the three districts with clear white majorities (Districts 14, 15, and 16) all have one minority member of their legislative delegations. Put another way, the whitest districts in the County have as much or more minority representation than every other district except District 18. Notably, they each have more minority representation than the County's single district in which minority groups form a sizable majority of the population.

This presence of minority legislators but the lack of a strict relationship between district racial composition and where minority legislators serve may be a good thing. If character and quality matter more than fitting into the right box, one would expect at least some disjuncture between racial composition and the race of legislators.

Does anyone want to seriously suggest that Del. Craig Rice somehow becomes less eligible or less capable of representing District 15 because he is an African-American man but African Americans comprise under 9% of his constituents?

On the other hand, the table also suggests where further gains in minority representation are most likely to occur: Districts 19 and 20. Neither district has any minority state legislators though both are home to relatively high minority populations.

Despite its strong liberal tradition and pride in its urban diversity, the City Council of Takoma Park does not provide a fertile ground for recruitment of future minority legislators in District 20. As a member of the County Council pointed out to me, Takoma Park does not have a single minority person on the City Council. According to the 2000 Census, Takoma Park was 48.8% white, 34.0% black, 14.4% Latino, and 4.4% Asian.

Note: The left side of the table shows the percentage of the population falling into different racial groups according to the most recent edition of The Almanac of State Legislative Elections for the state legislative districts and the 2006 U.S. Census estimates for the county as a whole. The right side of the table shows the number of state legislators falling in each of the same racial categories.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Rumor du Jour

Reggie Oldak and Don Mooers are planning to run a slate for the House of Delegates in 2010 and are currently looking for a third person. Both competed unsuccessfully for the recent vacancy caused by Del. Marilyn Goldwater's resignation which went to Del. Bill Frick. Oldak was endorsed by the Washington Post and came in a strong fourth for the House in 2006. After the election, she took a job as an aide to newly-elected County Councilmember Roger Berliner. Don Mooers, an attorney, ran for Congress unsuccessfully against then Rep. Connie Morella.

If the rumor is true, it would make for the most interesting race in District 16 in years. Oldak and Mooers would both be strong candidates. In contrast, the incumbents have not faced strong challenges, running on full incumbent slates. Like Bill Frick, Del. Susan Lee also arrived in the legislature by appointment in 2002. Del. Bill Bronrott also has not faced a strong challenge since he won the seat vacated by Del. Gilbert Genn in 1998. Bronrott won at least partly because of a backlash against Genn's attempt to give the seat to a friend by announcing his retirement from the House after the filing deadline for candidates and has also not faced a strong challenge.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Analyzing Purple Line Cost Effectiveness

Table 1

Ridership Estimate
Cost Estimate ($million)
TSM 18000
Low BRT 32000
Med BRT 39500
High BRT 43500
Low LRT 39500
Med LRT 43500
High LRT 45500

TSM = Enhanced-Regular Bus, BRT = Rapid-Bus, LRT = Light-Rail

Table 1 shows the ridership, cost, and cost per rider for enhanced regular-bus service and the various rapid-bus and light-rail Purple Line proposals. Remember that ridership is the number of trips. If we assume that most people make a roundtrip on the Purple Line, then the number of people riding it is only 50% of the numbers here (e.g. a ridership of 40,000 is equivalent to 20,000 people making roundtrips).

Enhanced regular bus is by far the cheapest option. I wonder how many more riders would show up if the enhanced-regular bus option were expanded further. While it would clearly carry fewer people, it would also cost much less than the other options in terms of both total cost and cost per rider. The cost per rider for rapid-bus is around 3 to 5 times higher. The cost per rider of light rail is 5 to 6 times higher.

Table 2
Operating & Maintenance Costs ($million) O&M Costs/Rider
TSM 7 389
Low BRT 9 281
Med BRT 9 228
High BRT 8 184
Low LRT 20 506
Med LRT 18 414
High LRT 17 374

Table 2 shows the operating and maintenance costs for each option. Enhanced-regular bus has the cheapest total costs but it is more expensive per rider than any of the rapid-bus options. However, the difference is small enough that enhanced-regular bus still is more cost efficient. Even after 25 years of operation, enhanced-regular bus would still be more than 50% cheaper after taking into account operating and maintenance costs.

Tables 1 and 2 also make clear that rapid-bus transit is clearly more cost effective than light-rail transit. The initial investment required for every light-rail option is more expensive than every rapid-bus option is terms of cost per rider. The comparison becomes even more favorable to rapid-bus if one takes into account operating and maintenance costs in terms of either total expenditures or cost per rider.

No wonder MTA Project Leader Mike Madden, a promoter of the light-rail system, is now playing down cost effectiveness in terms of choosing a plan to submit to the federal government for funding after having previously emphasized competitiveness. The cost effectiveness numbers favor rapid bus over light rail.

