Saturday, February 28, 2009

Baby Clothes

Because of the coming of Baby Olson-Pagnucco, we are thinking about baby-related merchandise quite a lot these days. Here is one item that has been suggested (click for a larger view):


Friday, February 27, 2009

Thomas Hardman Announces for District 4

Thomas Hardman, who ran as a Republican in last year's District 4 special election, is announcing his candidacy this year as a Democrat. His statement follows below.

My name is Thomas Hardman, and I filed for candidacy Friday Feb 27 2009, evidently a few minutes behind Nancy Navarro, to judge from the visitors' log.

I had about 5 years on the board of the Aspen Hill Civic Association, Inc., from about 2002-2007. In about the same time frame, I was very active in the "Mid County Neighborhood Initiative", which has done quite a lot of promotion of anti-crime efforts in Aspen Hill, especially promoting the reclamation of North Gate Park, and the cleanup of a lot of local "trash woods" where overgrowth led to crime and nastiness.

I'm particularly focused on code-violation, home overcrowding, "McMansionism", tear-downs and "over-builds". I'm focused on how sensible Urban Planning can be completely obviated when code isn't enforced and everything deviates from the plan. I oppose seeing our neighborhoods being turned into something that looks a lot like an industrial park, and I oppose people buying up houses on speculation and paying their liar-loan APR mortgages by renting out single-family detached residental homes housing as many as 20 people being charged $500.00/month rent each, generating from $6000 to $10,000 to the slumlords. I've been fighting every aspect of that since Doug Duncan was County Executive.

For some years I have been seeking ways to have some influence, to demonstrate leadership, outside of the very narrow focus of these groups. So, I have run in the last two elections held in District 19/District 4 (state/county) and I am running in this one as of now.

I'm trying to step up and do the right thing, but I'm not a Party creature and so it's a struggle every step of the way.

Visit as well as and where I have done a lot of documentation about myself, Aspen Hill, and District 4.

Coming soon, the new http://www.thomashardman.NET which will be the political site, and the Facebook presence is under development.

I am a pagan tree-hugger and demand changes in policy toward "green", solar, and slow-growth/no-growth and I am on record on Channel 19/21 video from last Special Election as being for this, and furthermore my campaign was based all around expectation of economic calamity, and it wasn't even on the radar of any of my opponents. I was a Liberal Republican then, I am a Fiscally Conservative/Social Liberal Democrat now. I am GLBT tolerant and embrace the large and under-served community of the "differently abled", especially the "special needs" community in young adulthood and beyond, whether they're gifted/talented or intellectually-disabled.


MPW on the Radio

I was on Rockville Central Radio today talking about the District 4 special election, campaign filings and the paltry coverage of our county's politics by the MSM. Just prior to my appearance, former Delegate Cheryl Kagan (D-17) called in to talk about the Beall's Grant II affordable housing project. Listen in here and click on the play bar right above the left border of the orange box just to the left of RSS (around the middle of the show).


District 4 Council Race – Questions to Ponder

By Sharon Dooley.

There have been quite a few discussions about candidates running in District 4. I do not live in that District, so I will watch closely the evolution of the campaign. I have heard that the candidate list is not totally settled. Is there someone out there who is deeply involved in any portion of the District, someone who has made a particular community better? Who, in each neighborhood has spoken out for sidewalks or safe streets, worked for the school addition or neighborhood center? Who stood tall for the environment or cleaning up the local creek? Who, by being there for any area, has made a difference? Does this District have a community organizer?

The county has been the beneficiary of much wisdom and guidance from Marilyn and Don Praisner over the years, so I know their footsteps will be hard to follow. The library and recreation center in her community were named in honor of Marilyn – not some grand building – but rather, buildings that touch the people living there - every day. This Praisner example should be a map for future success. A council hearing is often perfunctory, but with Marilyn there, the petitioner knew that she had read the packet of materials prepared by staff and been briefed on the latest concerning the matter at hand – even though she might not agree with you or vote your way, one left feeling that their words had been fairly heard. A council member should want to work for you – the constituent.

