Friday, February 29, 2008

Latest on County Council D4

Don Praisner will be endorsed by County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council Members Marc Elrich, Phil Andrews, Duchy Trachtenberg and Roger Berliner at his announcement on Monday. The Washington Post talked to Praisner and Leggett.

Steve Kanstoroom has been subpoenaed by the Montgomery County Planning Board to provide communications he has had with news organizations over the Sandy Spring road dispute.

No assumptions should be made at this point about MCEA's endorsement. The union could endorse a candidate or sit out the race entirely.

As of 4:40 pm today, Kanstoroom, Pat Ryan, Cary Lamari and Republican Mark Fennel have filed papers to run.


Modifications to Proposed Town of Chevy Chase Building Ordinance

The Town Council continued its markup of the proposed new building ordinance. The Council has made the ordinance simpler and much less restrictive than the original proposal. Here are the major changes to the ordinance from the original proposal:

Everyone is guaranteed a minimum of 3000 square feet regardless of lot size (up from 2500).

Basements don't count for purposes of FAR calculation.

Attics don't count for existing homes or additions to them but the portions of attics above 6' 6" (i.e. you can walk in them) do count for new construction (or the expanded portion of existing attics).

There is a single FAR of .50 for all lots of less than 12,000 square feet.

For homes on lots greater than 12,000 square feet, the FAR is .25 for the amount over 12,000 (e.g. on a 14,000 foot lot, you could build 6500; 6000 with the FAR of .50 for the first 12,000, 500 for the 2000 above 12,000)

The garage and wall length incentives have now been made into requirements (i.e. requirements on the placement of garages and no wall can be longer than 34 feet).

Non-vegetative surface is limited to 35% or less of the front yard.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why I'm Disappointed in Phil Andrews

By Eric Luedtke. Eric is a classroom teacher in MCPS and a member of the Board of Directors of the Montgomery County Education Association but writes here solely on behalf of himself

You may have read on the Washington Post’s Maryland Moment about the Wednesday evening meeting between County Executive Leggett, members of the County Council, and the executive boards of the county employee unions. I can tell you that the discussion was both very honest and very depressing. We have very real budget issues that we’ll need to address over the next few months. But I was encouraged at the fact that the meeting was taking place, and that the unions and our elected officials have agreed to keep open lines of communication and to work together on solving the budget difficulties. That gives me hope.

I was, however, deeply disappointed in Phil Andrews. The Post account notes that he was the only official present who described our salary increases as, “unsustainable.” It leaves out the full tenor of his remarks.

Before I go any further, let me say that I have deep respect for Phil Andrews. Growing up in Gaithersburg, he was my Councilman, and I’ve always appreciated his advocacy on behalf of average Montgomery County residents. But on the issue of the budget and public employee salaries, he is simply wrong.

Andrews says his belief that the salary increases should be cut or eliminated rests on the idea that the burden of solving budget difficulties should rest equally on taxpayers, recipients of county services, and county employees. The flaw in this argument is that cuts to the salaries of county employees are, effectively, reducing county services. Providing good services rests on our ability to recruit and retain good staff. This is true in the school system, in the police and fire departments, and in county government. High salaries are the reason we have been able to build a strong workforce across county government. And reneging on negotiated salary increases which help county employees to keep up with the cost of living in Montgomery County will undermine that workforce.

I’m a teacher, so I can speak to this best from the perspective of the school system. You may be surprised to hear this, but in Montgomery County, one of the best school systems in the country and one of the highest paying systems in the area, we never have enough teachers. In certain content areas, and most often in special education, the school system is operating under a permanent shortage. Even in the current hiring freeze, and more than halfway through the school year, the MCPS vacancy database currently lists more than a hundred unfilled full and part time teacher and para-educator positions.

There are a number of reasons for this shortage. But among the biggest is this: approximately one third of MCPS teachers leave within their first five years. Some leave because it is a difficult profession. Some leave because of other life choices. Many leave because even with the county’s commitment to good salaries, a commitment Councilman Andrews questions, the cost of living in Montgomery County is simply too high for many young teachers. So good teachers move and work elsewhere. Or they abandon teaching for a more lucrative profession outside of public service. Cutting employee salary raises will make this problem worse, and losing more good teachers undermines our ability to continue to provide a world class education for MCPS students.

But his flawed argument aside, what most offended me was Councilman Andrews’ condescending lecture to those of us at the table about what public service means. Sitting at a table with dedicated and hard working teachers, administrators, support service professionals, and county employees, and with the police officers and firemen who daily risk their lives for public safety, Councilman Andrews told us that public service is a “privilege.” The implication was that this privilege of public service should be more than enough for us, and that we should therefore humbly accept reduced salary increases. For people who have sacrificed the ability to become wealthy for the sake of careers in community service, this is a slap in the face.

I do feel privileged, every day, to work with the extraordinary and talented children that walk through the doors of my school. But that privilege doesn’t put food on the table. That privilege doesn’t pay my mortgage, which is a stretch on two teacher salaries. That privilege isn’t going to cover the thousands of dollars my wife and I will be paying for day care for our son, who is due at the end of March. Councilman Andrews is out of touch with that reality, the financial difficulties experienced by many of our public employees.

We have real budget problems in the County, and we face the difficult task of limiting the burden on taxpayers while continuing to provide high levels of services. The public employee unions get that, and will be sitting right there at the table working to find places to improve the county budget. But to attack the salary agreements of county employees in the media as if we are the reason for the budget problems is disingenuous at best. And to lecture public employees on the privilege of public service while ignoring the sacrifices they make to serve the public is simply arrogant. This is why I’m so deeply disappointed in Councilman Andrews. I expected better from him.


Don Praisner Is In

Here is some news that should get the juices flowing if you like politics. Marilyn Praisner's husband, Don, is set to announce his candidacy on Monday. It will be noon at the Stella Warner Building (that's the County Council Building) in Rockville. He is expected to have some well known elected officials standing behind him as he speaks.

So the list of candidates reads as follows: Don Praisner, Nancy Navarro (one of two candidates a working web site), Pat Ryan, Steve Kanstoroom, and Cary Lamari (the other). Cary ran for an At Large seat in 2006 and he has been active in Aspen Hill. Cary has former Council member Blair Ewing endorsing him.

Still only rumors about Delegate Ben Kramer getting into the race. Same goes for 2006 Primary challenger, Mike Jones. If either Jones or Kramer gets in we will announce it.

Currently, Navarro leads in the endorsements with Congresswoman-to-be Donna Edwards, Council member Valerie Ervin, Del. Tom Hucker, Sen. Rich Madaleno, and former Del. Gareth Murray. Navarro also claims the endorsement of the Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats (CAPAD) which is interesting since I would think that a group would not endorse until they have gotten back all of the surveys from the candidates. So if you are a candidate and you get the CAPAD survey I guess you can save time by not filing it out since they have their candidate already selected.

Where You Can Meet the Candidates
There are several Debates (or Forums as we like to call them in the 21st Century) that are in the planning stages that will be announced in the coming week as well. The firm events are:

The Aspen Hill Civic Association is going to host a candidate forum at the Aspen Hill Library on March 19 (Wed) evening. They will probably be several other groups cosponsoring the event.

The Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club will be sponsoring a forum on Wednesday April 2 in the White Oak area. Details to follow later.

The Leisure World Democratic Club, which is one of the largest Democratic clubs in the state, will be hosting their own Democratic Forum on Thursday April 10.

There will probably be another couple of events. I am working with some folks to get an event for the East County folks. Once a date and place is selected I will share it here. Several Democratic clubs are eager to sponsor an event. So they might add to the list of events or become cosponsors.

If any readers know of other events that are going on please post a comment here or just send me an email (look at my profile to find my email address). I will get the word.

Note: As a voter in District 4, I will be an active supporter of one of the candidates. According to our policy here at MPW, when that happens I will clear all posts with someone who is neutral. If I do post anything on this race I will tell you who I support in the post. We here at MPW will be up front and clear about who we support and why.

Key Dates
Filing deadline is March 24. Special Primary is tax day April 15. Special general is May 13.


Is MoCo in a Recession?

Recent attention to Montgomery County’s reduced, but still substantial budget deficit (now projected at $297 million) has caused many to pay closer attention to the state of the county’s economy. Simply put, is MoCo in a recession?

The classic definition of a recession is two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth in gross domestic product (GDP). At the national level, there are an excruciatingly large number of measures used to predict and track business cycle changes, many of which are tracked by the National Bureau of Economic Research. At the local level, fewer statistics are available. Survey sample sizes shrink, employer non-disclosure requirements become a problem and data in general are more scarce. But there is enough information to know, or at least speculate about on an informed basis, two questions: is the county’s economy growing now and will it grow in the near future?