Table 3
Ridership Above TSM Cost Above TSM Marginal Cost/Rider Above TSM
Low BRT 14000 380 27143
Med BRT 21500 595 27674
High BRT 25500 1150 45098
Low LRT 21500 1140 53023
Med LRT 25500 1155 45294
High LRT 27500 1580 57455

As shown in table 3, the various Purple Line alternatives attract around 7000 and 13,750 additional people making roundtrips (the equivalent to the 14,000-27,500 ridership numbers in the table) above TSM/enhanced-regular bus. Table 3 also presents the marginal cost of capturing ridership above enhanced-regular bus service.

Put another way, this is the cost of getting the people who would not ride enhanced-regular buses to get on one of the rapid-bus or light-rail transit options. From this perspective, the cost per rider is far higher than enhanced-regular bus. Attracting the people who would not get on the enhanced-regular bus studied by MTA would cost around 5 to 10 times more per trip than each trip on enhanced-regular bus.

The public could not make these calculations for itself at the recent Purple Line open houses because the ridership for TSM (enhanced-regular bus) was listed as "N/A" (see my photograph taken at the open house from the B-CC High School). I got the 18,000 figure for TSM ridership by asking MTA's ridership expert at the meeting what is TSM and what is the estimated ridership.

Remember that these numbers are from MTA and that the data behind the numbers has yet to be revealed to the public or subject to public scrutiny by either supporters or opponents of the various options.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Metro Wants More from Me: What I Want from Metro

The following is by Sally Hand who is new to MPW. A law librarian for the past 25 years working in private, governmental and educational settings, Sally is also the Community Outreach Coordinator for Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39). Of course, the views presented here are her own. She and her dog Ginger Jar are residents of Germantown. Welcome!

With the announcement of the new Metro fare hikes on Dec 13th my cost to get to work just went up $1.95 a day, or $39 a month, or $468 a year. I am a middle-class working women who can rearrange my budget to cover this increase and will but it is now cheaper for me to drive into DC, park in DC and drive home than it is to use Metro. I believe that others might give up using the Metro since it is so expensive and the service is erratic.

Since Metro wants so much of my paycheck this is what I would like from Metro:

* Ample parking – either at Metro Stations or at a Park & Rides with frequent bus service
* Buses that travel to the Park & Rides as long as Metro is open (currently the last 124 bus leaves Shady Grove at 8pm – I often have to work late and have to cab it to the Park & Ride)
* Clear announcements that give information
* Train drivers that look before they close the car doors
* Emails that explain the disruption not just say it is cleared

I encourage ridership of the Metro and the ride on buses as the Green way to get to work. There are costs to the environment that Metro can assist healing. My carbon footprint is much smaller using public transportation than if I drove to work everyday. If Metro really wants to be a service to the entire community than they need to look at ways to encourage riders so that there are less cars on the roads these fare increases without service upgrades are just a way to lose ridership ergo losing more money.

P.S. Metro was shocked at the low turnout for the public forum in Reston about the fare increases. Hello, the hearing was not Metro accessible.


Discrimination Alleged by Democrats

"Beyer drops bid to replace Maryland delegate: Activist blames ‘trans phobia’ for withdrawal" was printed in today's Washington Blade:

“It was clear to me that I wasn’t going to be selected,” she told the Blade. “I work in political circles. Word gets around. It’s not hard to discern.”

Beyer said she was “not really free to say” what she learned or was told to indicate the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee would not choose her to replace Lawton.

But some observers said Beyer, who works for Montgomery County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg and helped pass a measure last month that bars discrimination against transgender people, was hindered by her distinction as a transgender woman.

“I think it’s hard to deny that there isn’t at least some component of trans phobia in this situation,” said Scott Davenport, president of Equality Montgomery County.

Davenport said the Central Committee has a “very clear” preference for candidates that are “least likely to make waves.” If appointed, Beyer would have been the nation’s first transgender state lawmaker.

“I don’t believe this is 100 percent about trans phobia,” he said, “but I do believe this is about lack of political courage.”

Milton Minneman, a Central Committee spokesperson, said the organization was not concerned that Beyer is transgender.

“The Central Committee as a whole is certainly supportive of any gender designation and has no biases against anybody who is GLBT,” he said. “We have no reason why someone who is GLBT should not be elected to any body or government.” . . .

Beyer, who last week told the Blade that her distinction as a transgender woman “isn’t an issue and it shouldn’t be an issue” in the race, said she still faced an uphill battle.

“Being the first at anything is difficult,” she said. “This is a recurrent motif in American politics.”

Beyer said she was highly qualified for the seat because she’s a retired physician and has policy experience, but “the fact that I have an unusual gender history still ranks high in people’s minds.”