Who will be elected that can step in ready to go? Who will be able to address issues knowledgeably? What about the split on the council, now fairly well divided 4-4 on philosophical issues of growth, social concerns and spending? From which direction will the newly elected council member come? Is there a progressive in the race? What role do development interests and labor forces have to play in this election? Where will the environmental community stand? Is a particular candidate a surrogate for special interests, if so – which ones? There is going to be a frantic period of activity between now and the April 21st Primary as candidates struggle to get the attention of the voters and the media. And – lest anyone forget, the Primary is the big battle in this most Democratic County. In the brief pre-primary period last year, there were multiple candidate forums as the voters struggled to learn about the candidates and while the candidates, in many cases, struggled to learn about the issues and nuanced concerns. To my way of thinking, this seat is not owed to any particular person or school of thought, but should rather go to the person who has been out there for this District in many ways, day after day. Who is that person of the people, the man or woman from the community who made things happen, who is ready to learn more? Who is the candidate who has listened to the voters?

Do I have a wish for a person who cares about development, affordable housing and the environment, who speaks up for safe streets, good schools, clean air, clear water and healthcare, who looks out for the mundane concerns such as jobs, so important to the neighborhoods in which we all live in? Absolutely!! If that person is out there – please come forward – you are my kind of candidate.

Personally, I hope that the person who is elected will work hard to assume the mantle that Don Praisner chose to wear, the one with social and community concerns, for fiscal responsibility, moderate growth and practical considerations of what can and should be done. I request that the person to be elected learns the entire District, which is developed and urban, forested and rural, dense with apartments and town houses and sparse with sprawling farmlands. (Note: Adam’s earlier posting and demographics). I advise learning about the people who range from retired and current government workers, mansion dwellers, entrepreneurs, and new immigrants to descendants of freed slaves and original settlers still living on family lands. The people are the vibrant mix seen in this diverse county and they bring the music, languages and foods of many cultures. I sincerely wish that the person elected cares more about this county than their own ambition. If so, we will all be served well. I know the residents of District 4 have a daunting task ahead of them. I hope, for the sake of our county, that their choice is well made.


For Prince George’s, State Aid is Never Enough

The Prince George’s County Delegation is making a lot of noise about wanting more state aid. Should they get it?

The issue is a very sensitive one in Annapolis, in part because of the parochial assertiveness of the Prince George’s delegation. Senator Nathaniel Exum (D-24) recently had this exchange with O’Malley aide Joe Brice over the issue:

“It is clear Prince George's County has been hurt by these cuts,” [Exum] said. “We want to know what the governor is going to do to rectify this? Because next year is 2010. And who is the governor going to look for in his reelection campaign?”

Brice responded that O'Malley would try to bring all lawmakers together and work with them on the budget.

“As long as he is aware,” Exum shot back.
And now Delegate Justin Ross (D-22) has introduced a bill to restructure the state’s aid formula to send more education money to Prince George’s. Ross told Maryland Moment, “As the federal stimulus package gets wrapped up and the money comes back to the state, we want this to be in consideration. We believe there's a fairness issue here.”

In evaluating Prince George’s case for more aid, let’s consider the following facts:

1. Current Total Aid
In the Governor’s FY 2010 budget, Prince George’s is scheduled to receive $1,104,028,710 in total aid. That amount is second only to Baltimore City ($1,197,879,557) and accounts for 17% of the state’s entire aid budget.

In per capita terms, the state will grant Prince George’s County $1,332 per resident in FY 2010. That ranks ninth out of the state’s 24 jurisdictions and is 15% higher than the state average ($1,160).

In comparison, Montgomery County will receive $715 million ($768 per capita), Baltimore County will receive $701 million ($888 per capita), Anne Arundel County will receive $413 million ($807 per capita) and Baltimore City will receive $1.2 billion ($1,879 per capita).