Montgomery County’s Department of Finance is a good resource to start. It has a number of coincident indicators, or data that measure the state of the county’s economy right now. Through November 2007, the county’s labor force (the total number of civilians employed or looking for work) was 506,884, an increase of 0.5% from the year before. As a matter of fact, the county’s labor force has increased every year since 1997. Total payroll employment through June 2007 was 458,964, a drop of 0.7% from the year before. The local unemployment rate was 2.8% through November 2007, down only 0.1 from the year before. Sales taxes collected through October 2007 were up only 0.3% over the prior year, below the local rate of inflation (3.5%).

All of these figures point to a stagnant, but not shrinking economy. Jobs are stable, inflation is creeping up but unemployment is still low. (MoCo’s unemployment rate has not risen above 4% since at least 1992.) The Washington region’s employment base grew by 1.5% last year, faster than MoCo’s, which helped the county. MoCo’s tax collections are not growing as fast as government expenditures, but the private sector is not currently contracting.

However, there is more. To answer the question of whether the county’s economy will grow in the future, we have to examine leading indicators – data that correlate with future growth. At the local level, most leading indicators are related to the construction and real estate industries. These industries serve an important function because they channel economic growth from a handful of industries into a much broader range of industries. For example, in the Washington region, up to one-third of the local economy is associated with federal spending. When federal employees or contractors receive increases in compensation, they often spend them on new housing, housing upgrades or associated real estate. Those payments multiply through real estate agents, construction contractors and material supply industries, which then distribute them more widely through the economy. The construction and real estate industries therefore absorb current growth, magnify it and create future growth throughout the economy. When construction and real estate stop growing, it means that the future growth they promulgate throughout the economy will dissipate.

According to MoCo’s Department of Finance, residential construction starts totaled $485.9 million through November 2007, down 30% from the year before. Non-residential starts totaled $526.3 million, down 9% from the year before. Non-residential volume has declined every single year since 2004. Home sales through November 2007 totaled 9,348 – down 28% from the year before and 43% from 2004. And while the median price of a single-family home increased by 0.7% last year, average days on market has jumped from 26 in 2005 to 84 in 2007.

MoCo’s commercial office market is tight but beginning to slacken. According to Transwestern, the county’s office vacancy rate was 7.1% in the third quarter of 2007, a very low rate. But look at absorption – the amount of square footage newly leased minus the square footage vacated. That figure fell from 2.2 million SF in 2004 to 150,000 SF through the third quarter of 2007. That means the rate of demand for MoCo office space is rapidly cooling and may even turn negative.

So what’s the bottom line? Current economic growth throughout the county is flat. But the commercial real estate industry is slowing down, the commercial construction industry is contracting and the residential real estate and construction markets are in a steep downturn. MoCo is not in a recession right now. But if its real estate and construction industries do not bottom out this year, a recession later in 2008 or 2009 is not out of the question.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Message to Ralph Nader


Pass the CARR Bill

Montgomery County faces a $297 million budget deficit. Prince George’s County is projecting a $100 million budget deficit. Baltimore City is seeing a 20-30% drop in recordation receipts and transfer taxes. So there is lots of talk in these jurisdictions and others of raising taxes and fees, freezing hiring and perhaps even delaying compensation increases for employees, all traditional methods of dealing with budget deficits. But new District 18 Delegate Al Carr has a better idea.

Carr points out that state law allows Baltimore City and the counties to set just one property tax rate that applies equally to all categories of real property. So in Baltimore County, for example, the county levies $1.10 per 100 dollars of assessed value regardless of whether the property is a house or a giant office building. Baltimore City’s rate is $2.27, again applied equally to housing or commercial properties. No county government is allowed to establish different rates for different property types.

Over the long run this can cause problems. Take Montgomery County. According to the county’s Department of Finance, residential property (including condominiums) accounted for 69.6% of the county’s total assessed value of real property in 1991. By 2007, that percentage had climbed to 76.8%. On the other hand, commercial property’s percentage of total assessed value fell from 30.4% to 23.2% over the same period of time. The state’s homestead tax credit limits tax increases on owner-occupied homes to 10% per year, but that merely delays tax increases rather than eliminates them. The bottom line is that, at least in Montgomery, the property tax burden has been slowly shifting from commercial owners to residents.

Maryland’s municipal governments, unlike the counties, are free to set different rates on different classes of property. The District of Columbia charges 85 cents per 100 assessed dollars for residential property and $1.85 per 100 assessed dollars for commercial property. A new Virginia law allows counties and cities in Northern Virginia to establish different property tax rates and Arlington County is considering doing so. Carr’s bill, HB 676 – cosponsored by Delegates Barkley, Bobo, Feldman, Gilchrist, Hucker, Kaiser, Lafferty, Manno, McIntosh, Montgomery, Tarrant, Taylor and Waldstreicher – would give Maryland’s counties and Baltimore City the same ability to establish different property tax rates that these other jurisdictions have. (District 18 Senator Rich Madaleno is sponsoring the companion bill in the Senate.) Hereinafter, this bill shall be designated the Commercial Assessment Rate Review (CARR) bill by the authority vested in me as the author of this blog post!

Won’t raising commercial property tax rates cause real estate and job losses? Not necessarily. Consider the District, which charges a commercial property tax rate more than double the residential rate. Commercial property manager Transwestern estimates the District’s office vacancy rate at 5.8%, one of the lowest rates in the country. Transwestern proclaims, “The District remains one of the top-performing areas in the nation with a strong tenant base, low vacancy rate and high barriers to entry.” Sounds like that higher commercial rate is really killing their economy.

And the CARR bill would even enable counties to lower commercial property tax rates below residential rates. Consider a county seeking to revitalize a run-down commercial center. Right now it could not do it through cutting the commercial property tax rate. With the CARR bill, it could.

The point is that this bill gives county governments new options for changing their revenue mix in good times and bad. And at this moment, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore and other jurisdictions need those options. Otherwise residential taxpayers and public employees could pay the price. So what are you waiting for guys? Pass the CARR bill!


The Maryland Lottery

From Marc Korman:

Despite all of the talk about the slots constitutional amendment on the ballot this November, there has been little discussion of one of the state’s existing form of legalized gambling, the lottery (for information about another form of gambling in Maryland, reads the report on bingo machines in the Washington Post). Many of the concerns expressed about slots are intertwined with concerns about the lottery.

I have heard three major reasons to oppose slots:

First, slots are not a fiscally sound method of budgeting. When Moody’s released its latest report on Maryland’s bond rating last week, it specifically highlighted the problem of the state over estimating slot revenue. Governor O’Malley’s projection for slots is $550 million a year, largely based on recapturing Maryland players currently traveling to other states.

Second, slots are regressive in that they disproportionately affect the poor because it is expected that the amount they play will have a negative correlation to how much they can afford to lose. Gambling is, of course, addictive. As one State Senator put it to me, a slot machine is basically a “Skinner Box” that reinforces gambling through occasional rewards and makes certain the player does not lose too quickly.

Third, there are major special interests involved. These include major casino companies, which will probably push to expand gambling to different locations and different types of games in the years ahead. There are also built in payments to specific interests that may not be worthy of the dollars. The slots enabling legislation sets aside 7% of the slots revenue, up to $100 million annually, to the ‘Purse Dedication Account’ to increase the winnings at horse tracks. An additional 2.5%, up to $40 million a year for the first eight years of slots, is dedicated to the ‘Racetrack Facility Renewal Account.’

Of these three reasons for opposing slots, the first two also apply to the Maryland Lottery. The third is less of a factor due to the lottery being run directly by the state. But unlike slots, the Maryland lottery does not exist as some hypothetical windfall in the future. It has been a part of state budgeting for over thirty years and is much more difficult to take on. The Maryland State Lottery Agency generated $1.577 billion in fiscal year 2007. Of this, $494 million went to the state’s general fund and $21 million to the Stadium Authority. The remainder went to expenses, including pay-outs to lottery winners.

Despite these contributions to state revenue, the lottery is still not the most sound method of raising revenue. Lottery proceeds as a share of the budget have been declining for years from a peak of 8% of the budget to 4%. The New York Times also ran a comprehensive story last year on the failure of lotteries nationwide to live up to their potential for government revenue. Lottery revenue shortfalls have led to an increase in the type of games offered and the frequency of drawings. That is the same type of gambling expansion slots opponents worry will happen in Maryland slots parlors/casinos as the years progress.