“When people finally accept me as an older female physician with political skills and leadership skills, then I will have accomplished my goal,” she said. “That day is obviously not today, but it might not be too far in the future.”

Beyer noted that she still considers herself eligible for Maryland’s next legislative election in 2010.

“You really can’t plan that far ahead because life can change drastically in a second,” she said. “So it’s hard to be precise on this, but it’s not a stretch to say I’m not going anywhere and I will stay in the mix.”

Interestingly, this article had no quote from either of the district's two most prominent openly gay elected officials, Sen. Rich Madaleno and Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman. Mayor Fosselman backed Al Carr, a Kensington councilman, very strongly from the start. Sen. Madaleno issued a public letter in support for Al Carr before the Central Committee voted.


New Military Policy: Do Tell, Go Back to Work?

Is the shortage of soldiers making it harder to get kicked out of the military for homosexuality?

After leaving Iraq, he says he started receiving anonymous emails warning him about his openness that suggested he was being watched, so he went to his commander to head off an investigation he felt was coming.

"I didn’t know how else to do it,” he tells Stahl, acknowledging that he initiated an investigation of himself by violating the policy. “I felt more comfortable being the one to say, ‘This is what is real,'" Manzella says.

He then says his commander reported him, as he was obliged to do, and then “I had to go see my battalion commander, who read me my rights,” he tells 60 Minutes.

He turned over pictures of him and his boyfriend, including video of a passionate kiss, to aid the investigation.

But he tells Stahl he was surprised by the outcome.

"I was told to go back to work. There was no evidence of homosexuality," Manzella says.

"'You’re not gay,'" he says his superiors told him.
Randy Shilts wrote in Conduct Unbecoming that discharges for homosexuality commonly decline in wartime. This war is no exception with discharges down 50 percent since 2001. Another theory is that, like other Americans, soldiers have become more tolerant and just think this is a dumb policy.


Who’s Got the Biggest War Chests in MoCo?

If you have not done this already, go visit the UMBC Maryland Campaign Finance website. It’s a fun research tool and you’ll learn things about politicians you won’t believe. For example: who’s got money and who’s broke?

We here at MPW are, as always, dedicated to our growing legions of devoted readers. As usual, WE will do the work so that YOU – the informed political consumers who know enough to visit us every day – can draw your own conclusions. So, let’s go to the data!

Broadly speaking, candidate finances are reported in five categories: receipts, expenditures, cash/account balance, in-kinds and outstanding obligations. Think of the difference between account balance and outstanding obligations as a political balance sheet. High balances with no obligations can be liquidated as political ammo immediately. Outstanding obligations are almost always loans that candidates make to themselves. With every dollar they spend, candidates with high outstanding obligations are deciding whether to keep running for office or replenish their depleted nest eggs. These being politicians, most will decide to buy that extra campaign sign.

The last financial reports came in as of 1/17/07. The next batch should be in around Valentine’s Day – fitting, don’t you think? Of course, a lot has happened over the last year but fret not – we will update you.

So which MoCo state legislators have the most money? Measured by campaign account balance, the three best-financed MoCo Senators were Jennie Forehand (D17 - $64,092), Brian Frosh (D16 - $41,667) and Rob Garagiola (D15 - $31,024). The three poorest MoCo Senators were Jamie Raskin (D20 - $4,821), Mike Lenett (D19 - $7,518) and Nancy King (D39 - $8,875). To be fair to King, she was only recently appointed to the Senate.

Among the MoCo Delegates, the three best-financed were Susan Lee (D16 - $66,027), Heather Mizeur (D20 - $38,869) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D18 - $32,158). The three poorest were Al Carr (D18 - $280), Brian Feldman (D15 - $338) and Saqib Ali (D39 - $391). To be fair to Carr, he was not a Delegate at the time of his last report.

It’s not just about account balance though. Remember those pesky outstanding obligations? Sometimes they’re not merely pesky – they’re absolutely colossal. I know it’s shocking, but some politicians will spend lots of their own money to win. The only three MoCo Senators who reported outstanding obligations were Mike Lenett (D19 - $160,000), Jamie Raskin (D20 - $20,000) and Rob Garagiola (D15 - $10,000). All had contested races and all of these obligations were loans to their own campaigns.

The Delegates who reported the largest outstanding obligations were Ben Kramer (D19 - $114,450), Roger Manno (D19 - $70,000) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D18 - $42,417). Again, all had seriously contested races and all of their obligations were loans to themselves. So dear reader, if you had to put in $100,000 of your own money to just have a shot at winning office, would you do it?