2. Current Public Schools Aid
In the Governor’s FY 2010 budget, Prince George’s is scheduled to receive $871,833,382 in public school aid. That is first in the state and accounts for 19% of the state’s entire school aid budget. The state will also cover $114 million in Prince George’s teacher retirement payments, second to Montgomery ($150 million).

In per capita terms, the state will grant Prince George’s County $7,220 per pupil in FY 2010. That ranks sixth out of the state’s 24 jurisdictions and is 27% higher than the state average ($5,702).

In comparison, Montgomery County will receive $449 million ($3,287 per pupil), Baltimore County will receive $508 million ($5,123 per pupil), Anne Arundel County will receive $273 million ($3,794 per pupil) and Baltimore City will receive $811 million ($10,655 per pupil).

3. Local Contribution to Public Schools
The attached chart from the Maryland Department of Education’s 2007-2008 Fact Book shows federal, state and local per pupil contributions to education funding by county. The average per pupil local contribution in Maryland is about $5,600. Prince George’s County contributes about $4,300 per pupil in local funds, more than 20% below the state average. In contrast, Montgomery County taxpayers contribute nearly $10,000 per pupil, Howard County taxpayers contribute nearly $8,000 per pupil and Anne Arundel County taxpayers contribute roughly $6,500 per pupil.

According to the Washington Area Boards of Education, 54.9% of the Prince George’s County schools’ budget comes from the state. That is far higher than in Montgomery (19.9%) and is higher than any other school district in the Metro Washington area.

4. Other Aid
Maryland is helping Prince George’s County bail out its ailing hospital system, which has been victimized by feuds between the county government and the management firm. The state will be paying $12 million per year for the next two years while a buyer is found for the system. In addition, the state may be liable for tens, even hundreds of millions more to pay for upgrading and debt retirement.

And if this were not enough, the D.C. United soccer team has announced its intention to build a new stadium in Prince George’s County. Team management admits the state would be “on the hook” if stadium tax revenues needed to finance construction fell short of projections. Marc Korman blew the economics of this deal to smithereens yesterday.

5. Recent Developments in the Prince George’s Schools
The problems of Prince George’s schools deserves its own blog, but here is a sampling. Former Superintendent Andre Hornsby has been sentenced to six years in prison for corruption. Former Superintendent Iris Metts was driven out after an ugly power struggle. At one time, the county’s elected school board was so dysfunctional that it was replaced with appointees. The system has had five Superintendents in less than six years, but the crisis in the county’s schools goes back much further than that. The current priority of the county’s school board is its expensive headquarters relocation plan, which even the county’s statehouse delegation opposes.

By any measure, the state’s return on investment in the Prince George’s County schools has been poor. But that does not stop the push for more aid.

6. Anti-Tax Movements
Prince George’s voters are notoriously anti-tax. The county is the home of the infamous TRIM amendment, a property tax cap that has devastated county services over the last thirty years. In 1996, Prince George's voters chose not to repeal TRIM by a 61-39% vote and chose to subject a wide variety of tax measures to referendum by a 63-37% vote. Last year, voters rejected a puny $17 million telephone tax intended for the schools by a 71-29% margin. And angry citizens are opposing County Executive Jack Johnson’s request to allow homeowner tax assessments to rise from its current maximum rate of 5% per year to 10% (which is in effect in Montgomery). Residents of the county distrust their local government – with good reason – and are reluctant to fund it. The statehouse delegation, which is willing to accept police and teacher layoffs rather than support Johnson’s proposal, agrees with them.

And so Prince George’s County will not adequately invest in its own schools but expects the rest of the state to do it for them. As we mentioned above, Prince George’s Delegate Justin Ross has said, “We believe there's a fairness issue here.”

We agree.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

More District 4 Tidbits

Here’s what we have for all you D4 junkies today!

1. Nancy Navarro’s new website is up. She joins Cary Lamari, Chris Paladino and Republican Lou August in D4 cyberspace. Ben Kramer has a Delegate website up, but it contains no reference to the County Council race.