The lottery is also regressive. In fact, I believe it may be more regressive than slots. A Washington Post poll in 2005 found that 37% of adults played the lottery within the past month and 19% of those spent $20 a month doing it. While slots will be limited to five locations around the state and will, in most cases, require a special trip, the lottery is everywhere. Gas stations, convenience stores, and other locations all around Maryland peddle the product. In poorer, urban areas, it is hard to walk a block without finding a place where lottery tickets are available.

There are ten different lottery games overseen by the Maryland Lottery Agency. Keno and scratch-off games allow immediate gratification and are always available. Lotteries involving number drawings occur, in some form, on a daily basis. Individual ticket prices vary from $.50 to $20.00 per play depending on the game. This is far less than would be spent on a single trip to the slots parlor. The difference is that people can purchase multiple lottery tickets on their way home from work every day. What they pay for each play of the lottery is less than they would pay each time they hit the slots, but the frequency with which they do it is much higher.

Is repealing the Maryland lottery realistic? Given the continued pressures on the budget and real needs in education, transportation, and other areas, the answer is no. But if slots are defeated in November, slots opponents should think about the Maryland Lottery before patting themselves on the back.


Kevin Gillogly is NOT Running for County Council

We promised our readers close coverage of the County Council District 4 race, and boy do we have a doozy for you! In a shocking development, we have just learned that Maryland Politics Watch contributor and District 4 resident Kevin Gillogly is NOT running for the seat! We caught up with the famed blogger outside his office and landed this exclusive interview.

Adam: Kevin, why have you decided not to run?

Kevin: Well Adam, I was all set to do it. My website was ready. My fundraising solicitations were about to go out. I ordered the voter lists. My literature was prepped.

Adam: So what happened?

Kevin: I found out that they’re holding a special election! I thought MCDCC was going to pick the replacement. That would have made things a lot simpler.

Adam: Indeed it would have, although now you won’t have to buy any royal bon-bons.

Kevin: It’s a great shame. I had my team all put together. Nancy Navarro was going to be my campaign manager. Ben Kramer was going to be my treasurer. And Steve Kanstoroom was going to be my press liaison. But when I called a meeting of my team a couple weeks ago, none of them showed up. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Adam: Yes, I’m sure that puzzles our readers too. It would have been nice to have a fellow blogger elected to office. Kind of like actually getting one geek into the prom.

Kevin: There is a bright side to it, I guess. For instance, I won’t have to take any phone calls from crazy activists.

Adam: That’s why council members hire staff. They’re supposed to take the abuse for you.

Kevin: Oh right. Hey Adam… when you were talking about the potential candidates, why did you mention Free State Politics’ Eric Luedtke but not me?

Adam: Well, he’s a serious blogger.

Kevin: What the hell do you mean by that?

Adam: Errr, moving on… are you going to endorse any of the remaining candidates?

Kevin: I don’t know. Most of my endorsed candidates lose. I mean, I ran as a pledged delegate for John Edwards for heaven’s sake!

Adam: Any advice for the candidates still in the race?

Kevin: Don’t read the blogs. You never know if the posts are for real or if they’re just ridiculous spoofs!


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm Going Nowhere, Somebody Help Me

United Airlines outdid themselves yesterday. They managed to lose my luggage even though I didn't fly anywhere.

On the scale of life's trails, my experience with United doesn't exactly rank with "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Nonetheless, I suspect that if Dante were updating his inferno for the modern age, surely airports would features as one of the circles of Hell.

I was supposed to fly to Austin, Texas from Dulles Airport yesterday afternoon for a meeting at the University of Texas. Wanting to avoid rush hour, I arrived at the airport around 2.5 hours before my scheduled departure. And then I made my critical mistake: I checked a bag.

Since I checked in online and the afternoon push hadn't started yet, I whizzed through check-in and security. I violated the first rule of airport karma by assuming that all was going well and unusually fast. I've had days when I've had to wait an hour to check-in on the line reserved for business class passengers. However, the airport gods don't like you to presume.

The reason for the endless delay of my flight was unusually lame even for the airlines. No, it wasn't weather. Weather is frustrating but causes genuine problems. No, it wasn't mechanical problems with the plane. One wishes planes were always problem free but I imagine I am glad that they don't let them fly when they are having mechanical problems.

In this case, the weather was fine at both the departure and destination airports, and the plane was supposedly in tip-top shape and parked at the gate.

The problem was that United lacked a crew to fly the plane.

You would think finding a new crew wouldn't be that difficult since Dulles is a United hub but the crew apparently had to be flown up from Charlotte and they were delayed because their plane had mechanical problems.

So United pulled the slow motion, endless series of delays rope-a-dope when they further delay the flight every couple of hours by a couple more hours until it is canceled. If you checked bags, like myself, you had no hope because they couldn't switch you to another flight.

United was unusually bad, even for the airlines, throughout the situation. Announcements were made only sporadically (as in hours apart)--the passengers were a better source of information. The gate was left unmanned for awhile when an agent left at the end of her shift. We through three different gate agents during our stay at Gate D14. Agents there and at the oddly-named "customer service" desk had about zero interest in finding out or conveying information to us.

The "customer service" desk nearest to D14 had one person when I was there and thus an endless wait so I trekked over to C concourse when I finally decided to pack it in and go home at 9pm. They did issue a refund and gave me a coupon of United funny money which is very difficult to use not just because it has the usual panoply of airline limitations but has to be presented in person at the airport.

The "customer service" desk can't help with bags so I had to go to baggage handling. Phyllis in baggage handling insisted I wait because they were going "right now" to get my bag off the small plane. She agreed
grudgingly to have my bags delivered about 50 minutes later when they still hadn't shown up.

The evening was topped off by an automatic computer call to my cell phone announcing that my flight had been canceled about 30 minutes after I arrived home.

It turns out that it was a work of fiction that they were locating my bag. It is now over 24 hours since my flight was supposed to have departed and United still can't find the bag. I've spent several hours on the phone trying to navigate the mouse maze of call routing lines. The baggage handling line hung up on me after a recorded voice announced the termination of the call with a quick mention of not wanting to waste my time.

I went through seven different "customer service" people who constantly gave me new numbers to call (with new call routing systems) and promised to stay on the line while they transferred me (and then didn't) but who repeatedly told me how valued I was as a United Premier member even as they proceeded to do absolutely nothing to help me.

Later this afternoon, someone finally admitted that my bags had been flown to Austin today. However, they're still missing in action.

Well, I guess I should be glad something got to travel.


CRG Alleges “Intimidation” by Dana Beyer

Citizens for a Responsible Government (CRG), the organization seeking to overturn Montgomery County’s Transgender Anti-Discrimination bill is alleging “intimidation” by County Council staffer Dana Beyer. And the group claims to have video evidence supporting their allegations.

CRG states in a press release that Beyer encountered its signature collectors outside a Giant Supermarket at Bethesda’s Westwood Shopping Center on Monday February 18. The following six-second cellphone video shows Beyer telling the collectors, “An email went out; you’re going to be asked to leave. Any petitions gathered today are illegal.”

CRG claims this is part of a pattern of “harassment and intimidation” by Beyer and others. Former Republican candidate for Congress Dan Zubairi also alleges that Beyer “ordered” him not to sign CRG’s petition but CRG supplies no evidence to back up that allegation. Finally, CRG alleges that Beyer violated Section 19A-14 of the County Code during the course of her activities. CRG attorney John Garza said he will “probably” file a civil rights lawsuit soon.

Beyer, an aide to County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg, Vice-President of Equality Maryland and former candidate for District 18 Delegate, told her side of the story to this blog. She said she encountered CRG’s petition collectors on Primary Election Day, the following weekend and President’s Day (2/18), the date of the incident in question. At the Bethesda Giant, she entered the store, told the manager that the petition collectors were violating store policy (which allows the group to collect signatures on only one weekend per month), and left soon after making the statements to the group shown on the video.

Council Member Trachtenberg was the lead sponsor of the transgender bill. Beyer, a transgender female who serves on Trachtenberg’s staff, worked on the bill and advocates for keeping it on the books along with passage of a similar state-level law. Activists with Teach the Facts and Equality Maryland are now challenging the validity of CRG’s signatures.

“These people had a right to collect signatures if they’re not trespassing and they did so. But if they’re trespassing, there’s no right for them to be there,” Beyer told us. “I didn’t harass or intimidate anybody… I don’t think what I did is wrong at all.” Beyer accused CRG of employing scare tactics, saying, “You want to talk about harassment and intimidation – we’ve gotten death threats! I have to deal with this because people are threatening my life and those of my friends and colleagues.” Trachtenberg has also talked about “spiteful messages and threats,” telling the Frederick News Post last year, “(They) left a message on my home phone asking my husband if he knows my sex.”