Now here’s the interesting part. Subtract outstanding obligations from account balances and which incumbents were the most solvent? Among MoCo Senators, the leaders were Jennie Forehand (D17 - $64,092), Brian Frosh (D16 - $41,667) and Rob Garagiola (D15 - $21,024). No surprises there. But two Senators actually had negative net assets – Mike Lenett (D19 – negative $152,482) and Jamie Raskin (D20 – negative $15,179).

Among the delegates, the leaders in net assets were Susan Lee (D16 - $66,027), Heather Mizeur (D20 - $38,869) and House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D17 - $30,843). The worst off were Ben Kramer (D19 – negative $113,252), Roger Manno (D19 – negative $67,611) and Al Carr (D18 – negative $19,370). Seeing as how Kramer and Manno serve in the same district, they would be wise to run together on a slate to avoid bankrupting each other.

One note of caution. Many of these candidates have joint slate accounts that pay for multi-candidate signs and mailings. Those who stick together on slates and collect the Apple Ballot need less money to win (and almost always do win). So monetary weakness does not always equal political weakness.

What about potential Delegate challengers? Jean Cryor (D15), Joan Stern (D39), Aaron Klein (D20), appointment candidate Hugh Bailey (D39) and Ryan Spiegel (D17) all finished with positive account balances, though Bailey and Spiegel had very little money left. Regina Oldak (D16), Paul Griffin (D19), Alec Stone (D19) and Dana Beyer (D18) all finished with five-digit outstanding loans to themselves. Beyer’s outstanding loan total – $75,000 – was only exceeded by Lenett and Kramer. These four candidates will probably have to choose between running for office again or making a down payment on that Eastern Shore beach cabin we all want. Crab-loving hedonist that I am, I’d take the beach cabin.


Woodmont East II, Round II

Councilman Roger Berliner's office tells me that the developers of Woodmont East II are back with a new plan:

Back in September, Councilmember Berliner organized a public roundtable to discuss the Woodmont East development proposal. Over 100 people attended the meeting and many raised concerns about the project. After continued criticisms about the project by the community, Councilmember Berliner, and the Montgomery County Planning Board, the developers withdrew the proposal.

The development team has now made changes to their design and will make these plans available to the public. Councilmember Berliner is convening another public roundtable on Tuesday January 8th to allow members of the community to view the plans and ask questions.
The meeting will be from 7-9pm on January 8th at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center located at 4805 Edgemoor Lane in Bethesda. There is a big parking lot under the building or you can Metro or Ride-On there.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Should the MoCo Dem Central Committee Be Expanded?

There is a proposal to do just that and the hearing is tonight. It is part of a series of local bills being heard by the County Affairs Committee of our MoCo Delegation. Betta you didn't know that our General Assembly folks have their own web site. Worth a look.

Back to the bill, Sen. Nancy King and Del. Charles Barkley -- both of District 39 (Montgomery Village, portions of Germantown, Derwood and unincorporated Gaithersburg) -- want to expand the MCDCC from 23 members (2 members from each of the 8 districts and 7 at large members) to 27 members. The MCDCC is opposed. Click here to learn more.

The hearing for this bill and 17 others will begin tonight at the Stella Werner Building (MoCo County Council Building) at 7:00 P.M. The public is welcome.

Other bills of interest are: Delegate Susan Lee (District 16 -- Chevy Chase, Bethesda) is submitting a bill on behalf of Councilman Phil Andrews (District 3 -- Rockville, Gaithersburg, Darnestown) to regulate campaign finance for races in MoCo. The offices that would be affected are: the MoCo Executive, State's Attorney and the nine members of the County Council. They might be more but I guess don't the details all that well. But I do know that the races for the MD GA will not be covered. Click here for more.

Finally Charles Barkley is proposing that cell phone towers at MoCo Elementary and JR High Schools be banned. Since that is a big money maker for the School Board, guess who is against it: The Superintendent of the Schools, Jerry Weast, the School Board and the MCEA. Click here for more.


Donna Edwards To Open Her MoCo Office

Donna Edwards will have the grand opening of her new office in Montgomery County. This will be on Saturday December 15 from 9:30 to 11:30 pm. Location: Rock Creek Village Center, 5540 Norbeck Road, Rockville, MD 20853 (corner of Nobeck Road and Bauer Drive).

She will outline plans for the final two months of the campaign. All are welcome.

Disclaimer: This comes from the Donna Edwards campaign. As always all candidates are welcome to share their announcements here. So please send your campaign announcements to us and we will post. Still looking for more videos from the campaign trail.

The MPW bloggers agreed that we will not post requests for donations. But we will post newsworthy events. I wish I could outline completely what constitutes "newsworthy" but just like the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said on another important matter "I
shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . "

Say how about this: if each campaign -- there are now six candidates -- have each campaign designate a guest blogger. Let's make this the place to be the best news on the CD 4 race. We are the largest political blog in MoCo. And this will be the largest local race on the ballot come primary day.