2. After nearly two weeks of harassment by this blog, the Washington Post has finally acknowledged the candidacy of Cary Lamari. Of course, that was buried in an article about Robin Ficker.

3. The Montgomery County Board of Elections has published its special election timeline. Among the key dates are:

March 5: Deadline to file candidacy for the primary
March 9: Deadline to withdraw from the primary
March 24: First campaign finance report due
March 30: Voter registration closes
April 10: Second campaign finance report due
April 14: Last day for primary absentee ballot application
April 21: Primary election
May 8: Third campaign finance report due
May 19: General election
June 9: Fourth campaign finance report due

4. We hear the precinct closure plan is dead. No word on Executive Director Margaret Jurgensen’s retention by the board. Former County Executive Doug Duncan called for her resignation more than two years ago.

5. This special election is not the first time Robin Ficker has changed his residence to run for office. Ficker, a resident of Boyds in District 15, moved to Montgomery Village in 2002 to challenge District 39 Senator P.J. Hogan. Hogan won the general election by a 19,099-9,689 vote.

6. We hear that some in the General Assembly are considering filing a bill to allow early voting in the District 4 special election. Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing early voting last year, but the legislature must pass implementing legislation. This idea is drawing a lot of interest, pro and con, from players in Montgomery County and we will have more on this soon.

7. For all the tumult about developer contributions in the last special election, none of the 2008 candidates had any record on development policy. This time around, two of them do. We will go all the way back to the 1990s next week to find out who they are, what they did and what happened. Don’t miss this one, junkies!


CCT Draws Bi-County Support

Members of both the Montgomery and Frederick County Delegations sent the following letter to Governor O'Malley in support of the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT). The signers include one Frederick Republican (Senator Alex Mooney - R-3), one Frederick Democrat (Delegate Sue Hecht - D3A), one Frederick Independent (Delegate Richard Weldon, I-3B) and ten Montgomery Democrats.

The Maryland General Assembly
Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1991

February 6, 2009

The Honorable Martin O'Malley
Office of the Governor
State House
Annapolis, MD 21401-1991

Dear Governor O'Malley,

We are pleased you included $3.5 million in fiscal year 2010 funding for the planning phase for the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT). We appreciate your continued support for the transitway, which will link many communities - Clarksburg, Germantown, Gaithersburg and Rockville - to the Shady Grove Metro Station.

In addition to benefitting commuters in some of the fastest growing communities in both Montgomery and Frederick Counties and alleviating traffic congestion in the I-270 corridor, the CCT will play a vital role in the continued economic development of this region of the state. We also see the CCT as a critical component of the development of the Belward property with John's Hopkins University, which will lead to positive economic development in life sciences and technology fields.

We respectfully urge you to continue your support of the CCT to keep this transit project moving forward. As you know, the right-of-way is largely set aside, the community is generally very supportive of the Transitway, and there is strong local business and government support for it. It is our hope that you will provide the necessary engineering and construction funds in subsequent fiscal years, because this transit project is ready to go.


Rob Garagiola
State Senator - District 15

Charles E. Barkley
Delegate - District 39

Kumar P. Barve
Delegate - District 17

Kathleen M. Dumais
Delegate - District 15

Brian J. Feldman
Delegate - District 15

Jennie M. Forehand
State Senator - District 17

James W. Gilchrist
Delegate - District 17

Sue C. Hecht
Delegate - District 3A

Nancy J. King
State Senator - District 39

Alexander X. Mooney
State Senator - District 3

Kirill Reznik
Delegate - District 39

Craig L. Rice
Delegate - District 15

Richard B. Weldon, Jr.
Delegate - District 3B

cc: The Honorable John D. Porcari, Secretary, MDOT
Mr. Henry Kay, Deputy Administrator, Planning and Engineering, MTA


A Soccer Stadium?

By Marc Korman.