CRG has two things going against it. First, its video clip is only six seconds long. It does not have any context associated with the events before or after the video was taken. That context, along with testimony and evidence about any other events at other locations, will be relevant in any lawsuit. Second, the organization has a history of distorting the content of the legislation. Given that history, CRG’s version of events cannot be trusted as the entire truth.

But the incident between Beyer and CRG raises some interesting questions.

Did Beyer violate the County’s ethics code?
County Code Chapter 19A-4(m) defines a “public employee” as including “the County Executive and each member of the County Council” along with “any person employed by a County agency, including the director of the agency.” No exemptions appear for council staff or any employees operating off-the-clock. Even non-paid board and commission members are treated as employees.

County Code Chapter 19A-14(e) states, “A public employee must not intimidate, threaten, coerce or discriminate against any person for the purpose of interfering with that person’s freedom to engage in political activity.” Do Beyer’s activities in the video constitute intimidation? That question may be examined in court.

How does this reflect on the Montgomery County Council?
Should CRG go to court, they will probably attempt to tie Beyer’s conduct to her supervisor, Council Member Trachtenberg. County Code Chapter 19A-14(f) states, “A person must not influence or attempt to influence a public employee to violate this Chapter.” CRG’s attorneys may very well ask whether Trachtenberg knew of Beyer’s activities. Trachtenberg has made ethics one of her priorities while on the council. For example, she questioned the ethical implications of lobbyist-paid trips taken to Israel by other council members in the past, ultimately causing the County to abandon them. Trachtenberg has set high ethical standards for herself and others and we would expect her to vigorously battle CRG’s charges in court. Other council members and their staff will pay close attention.

How does this incident change the debate over the legislation?
There is little question that this video will be a propaganda boon to CRG. They can now expand their argument beyond the narrow confines of the legislation (on which they are clearly wrong) and into the realm of civil liberties. CRG will ask what business a County Council employee had in enforcing Giant’s solicitation policy. Trespassing on Giant’s property is a matter for company management and the police. Throw in the fact that the council employee in question was a known advocate for the bill and an employee of its lead sponsor and CRG will claim political targeting by the government. Many people who support the transgender bill will be uncomfortable with the idea of county employees – especially the personal staff of council members – seeking to get petition collectors ejected from store premises. Civil liberties questions are now going to arise on both sides of this debate.

Update: The Sentinel's coverage is here.


Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results of 2008 Election Early

From The Onion:


The Purple Line for Social Justice?

The Washington Post wrote an interesting piece on Latino immigrants and the housing market in Langley Park. Buried in it was an interesting nugget on the potential impact of the Purple Line on working-class immigrants--a key sector of the populations that proponents hope will be served by the new link:

William Hanna, an urban-planning professor at the University of Maryland, has studied the neighborhood for 12 years. He sends out a bilingual e-mail newsletter to 700 residents every two weeks and helps to organize an annual street festival, which this year will be held May 4.

He said he's alarmed by how expensive housing has gotten in the neighborhood: He hears that one-bedroom apartments now cost $825, when 10 years ago they were $485. He worries that working-class immigrants will be pushed out, especially if the Purple Line arrives at the intersection of University and New Hampshire, as is planned.
This same process occurred in Columbia Heights when the Green Line stop opened.


Students March to Vote in Texas

I realize that this blog focuses on Maryland but I was supposed to be in Austin, Texas today (for work, not politics). I thought this story was interesting and shows how mobilized students have gotten over this year's elections.

The Field blog covered this story:

Texas Republicans have worked overtime to make it harder for key Democratic voting groups to vote and be represented fairly. The redistricting games they’ve played are infamous. And for the Prairie View A&M University precincts, they put the early-polling place more than seven miles from the school.

So what did the students in this video do? They shut down the highway as they marched seven miles to cast their votes on the first day of early voting.
Update: The Houston Chronicle has covered the march and places it in the context of long-term voting rights problems in that County. A colleague has sent me links to more YouTube of the event:

Students at Texas Southern Support the March

More Students Marching for Voting Rights

Students Voting at the End of the March


Monday, February 25, 2008

Changing the Size of the County Council

With most of the focus on the special election to replace the late Marilyn Praisner you might have missed this nugget in the Monday's WaPo.

CoEx Ike Leggett wants to expand the size of the MoCo Council.

His plan, which he had proposed several years ago while a council member, calls for adding two members who would represent new districts. Currently, five council members are elected by district, and four are elected at-large. Leggett also proposed changing the method for picking the council president, suggesting that a candidate run at-large in a president's race for a four-year term. Currently, the council president is picked by colleagues and serves a one-year term.

The MoCo Civic Federation was pushing for a change to the County Council from 4 At Large and 5 District members to 9 District members in 2004. It was County Question C on the November 2004 ballot. It lost 60.6% to 39.4%.

I remember Ike mentioning his desire to expand the county council from 9 members to 11 members (7 Districts and 4 At Large) during the 2006 primary race. The article indicates that Ike had wanted to expand the County Council for several years. It makes sense. Having 9 members to represent a County of almost a million people is daunting. DC has 13 members to represent a population that is around 70% of the size of MoCo.

The next step is for the MoCo Charter Commission to come back with its report in May.


Donald Praisner Considers Running in Council D4

Read Ann Marimow's account in Maryland Moment.


MCEA Begins Endorsement Process in County Council D4

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) is starting its endorsement process for the County Council District 4 Special Election.

Wednesday’s Gazette will contain the following ad:

MCEA Candidate Recommendation Process
County Council (District 4) Vacancy
Special Election

During the next week, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), an organization of over 11,000 education professionals in our community, will be conducting candidate interviews and reviewing qualifications in connection with its recommendation process for the upcoming Special Election to be held in conjunction with the vacancy for Montgomery County Council (District 4).

Formal announcement of the individual recommended by MCEA will occur in March 2008.

Candidates interested in seeking recommendation by MCEA should contact Jon Gerson at 301-294-6232 or email: by March 3, 2008 to ensure full consideration by the organization.
Gerson, MCEA’s Director of Community Outreach, offered our readers the following description of their process:

MCEA conducts one of the most thorough candidate screening processes of any organization in the county. MCEA contacts all incumbents and all announced and rumored candidates for office. We also run ads in both major party county newsletters soliciting candidates to participate in our screening process (note: because the timeframe for the Council vacancy did not allow placement in the party newsletters, we are running a ¼ page color ad in the Olney/Burtonsville/Wheaton editions of this Wednesday’s Gazette). All candidates are asked to complete a detailed questionnaire. All candidates are invited to participate in a personal interview with a team of rank-and-file MCEA member-volunteers from the Political Action and Legislative Support (PALS) Committee. (note: in 2006, over 100 candidates for public office were interviewed.) Each candidate is asked a set of structured questions. The interviews are all taped. The PALS Committee then discusses the interviews, reviews the questionnaires, and makes a recommendation to the MCEA Board. A 58% vote by the PALS Committee is necessary for a recommendation. The Board then reviews the recommendations, considers the broader political contexts, and makes its own recommendations; again with a 58% majority requirement. Those recommendations then go to MCEA’s final decision-making body, the Representative Assembly. At the RA, typically more than 170 elected MCEA Reps from schools all across the county discuss and debate the candidates. Approval of final recommendations of candidates again requires a 58% majority vote.


Donna Edwards Statement for Navarro

This is one of the three endorsements that every candidate running in County Council District 4 would like to have. The others, of course, would come from County Executive Ike Leggett and MCEA, neither of whom has announced their support. Edwards' statement follows:

Over the years, I have been fortunate to meet many smart, talented, and visionary leaders from all across our district. One such individual is Nancy Navarro. Her experience on the Montgomery County Board of Education and years of service in numerous volunteer roles throughout the County make Nancy an extremely well qualified candidate to become the next member of the Montgomery County Council. She embodies the critical qualities of proven leadership, understanding of the issues, integrity and progressive ideals that we need in our elected officials. I am proud to offer Nancy Navarro my endorsement in her bid to join the Montgomery County Council succeeding Marilyn Praisner in her tremendous commitment to public
service. Donna Edwards
How long before Council D4 residents see a mailout with Edwards and Navarro in the same photo?


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Del. Shewell and Those Pesky Weeklies

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Delegate Tanya Shewell's bill to regulate the distribution of regional free unsolicited newspapers. The bill, as written, would also likely affect small community association newsletters and other neighborhood publications. I have spoken with Del. Shewell and she assures me that is not her intent.

The Shewell bill covers any "circular, newspaper, magazine, paper, or booklet that is published at regular intervals and distributed to the public" that is "delivered to a residential address in the state without the prior consent of the resident." This definition would seem to include community association newsletters, as well as a number of other small-time neighborhood publications.

The unsolicited publications must tell people how they can have further deliveries stopped. Continued delivery would then constitute an “unfair or deceptive trade practice” and be punishable by a fine.

Shewell, a Carroll County Republican, says the unsolicited delivery of unwanted weeklies like The Examiner is the number one issue constituents contact her about: These weeklies clog storm drains, leach ink into our waterways, become trash in the community, and can serve as a signal that the resident is out of town. The abundance of yellowed, wet newspapers creates an eyesore that lowers property values.

Del. Shewell is aware of the constitutional issues raised by her bill, saying that she worked with Maryland Assistant Attorney General Bonnie Kirkland to craft a bill that would not violate the First Amendment. In terms of constitutionality, she says that Kirkland likened her proposal to the federal "Do Not Call" telemarketing opt-out list.

However, I'm not sure that's quite so good a comparison. Telemarketing involves commercial speech, which generally receives less First Amendment protection than political speech. Telemarketing also involves a direct intrusion into the home, which newspaper delivery does not, a factor suggesting less constitutional protection for telemarketing than for newspaper delivery.

As far as community association newsletters go, Del. Shewell had not taken them into account when drafting her bill. Assuring me that she does not want to include them, she expressed a willingness to amend the bill to ensure that does not happen.

The House Economic Matters Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill for March 6.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

What Transgender Opponents Really Think

Finally, we uncover the true agenda of the opponents of Montgomery County’s Transgender Anti-Discrimination bill. But first some background.

Last September, Montgomery County Council Members Duchy Trachtenberg, Valerie Ervin and Marc Elrich introduced Bill No. 23-07. The bill’s purpose was to “prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, cable television service and taxicab service on the basis of gender identity.” Its primary effect was to add “gender identity” as a protected class from discrimination along with age, race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, handicap, national origin or marital status under County Code Chapter 27.

After the bill was introduced, it was amended to include the following language:

A person must not deny any person access to the equal use of any restroom, shower, dressing room, locker room, or similar facility associated with the gender identity that the person publicly or exclusively expresses or asserts.
After significant public pressure, the council stripped this language from the bill. The bill was then passed by an 8-0 vote and signed by the County Executive.

But the controversy continues. Bill opponents have launched a petition drive to put its repeal on the ballot in the next general election. As David Lublin has noted, their success in meeting the threshold of 25,000 signatures is far from assured.

One dimension of the controversy is whether the bill prevents bathroom operators from forbidding biological men to use female bathrooms and locker rooms. As stated above, the language on that issue was stripped from the bill prior to its passage. Council President Mike Knapp recently commented on this in a press release:

“We have heard some people are confused about the effect of this new law on how the operator of a public accommodation controls the use of a public bathroom or locker room,” said Council President Knapp. “Bill 23-07 did not change the law in this area.”

Opponents of the legislation have circulated petitions to send the law to referendum, telling potential signers that the legislation requires men to be allowed in women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.

This is not accurate, Knapp said. The law still allows the operators of public bathrooms and locker rooms to continue to separate their facilities based on gender identity or biological gender. For example, a restaurant owner can require a biological male presenting as a female to use the men’s bathroom. The new law does not require a restaurant owner to allow biological males access to women’s bathrooms, or vice-versa.

“The misinformation being put out about this law really troubles me,” said Council President Knapp. “We guaranteed that certain people in our County will have the same rights as other residents—and that is all we did. Those who intentionally mislead people about what this bill means will have to explain what is behind their actions, but we want everyone to know exactly what this law is about.”
Citizens for a Responsible Government (CRG), which is leading the fight to repeal the bill, told the Gazette that the language “is too vague.” But in gathering signatures for their petition drive, evidence is accumulating that the group did tell signers that the bill allowed men into women’s bathrooms – an opinion unsupported by the bill’s language.

CRG is an offshoot of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), which has struggled for years to exclude discussion of homosexuality from Montgomery County Public Schools. Prior to CRG’s establishment, CRC led a crusade against Bill No. 23-07, stating on its website:

Bill 23-07 adds “gender-identity” to the current Non-Discrimination Law, and will allow males who self identify themselves as females to have open access to ALL women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and showers. In other words, a male teacher or student will be able to use the female restrooms and locker rooms if he thinks he is a female.
Again, this view is directly contradicted by the language that was passed.

Furthermore, prior to CRG’s start of a paper petition, CRC posted an online petition to mount pressure against the bill. The statements of the signers are very revealing and if you read them, you will quickly realize their real intent. Following are some of the signers of the online petition against Bill No. 23-07 speaking in their own words:

Sheila F. Stepek, petition signer 47: “Those unable to use the proper facilities can go find a tree!!!!”

Joan Press, 109: “What restrooms are the Council members going to use? They are setting OUR children and neices up for RAPE. The council members and the State of Maryland will be hels accountable and sued for this one. Between the HOMOSEXUAL class in Montgoery County Public Schools and now this we have NO rights. Only in America! It's time to move, and we pay high taxes for this? They are Crazy or we are stupid! Or they are trying to make us look both! I didn't vote!”

Kathleen O’Connor, 167: “Stop using MY tax dollars to strip MY parental rights and stop endandering and indoctrinating our children with endless perversions.”

Bonnie Van Veldhuizen, 290: “HEADLINES: MONTGOMERY COUNTY MARYLAND EXTENDS OPEN INVITATION TO ALL PEDOPHILES AND STALKERS SEEKING NEW TARGETS. Shame on every council member who supports this bill. It may be your granddaughter or grandson in the next stall.”

Jeff He, 308: “Nonsense. Who summit the bill should GO TO HELL!!!”

Stephen W. Sweet, 492: “Gay is one thing. But a man/women thinking they are the opposite sex is litterally not figureitively, INSANE!! If this becomes acceptable; I promise the county counsel I will then become a dog and your yard, tree, light post and fire hydrant , are then MY bathroom.”

D. Selleh, 732: “Why isn't the council advising free psychological help instead of encouranging dilusion?”

Robert J. Cassotto, 757: “God is Still in control and those who are not with Him are against Him.He will show is all that He lives.God is also Just and we will very soon have to pay for following satan.....some of us will, that is! Come Lord Jesus !”

Michael Garlick, 768: “Matt. 23:27: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.”


David John, 991: “This is shame wellcame evil in America bye bye God and son and h spirit, What next patition man or women to marry pets”

John Fulayter, 1006: “To applease's the transgender, is to undermine's the well-being of public's mentality & pshyical show how the bill or in any form cannot encourage the harmony but put it backwards to wondering why we only have more dysfunctional problem to fix's. Please do not allow this bill back fired the public safety.”


District 2A Delegate Appointment Proceeding in Secrecy

The resignation of District 2A (Washington County) Delegate Robert A. McKee promises scandal in the newspapers for some time to come. But the appointment process to replace him may also be scandalous.

As readers of this blog know, when a state legislator steps down, the county central committee of his or her party selects the replacement. This process has been used seven times over the last year (Senate 35, 39 and 47; Delegate 16, 18, 35A and 39). Voters have no role until the next regular election, which can often be several years away.

Yesterday, the Gazette reported the following about the District 2A appointment process now underway:

Meanwhile, Washington County Republican Central Committee leaders are tight-lipped on the process to replace McKee.

Interested candidates had until Thursday to apply, but committee chairwoman Penny Pittman declined to say how many people have submitted applications or expressed interest in the vacancy. She also did not say when the committee would interview candidates.

‘‘We are not leaking anything to the press,” she said Thursday. ‘‘We are not [releasing the interview date] either so that we won’t have the members of the media waiting outside to question candidates. We are choosing to convey information through press releases so that information is conveyed accurately.”
Contrast this with the appointment process used by the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee for the District 18 Delegate vacancy. MCDCC posted all applications on its website. They posted as many recommendation letters as they could. (Ultimately, there were too many letters for Al Carr for the committee to keep up with.) The District 18 Caucus hosted an open candidates forum and moderator Charles Duffy accepted written questions from the audience. Multiple MCDCC members posted their reasoning for their votes on this site. And on the night of selection, MCDCC allowed Kevin Gillogly to cover the process on this blog and voted by open ballot.

Is MCDCC's appointment process perfect? No, and we will continue to discuss it. Did they make a real effort to increase the transparency of their process? Absolutely, and they deserve credit for it. The Washington County Republican Central Committee would do well to adopt the reforms used by MCDCC.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Latest News from the Special Election Front

Not enough for a real post but here are the scraps of paper I have.

Nancy Navarro is the first one to have a web site up and running.