About seven years ago I was sitting at a College Democrats meeting listening to a speaker from the California Governor’s office. She was explaining all of the great programs the Governor was supporting on the ballot in California, including Proposition 40. Prop. 40 provided funding for local assistance grants for environmental programs and parks. It was a worthwhile proposition. But at the time, California was in the middle of a budgetary crisis (isn’t it always). I asked how the program was going to be paid for. The woman responded that we didn’t have to pay for it, because it was a bond bill. That probably sums up the current state of California pretty well. I was reminded of that discussion when I began hearing about the proposal to build a $195 million, 24,000 person soccer stadium in Prince George’s County.

At a time when government at all levels is in a fiscal crunch, our existing infrastructure is in need of massive repairs, and the state is considering cuts to education and healthcare (temporarily delayed by the stimulus), should Annapolis even be discussing a soccer stadium?

Elected officials and DC United have rushed to assure us that taxpayers will not be on the hook for the cost of the stadium. The argument is that the stadium DC United is looking to the state to fund will be paid for by a combination of rental payments by the team in future years (amounting to 25% of the total cost) and state issued bonds, which will be repaid by tax revenue generated by the stadium. Unfortunately, the plan does not take into account a few things:

1. Infrastructure
The $195 million cost does not include infrastructure improvements that may be needed. Roads and transit improvements are obvious, but a new stadium may also require utilities improvements. Proponents have said infrastructure costs will not be that high due to the presence of the Metro, but of course Metro itself is in need of a funding infusion. It is also not realistic to think everyone will take the Metro, unless we eliminate parking at the stadium which I am confident DC United is not ready to do.

2. Projections
We cannot assume the stadium will be full, even when the flagship team is playing. I have no idea what calculations they used to figure out the $195 million cost or the idea that the bonds could be repaid by taxes associated with the stadium. I do know that DC United’s average attendance in 2008 was 19,835 people, a drop of over 1,000 from 2007. Given the economy, we can probably safely predict a further decline in the coming years. Another question that should be studied is whether DC United’s audience will follow the team to the ‘burbs, or whether attendance will plummet. Marc Fisher’s recent Washington Post column discussed these issues in greater detail.

3. Bonds are Not Free
Government bonds are issued to provide the government a lot of money up front that it can pay back a little bit at a time over a period of years. The repayment is called debt service and it is a required part of annual government budgets.

The debt-service ratio indicates how much of the total budget goes towards servicing debt. At the federal level, the ratio is 9%. In Maryland is appears to be just 2%, a healthy number and part of why the state maintains its AAA bond rating. By comparison, California is projected to have a ratio of 6%, which partially accounts for its low bond rating and budgetary problems. All of these number projections will probably rise due to increased borrowing as a result of the current economic situation.

But the point is increasing Maryland’s debt obligation through bonds can have an adverse effect on its bond rating, which can make it difficult to borrow for other obligations. Also, given the credit crunch, how well will these bonds sell? In addition, Maryland must service those bonds, it is mandatory spending. If the stadium does not live up to its promise, Maryland must still pay its bills. In fact, Fisher’s column quotes Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson admitting it’s not “going to create a lot of revenue.” Well without that revenue, taxpayers will be footing the bill.

There is a big difference between state and federal borrowing. At the state level, bonds are used to finance major projects that the state cannot afford to pay for all at once. In the case of a stadium, it makes a particularly attractive target for bonds because of all the reports and studies explaining the direct economic benefits of these facilities. For example, sales tax revenue from the stadium can be specifically allocated to service the debt. Contrast that with a highway, assuming it is not tolled. The economic benefits are far less direct and there is no direct revenue stream with which to service the debt. Although we use bonds for highway funding in Maryland, we cannot directly link the taxes generated by the highway to paying off the bond because they are too ill defined. On the plus side, no one should be able to deceive us into thinking a highway project pays for itself as they can with a stadium. Similarly, transit projects offer an attractive target because of rider fees. But generally speaking, transit projects do not pay for themselves directly through fares. Those projects that have been originally billed as such, for example the DC Metro, have disappointed.