Pat Ryan, according to Pat himself, is the first one to have all of his filing papers in at BOE.

Finally 2006 Democratic primary challenger to Marilyn Praisner, Mike Jones is going to get into the race.

So the card reads four (in no particular order): Colesville resident Navarro, Fairland resident Pat Ryan, Layhill Village East resident Mike Jones and Ashton resident Steve Kanstoroom.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

County Council District 4 Special Election Preview, Part Two

As noted in Part One, Mrs. Praisner’s premature departure has left a large vacuum in Council District 4’s political world. But there are potential aspirants for her seat. The actual and possible candidates in the all-important Democratic primary include:

Board of Education President Nancy Navarro

Navarro, a co-founder of immigrant services non-profit Centro Familia, was originally appointed to the school board in 2004. She quickly formed an alliance with fellow board member (and future County Council Member) Valerie Ervin. When Navarro ran for election in 2006, she appeared on the Apple Ballot and leapfrogged Sharon Cox to become President shortly afterwards. Navarro declared for office on Tuesday and was promptly endorsed by progressive hero Donna Edwards.

Navarro is the early favorite for three reasons. First, her position on the school board gives her substantial district-wide name recognition. Second, she would be a logical choice to once again appear on the Apple Ballot. (Note: MCEA has not disclosed its plans.) Third, there is growing concern among politically-active MoCo women about a recent trend of filling vacancies formerly held by women with men. (The state legislative appointments in Districts 16, 18 and 47 come to mind.) If Navarro is the only female candidate in the field, she will benefit.

Current State Legislators

Of the eight current state legislators in Districts 14 and 19, all but one (District 14 Delegate Karen Montgomery) live in Council District 4. Two of them have run unsuccessfully for County Council before. District 19 Delegate Ben Kramer was the Democratic nominee in District 2 in 1994 and ran at-large in 1998. District 14 Delegate Herman Taylor was the Democratic nominee in District 2 in 1998. (Ironically, both Taylor and Kramer were defeated by Republican Nancy Dacek.) Any of the current state legislators would be plausible contenders for Mrs. Praisner’s seat.

However, not many of them will actually run. First, three of them (District 14 Senator Rona Kramer and Delegates Herman Taylor and Anne Kaiser) are in their second term and District 19 Delegate Henry Heller is in his sixth term. These legislators have or are gaining seniority in the General Assembly, probably making it less tempting to leave. Second, because their state legislative incomes ($43,000 and up) supplement their salaries from regular employment, they would have to make significant financial sacrifices to accept a sole County Council member salary of $89,721. Third, each of them would have to work hard to raise money quickly and make contacts in the portion of Council District 4 that they do not currently represent.

The most likely exception to the above rules is Ben Kramer. Kramer, the son of former County Executive Sidney Kramer and brother of current District 14 Senator Rona Kramer, is a self-employed businessmen who has loaned his delegate campaign $124,450. If he is still interested in following his father into County government, he is more than capable of waging a well-financed campaign aided by name recognition.

Former State Legislators

Former District 19 Delegates Adrienne Mandel and Carol Petzold unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2006 against Mike Lenett. Either of them may be interested in a council run. But they would face the same problems the current state legislators have: the need to raise money quickly and campaign in the parts of Council District 4 that they did not represent in the statehouse.

Civic Activists

MoCo has hundreds of civic activists who volunteer substantial amounts of time on various causes. When many of these activists broaden their agendas beyond their neighborhood-specific issues, they often focus on limiting development, pursuing accountability in government and restraining government taxes and spending. These sorts of issues interest participants in organizations like the Montgomery County Civic Federation, the Montgomery County Taxpayers League and Neighborspac.

Two District 4 activists have already declared their candidacy.

Steve Kanstoroom, an activist from Ashton, looks a bit like an older Dirk Benedict without the cigar. Among the issues he has worked on in recent years are illegal deforestation, abuses in FEMA’s flood insurance program and the Planning Department’s denial of street addresses to some residents of Sandy Spring. Kanstoroom even exposed an individual who had appeared as an expert witness at Board of Appeals hearings as never having possessed a professional engineer license. The Montgomery County Civic Federation gave him its “Community Hero” award in 2006. But not everyone is a fan of Kanstoroom’s. Council Member George Leventhal was incensed after Kanstoroom picketed his house over the Sandy Spring issue.

Patrick E. Ryan is a management consultant with the Washington Federal Practice of PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He is a co-chair of Action in Montgomery, a multi-purpose activist group affiliated with the Saul Alinsky-founded Industrial Areas Foundation. He is also active in the Church of Resurrection Catholic Parish, the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans and the Fairland Master Plan Civic Advisory Committee. Ryan lives in northeastern Silver Spring near Burtonsville.

Civic activists were a natural part of Mrs. Praisner’s base. But a pure civic candidate faces problems of name recognition, raising money and securing endorsements – all of which are exacerbated in a short campaign. The 2006 race in Council District 2 provides an example. Longtime activist and Neighborspac endorsee Sharon Dooley ran against well-funded, endorsement-rich, MCEA-backed incumbent Mike Knapp. Dooley lost the race by 64-36%.

Perhaps the biggest problem Kanstoroom and Ryan have is each other. In a one-seat race, they threaten to split much of Mrs. Praisner’s coalition, thereby allowing another candidate to win. And there may yet be other civic candidates.

Finally, Free State Politics blogger Eric Luedtke lives in Council District 4. Luedtke is an MCEA member and is one of the most-learned, best-researched bloggers in the state. Are we going to see any announcements on FSP, Eric?

Our readers should watch three things going forward. First, who is getting endorsements from organizations with money (like the Chamber of Commerce) and ground operations (like MCEA)? Second, who is raising money? Campaign finance reports are due to the State Board of Elections on March 18, April 4, May 2 and June 3. Third, who is the County Executive, a Burtsonsville resident, going to support? A literature mailout with the Executive’s picture on it will be valuable in a short campaign with low turnout.

Stay tuned for more on this race.

Update: You can read the Post's coverage here. The Post floats one additional name: Cary Lamari, former president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. Lamari finished 11th out of 13 candidates in the 2006 council at-large race.

Update 2: The Gazette's coverage is here and here.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

White Women Can't Vote in MoCo?

From Sally Hand:

I have been voting since 1977, and a registered voter in Maryland since January 2006. Yet when I went to vote at my local polling place I was told I was not a registered voter in the state of Maryland. Even with my voter registration card the BOE had made several errors.

First the person looking me up in the system could not use the system. He had no idea what to do until a member of the Board of Elections came over and showed him how to use the database. He found me but in the wrong district.

Then I called a voter suppression number who told me to go back to the precinct I had voted in the last election. I went there they did have me on the rolls but since I moved over 21 days ago I couldn't vote there. At least here they had me fill out an official change of address.

So I went back to the first polling place – they gave me a provisional ballot (who knows if it will get counted) and I voted manually.

This took several hours – going back and forth. What if I hadn't fought back – knowing that I had my card from the BOE? What if I didn't have a car so I could easily go from poll to poll?

What I found out was there were a lot of these errors – many people in my precinct voted provisionally because of change of address issues. The only response from BOE – must be a computer error. COMPUTER ERROR – if these guys can't get the changes of addresses right how can we trust them with computerized / no paper trail ballots?

I called BOE this morning to make sure they had it right for the November election. Answer they will have to look into it and get back to me.

I will keep you posted – but I have lost faith in the BOE and believe that they need oversight. If we can't trust the BOE then all elections are full of doubt.

Update: After calling the BOE, I have received a change of address card similar to the one the sent me in Dec. 2006 – but still no voter registration card.


Presidential Primary Results by LD with a Close Look at D18

Election result junkies can find the unofficial results for each congressional and legislative district as well as each polling place in Montgomery County online. Obama carried all eight legislative districts in MoCo by the following margins:

District 14: 57% to 41%
District 15: 50% to 48%
District 16: 55% to 43%
District 17: 50% to 47%
District 18: 56% to 41%
District 19: 50% to 47%
District 20: 64% to 35%
District 39: 55% to 43%

Rich Madaleno forwarded me a nice table with the precinct results for District 18. Obama carried all but six of the thirty-five precincts in District 18. Obama's three best precincts in the District were comprised by Chevy Chase municipalities (Chevy Chase Village, Town of Chevy Chase, and Sections 3 and 5).

Clinton carried five precincts with relatively high shares of Latino voters in the eastern part of the District (Twinbrook East, Randolph Hills, CT Ave. Estates, Glemont Hills-Wheaton HS, and CT Ave. Park-Turkey Run).

However, Obama did very well in other precincts in the eastern portion of D18. After Chevy Chase, Obama's three best precincts in District 18 were Forest Glen-Capital View, Woodside-North Woodside, and Silver Spring-Woodside Park.