At the federal level, bonds are issued to fill the annual budget deficit. In some cases, deficit spending may be for a worthwhile expense (like the New Deal), but since 2001 the federal deficits have been as a result of unnecessary tax cuts and an ill advised war in the Middle East. That is not beneficial deficit spending.

And neither is building a stadium. Even if a stadium could generate enough funds to service all of the debt it creates, which is not guaranteed, it could still adversely affect Maryland’s bond rating. If we are going to borrow more money, let’s do it for public priorities and not a soccer stadium.

Over a year ago, I wrote about the proposed Germantown Arena and the flaws in that proposal. Back in October I proposed eliminating the Maryland Stadium Authority. I stand by those posts and add this one to my opposition to arena/stadium projects in Maryland during the current budget morass.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hey! What About Our CCT? What Are We, Chopped Liver?!

By Jud Ashman, Gaithersburg City Council Member.

Can someone please come up with a serious argument against the Corridor Cities Transitway? Apparently all this “agreement” and lack of controversy has had the ironic effect of moving the CCT to the media and political backburner at exactly the time it makes the most sense.

If you don’t know - or can’t remember – what the Corridor Cities Transitway is, don’t blame yourself. It’s our fault! What gets news media attention - far more than any boring aspects of merit a project might boast - is a fight. If we just could have found someone out there among the citizenry, the business community, or the elected officials who opposed the project, you surely would’ve been inundated with stories in the Washington Post, the Gazette, NewsChannel 8, etc. Marc Fisher could’ve filed two columns a month on the subject and Adam, here at MPW, could’ve posted a 4 part statistical analysis!

But we obviously failed to find that opposition. “Why?” you ask. Because the CCT makes too much sense. Here are the facts:

• The concept for the CCT dates back to the 1964 General Plan for Montgomery County. It’s a 14-mile transitway that would link the Shady Grove Metro to Clarksburg. (Ultimately, the CCT could be extended to Frederick but that is not currently under consideration.) The project has earned the support of the cities of Gaithersburg and Rockville, as well as Montgomery County.

• The stated goals of the CCT are:
o Provide efficient, reliable transit enhancement
o Extend Metrorail Red Line and reduce demand for drive access to Shady Grove Station
o Support current and planned land uses in the corridor
o Relieve traffic congestion on area roads (particularly I270)

• The CCT is more than simple north-south transit. It links the existing Town Centers of King Farm and Kentlands – as well as similar communities in Germantown and Clarksburg - with the approved future Town Centers of Crown Farm/Washingtonian Rio and Watkins Mill, and potentially with a Johns Hopkins Shady Grove Life Sciences Center. Collectively, these town centers will provide countless opportunities to live, work, shop, learn, and play without getting in a car. (Note: With the Kentlands and the Lakelands, the City of Gaithersburg pioneered the sort of Transit Oriented Developments that most jurisdictions have been emulating for the past decade. Problem is, we’ve had no “Transit” and thus haven’t seen the full potential of the planning model)

• For the last 45 years, the City of Gaithersburg has taken the CCT into account when making all land use decisions related to its western sections. 100% of the right-of-way within the Gaithersburg city limits is available for construction at no cost to the public.

• Overall, 60% of the entire right-of-way for the CCT is available for construction at no cost to the public.

• Based on year 2030 population and employment forecasts, the CCT is projected to have an average daily boarding in the neighborhood of 30,000 riders.

• MTA is currently studying whether it’s best suited for Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit. As a Bus Rapid Transit mode, the cost effectiveness ratio meets Federal “New Starts” criteria and is eligible to compete nationally for Federal funding.

It should be noted that, all things being equal, most people when asked would support a Light Rail (LRT) option over BRT. However, all things aren’t equal; LRT is probably 3 or 4 times more expensive. Careful readers of this blog will remember the estimates from Marc Elrich’s BRT plan: Light Rail costs about $75 to $102 million per mile vs. about $20 million per mile for BRT. (In fact, if the Purple Line is built as Light Rail, as is the preference of both Park and Planning and the County Council, and the CCT is built as BRT, then the CCT will probably come in at about ¼ of the cost, based on published estimates.)