Referendum Petition Signatures Unusual

Opponents of Montgomery County's inclusion of gender identity in its anti-discrimination law claim to have collected enough signatures to petition the law to referendum. But have they?

"Citizens for a Responsible Government" (a.k.a. "Citizens who Make Irresponsible False Claims about Legislation") states that they have collected 32,087 signatures. Since 25,000 signatures from registered voters are needed to petition a law to referendum, it would appear they have enough signatures.

Except that the validation rate for signatures is normally 70%, and 70% of 32,087 is well under 25,0000. The law further requires that 12,500 of the 25,000 signatures be submitted by February 4 with the remainder due by February 19. Of the 15,462 signatures turned in on February 4, 13,476 were validated by the Board of Elections--a validation rate of 87%.

Sounds like someone needs to take a second look at the petitions to see if all the signatures were properly validated and met the requirements. Either the referendum opponents were incredibly skilled in their collection efforts or the signatures have not yet been examined rigorously. I imagine supporters of the legislation will try to find out in order to prevent a vote on the law.


County Council District 4 Special Election Preview, Part One

The upcoming special election for MoCo’s District 4 County Council seat is important for two reasons. First, it is the first time a council member other than Marilyn Praisner will represent the district. Second, it will decide the close balance of power on the council, especially on issues related to growth. And so we offer special coverage of this race here at Maryland Politics Watch.

Montgomery County Council District 4 was created in 1990, along with the four other council districts. Prior to that time, the council had seven members, all of whom were elected at-large. In 1990, the present system was set up assigning one council member to each of five districts, with four others running at-large. The districts roughly mirror the county’s population distribution with Council District 4 covering East County.


District 4’s boundaries are (roughly) the county line on the northeast and east, the outskirts of Olney and Brookeville on the north, Rock Creek and Veirs Mill Road on the west and Randolph Road, Four Corners and US-29 on the south. You can view the official district map here.

The district contains two distinct sub-sectors. The western sector includes the neighborhoods between the northern reaches of Wheaton and the southern outskirts of Olney. Much of this sector is accounted for by Aspen Hill. The eastern sector includes the US-29 corridor from White Oak to Burtonsville as well as the areas near the Howard County border. The dividing line between the sectors is New Hampshire Avenue. We make this distinction because these two sectors have very different demographics, as we shall see below.

There are no urbanized downtowns in District 4. The vast majority of the district is covered by single-family neighborhoods with only one Metro station (Glenmont) that is very close to the District 5 border. There are a few commercial strips along Georgia Avenue and Layhill Road in the west, US-29 and Cherry Hill Road in the east, and New Hampshire Avenue. But the lack of density robs the district of any centrally-recognized locations of social, political or civic activity.


District 4 conforms fairly closely to the Census Bureau’s Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) 01005 and 01006. (Those areas, however, include part of Kensington and exclude part of the area along the Howard County border, so they are not a perfect fit.) According to Census, the two PUMAs had a population of 236,844 in 2006. The population was 44% white non-Hispanic, 26% black non-Hispanic, 17% Hispanic and 11% Asian non-Hispanic. Two-thirds of the population is native-born while one-third is foreign-born. Of the 33% foreign-born, almost two-thirds (19%) are non-citizens. Forty percent of the district’s population speaks a language other than English at home. Median household income is $74,656, lower than the county’s average ($87,624). Forty-one percent of MoCo’s black population lives in this district.

There are significant demographic differences between the two sub-sectors. On the western side, which includes Georgia Avenue, Aspen Hill and most of Layhill Road, the population was 51% white non-Hispanic, 17% black non-Hispanic, 21% Hispanic and 8% Asian non-Hispanic. The median household income was $70,170. On the eastern side, which includes the US-29 corridor along with Colesville, the population was 37% white non-Hispanic, 35% black non-Hispanic, 11% Hispanic and 14% Asian non-Hispanic. The median household income was $80,043. So the western part of the district is whiter, more Latino, and relatively poorer than the eastern side. On the eastern side, the black population almost equals the white population, Latinos are not as numerous and the residents are nearly as wealthy as the county average.


The natural breeding grounds of politicians are municipalities and civic associations. District 4 does not have any municipalities and its civic associations are generally not as well-organized as those closer to Downtown Silver Spring and the I-270 corridor though there are a few exceptions). Those factors combined with the lack of urban density and the long dominance by Mrs. Praisner have created something of a political vacuum in the district. Mrs. Praisner had no real rivals and no designated successors.

The population’s racial diversity is not well reflected by its politicians. State Legislative District 14, which accounts for much of the eastern side of the district, is represented by three white women and one black man. State Legislative District 19, which accounts for much of the western side, is represented by four white men. Mrs. Praisner was the only County Council Member who lived in County District 4. However, there is one important exception to the above rule: County Executive Ike Leggett, who served four terms as an at-large member of the council, is a Burtonsville resident.

Dan Reed’s outstanding East County blog Just Up the Pike provides a good feel for East County. Dan paints a picture of a community handicapped by lack of transit, car-oriented neighborhood design and a general lack of commercial amenities. His series on the Briggs Chaney area provides one example. Dan’s interview with Mrs. Praisner also touches on these issues.

But East County’s large and diverse population and its links to both Wheaton and Silver Spring tie it firmly into the rest of the county. Mrs. Praisner, an unusual thinker who could handle both big-picture concepts and excruciatingly minute details, understood this very well. She was a capable defender of the area’s priorities but also a serious player on countywide issues. Whoever follows her will require quite some time to match her stature.

In Part Two, we’ll look more closely at the district’s political playing field.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More on Special Election Dates in MoCo Council D4

Here's a tidbit sure to interest all of you MoCo political junkies.

The County Council staff memo written by Senior Legislative Attorney Mike Faden confirms the dates reported by Kevin (4/15 for the primary, 5/13 for the general). But it then says the following:

Although neither date falls during a school break, Council President Knapp confirmed with Superintendent Weast that the school system could handle continuing to use schools as polling places on these dates. Of the 46 polling places used this year in District 4, 43 are public schools. County Elections staff indicated that they expect to consolidate some polling places for this special election. In any case, voters in District 4 will be officially notified at least twice of the election dates and their polling place.
Two questions:

1. What will this "consolidation" of polling places do to turnout?

2. If the teachers are working, who is going to distribute the Apple Ballots?


Special Election for Marilyn's Seat is Set

Looks like things are going to move very fast. Date has been set by the MoCo Council for tax day (April 15) for the primary and May 13 for the general election. Deadline to file will be March 24 at 5:00 pm.

Steve Kanstoroon, who was listed as a candidate last week in the Gazette, is in. Almost immediately after the date was set, School Board President Nancy Navarro, announced her intention to run.

Fellow blogger Adam Pagnucco has a series of posts at the ready on the background of district and the people of Council District 4.

This will be a quick fast ride to the finish. Keep a window (or tab) open to MPW on your browser for the latest in the Council District 4 Race.


More on Is MoCo Getting Its Share of the Spoils?

Yesterday fellow blogger Adam Pagnucco posed an excellent question "Is MoCo Getting its Share of the Spoils?" His post pointed out how few of the appointments were going to MoCo citizens. He looked at it from how large we are compared to the rest of the state. It is even more apparent when you look at it from the number of votes, especially Democratic votes we bring to get someone elected statewide.

Andrew Jackson created the spoils system but it has been refined through the years. In MD politics, Baltimore City has run this state and the Democratic Party since the beginning of time.

Look at this chart. It is from the state Board of Elections. It is the number of votes cast by county in the latest Gubernatorial election. I put it into a spreadsheet and compared the percentage of total votes statewide by county and the percentage of total Democratic votes by county as a percentage of total Democratic votes. In both cases, MoCo provides the largest percentage of votes and more importantly the largest percentage of Democratic votes.

In the case of MoCo, we are 17.1% of the statewide total in Nov 2006. We are also 20.3% of the total Democratic vote. We should be getting more from a Democratic Governor, especially one who loves to come here and remind us that he grew up in Rockville and Bethesda.

Here it is in detail.

As a rank order of vote as a % of the statewide total by county, here is the list:
MoCo 17.1%;
Balt Co 15.8%;
PGCo 11.6%;
AACo 10.5%;
Balt City 8.5%;
HoCo 5.9%
Everybody else: 30.5%

More importantly look at the list as to the number of votes that come from MoCo to get a Democrat elected statewide.

Here is that list as a % of Democratic votes as a % of total Democratic votes by county. Again rank order:

MoCo 20.3%;
PGCo 17.3%;
BaltCo 14.4%;
BaltCity 12.2%;
AACo 8.4%
HoCo 5.6%;
Everybody Else 21.7%.

What is our "reward"? Crumbs, leftovers.

One veteran political observer on seeing another Baltimore Democrat come to MoCo in the fall of 2002 said "the only time we see them (Baltimore based politicians) is when they are looking for money or looking for votes." I thought what she said was both untrue and crass. Now I find I am in complete agreement.

It is about time that our county Democratic officials demand that we get our share of appointments, our share of the spoils.

You know if we wanted to have a Governor who would support: slots, the ICC and not give us any of the spoils then we could have stayed with Governor Haircut.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Superdelegate Heather Mizeur

Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-20) is neutral in the presidential race according to MSNBC (and Maryland Politics Watch) and a Clinton supporter according to the Washington Blade. Will Del. Mizeur vote with or against her district?

Heather Mizeur is not just a delegate from District 20 but a superdelegate by virtue of her service on the Democratic National Committee as an elected member from Maryland.

Statewide, Obama won 60% of the vote compared to just 36% for Clinton. In District 20, represented by Heather Mizeur, voters supported Obama even more strongly, giving him 64% with only 35% for Clinton.

Last month, Mizeur said deciding who to support was tricky because one was bound to alienate one side:

[Mizeur] acknowledged that if she were to support Obama or Clinton, there could be some unhappy Democrats in her district, the ones who support the candidate that she didn't endorse.

Every superdelegate faces this same quandary: alienating the Democrats who elect them and with whom they must work. "People are very much divided," said Mizeur.

However, now it is clear that both her district and her state are not evenly divided but support Obama over Clinton by a margin of over 20 points. So I imagine that I am not the only one wondering how Del. Mizeur plans to vote at the Democratic National Convention.


Sen. Muse, Marriage Equality, and the Get Bill

In a way, this year’s debate in the General Assembly over the civil marriage equality bill echoes last year’s legislative debate on Orthodox Jewish divorce law. In each case, part of the debate centered on the blurring of the line between civil marriage and religious marriage.

One of the most contentious bills to reach the Senate floor in 2007 was what was commonly referred to as “the get bill.” A purely religious divorce within Orthodox Judaism, a get (Hebrew גט) has no consequence on the status of a couple’s civil marriage. Under the religious rules of Orthodox Judaism, it is solely within the discretion of the husband to grant a get. Without it, civilly divorced women — who are free to remarry civilly — are still considered married within their religion and do not consider themselves free to date, remarry, or have new families. Under the get bill, upon the request of either spouse, Maryland would have refused to grant a civil divorce unless each spouse attested that no religious barriers remained to remarriage. As a result, a couple’s marital status under Maryland's civil law would have been dependent on the couple’s marital status under religious law.

A closely divided Senate voted the get bill down, 22-22. Many of the bill’s opponents noted the clear distinction between religious marriage and civil marriage. They realized that a group’s religious definition of marriage and divorce, even though it may date back thousands of years, was simply not relevant to how the state of Maryland defines civil marriage and divorce.

One of those who opposed the get bill was Sen. Anthony Muse, who a year later is a pivotal committee vote on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act - a bill that expressly recognizes and protects the distinction between religious and civil marriage.

Sen. Muse is the founder and leader of the Ark of Safety Christian Church, and his religion does not recognize marriages between two men or two women. He has strong religious beliefs on this issue.

I hope that this year, as in 2007, Sen. Muse will recognize that religious beliefs about when two people are married are not relevant to how Maryland defines civil marriage.


Is MoCo Getting its Share of the Spoils?

Believe it or not, there are a few people in MoCo who believe that we are getting the short end of the gubernatorial stick from our ex-Mayor of Baltimore. The latest list of the Governor’s appointments will give them a bit of ammo.

Last Friday, Governor O’Malley released this year’s “green bag” nominations, a list of appointments to many of the state’s boards and commissions that require Senate approval. There are 165 nominees on the list, which you can view here. Obsessed as we are with numbers, we counted the nominees by county of residence. The leaders were Baltimore County (35), Baltimore City (26), Prince George’s County (18), Anne Arundel County (15), Montgomery County (15) and Howard County (11). No other county had more than five appointees. Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Somerset Counties, all of which are located on the Eastern Shore, had no nominees. Mysteriously, two "non-residents" appear on the list instead.

Let’s consider the populations in these counties. Baltimore County accounted for 14% of the state’s population in 2006. It accounted for 21% of the Governor’s green bag list. Baltimore City accounted for 11% of the state’s population and 16% of the nominees. MoCo, on the other hand, accounted for 17% of the state’s population and 9% of the nominees. Prince George’s fared a bit better than MoCo (15% of population, 11% of nominees).

Now we are all good Democrats on this blog and big supporters of Governor O’Malley. So I have an idea for how the Governor could rectify this unfortunate appointment deficit. How about appointing Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman as our next Secretary of State? He would be a nice D18 counterbalance to all of the people from Takoma Park who seem to be taking over the state government these days.

Just a suggestion from a blogger who’s trying to be helpful, Governor!


The Death of My Conventional Wisdom

From Marc Korman: I was wrong in many of my predictions for Primary Day. In the interest of honesty and disclosure, I thought I would share with you these numerous mistakes:

1. Donna Edwards’ Margin of Victory

In truth, until a few short weeks ago I did not think Donna Edwards could win at all. To be fair, I do not live in the 4th Congressional District and no part of the legislative district I represent on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee is in Congressional-04 either.

Prior to the last few weeks, I was convinced that the early February primary would not give Donna Edwards enough to time to focus attention on the race. I also thought that Al Wynn had responded to his close call in 2006 by adjusting his voting pattern and sharply increasing his presence, especially in Montgomery County.

As the primary drew closer and Al Wynn began using negative campaign tactics, it became apparent that Edwards had a real shot at unseating him. Even so, I had no idea how decisive her victory would be. Defeating an entrenched incumbent is difficult. Even in 1994, when the Republicans took the majority in Congress, the reelection rate was 90%. In 2006, it was 94%. In 2004, what I would call a typical year, was 98%. Donna Edwards beating Al Wynn by over 20 points is incredible. The presumptive Congresswoman from the fourth Congressional district deserves credit for a hard fought campaign that essentially lasted for three years.

However, the many committed Democrats who worked for Congressman Wynn also deserve credit for their hard work and efforts. I was not at Al Wynn’s concession, but from all accounts he took his loss gracefully. That fight is behind us now.

2. Wayne Gilchrest’s Loss

Until EJ Pipkin entered the race for the 1st Congressional District, I thought there was a great chance Gilchrest would lose the primary to Andy Harris because Republicans generally like the extreme right. When Pipkin entered the race at the end of 2007, I thought Gilchrest would squeak by since the opposition would be divided. As the primary drew closer and the Republican presidential nomination was sewn up by a moderate, I thought Gilchrest’s chances improved again. With Mike Huckabee spending his time mounting a conservative campaign in Virginia, basically conceding Maryland to McCain, I thought Gilchrest was safe. In the end, Gilchrest lost to Harris by double digits. The good news is that Gilchrest’s loss sets up the outside possibility of Democrat Frank Kravotil winning in November.

3. Alies Muskin’s Loss

For several weeks I have been working on a blog entry about the power of the Apple Ballot. Obviously, it will need a few more rewrites. I was shocked that Muskin did not win this race. I did notice during election day that of the thirty District 16 polling places I visited, only two had Apple Ballot volunteers present. I have not looked at the Apple Ballot’s successes in other presidential election years (which are off years in Maryland), but given Apple Ballot support for Al Wynn and Muskin in this race, their winning percentage has taken a hit.

4. The Democratic Presidential Race

If you had told me last September that the Democratic race would be competitive when the Maryland primary came around, I would have laughed at you. At the time, I was convinced that Hillary Clinton would sail to the nomination, primarily due to name recognition, momentum, and what I thought was a lackluster campaign on Barack Obama’s part. All that changed in the fall and by December 31st, when the Des Moines Register released its pre-Iowa Caucus poll, I would have told you Maryland would not matter because Barack Obama would win Iowa and steamroll to the nomination by Super Tuesday due to momentum. Of course, after Clinton’s surprise victory in New Hampshire, it became clear that Maryland, and the states after, would matter.

Despite my poor prognostications, I still had a great time on primary day. The highlight was a moment I had while making get out the vote calls for Barack Obama. On my call list was MPW contributor Adam Pagnucco. As he is no fan of mine since I’m trying to raise his taxes and am a member of the politburo, I did not leave my name for fear it would cause him to vote against Obama. Given Obama’s huge victory, I had nothing to worry about.