All of this isn’t to argue that the Purple Line (as light rail) isn’t a worthy project. It certainly is. But let’s not allow it to suck all of the oxygen from the room. The CCT has enormous merit, and can be made into a reality at a fraction of the cost; both in terms of dollars and political capital.

The Corridor Cities Transitway is good to go!


The Money Chase: Maryland

Today, we examine the campaign funds of some of Maryland’s leading state and local politicians as well as those of a few potential challengers. All data pertains to the year ending 1/14/09.

Strongest Position

1. Attorney General Doug Gansler (Balance $1,255,115.52, Net Gain $609,184.48)
No statewide, state-level politician has had a better two years than Doug Gansler. He has no association with the special session’s tax package, the following spending cuts or the impending slots debacle. His job gives him priceless opportunities to go after crooks and polluters. He bet correctly on the Presidential race and has consequently made friends all over the state. And he raked in more cash than any state-level politician in Maryland last year. Gansler is the early favorite for Governor in 2014.

2. Governor Martin O’Malley (Balance $1,004,836.66, Net Gain $95,083.49)
O’Malley did not raise a lot of money last year for a sitting Governor but he may not need it. The state is more Democratic than it was in 2006 and a primary challenge is looking increasingly unlikely.

3. Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith (Balance $956,583.09, Net Gain $460,657.24)
Term-limited Jim Smith is raising tons of cash, a sign that he may very well challenge Comptroller Peter Franchot.

4. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (Balance $303,609.91, Net Gain $172,350.89)
The 34-year old Ulman is raising more money than any Executive in the state other than Jim Smith. He will face an interesting decision when his term limit takes effect in 2014.

5. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey (Balance $113,678.87, Net Gain $28,979.77)
Highly-regarded prosecutor has a leg up on his rivals to be the next Prince George’s County Executive. If Ivey can succeed in that office, he can go a long ways in state politics.

Needs to Do More

1. Senator C. Anthony Muse, D-26 (Balance -$4,063.83, Net Gain -$26,544.37)
Muse ran for Prince George’s County Executive unsuccessfully in 2002 and some believe he may run again. The problem is that his finances are an absolute mess – especially given his status as Prince George’s Senate Delegation Chair. If he cannot gain control of his campaign account, that may encourage another primary challenge even if he stays in the Senate.

2. Rushern Baker, Prince George’s County Executive Candidate (Balance $39,459.73, Net Gain -$188,938.53)
Baker raised $210,153.05 last year but spent $399,091.58. Of that amount, he directed $317,895 to loan repayments, including $310,000 to Renter’s Finance Corporation of Silver Spring. A 2006 Washington Post article identified that entity as a subsidiary of Southern Management, a large apartment building owner in Prince George’s County that has feuded with County Executive Jack Johnson. Baker still owes himself $196,000. None of this will help him run against Glenn Ivey or Anthony Muse.

3. Comptroller Peter Franchot (Balance $283,597.94, Net Gain $190,462.79)
Franchot’s fund-raising numbers are well below those of potential rival Jim Smith. He may need to take out another $750,000 mortgage on his home to survive.

4. County Executive John Leopold (Balance $544,763.38, Net Gain $26,125)
Leopold has a decent war chest. But in the wake of his recent mini-scandal, he may face challenges from both the left and the right.

5. Former Governor Robert Ehrlich (Balance $151,529, Net Gain $29,080.90)
Low fund-raising totals suggest that he is not running for Governor again.

The Wild Card

Senate President Mike Miller (Balance $644,233.77, Net Gain $264,350.45)
Big Daddy is capable of raising a whole lot more money than this and he certainly will. Miller does not need the money for himself. Instead, he will send it to tight Senate races across the state. Where will he invest? Where will he direct his donors? And how hard will Big Daddy try to get rid of his mortal enemy, Peter Franchot? Miller’s decisions will affect a lot of races in 2010.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama Means Less Drama for Maryland’s Budget (Updated)

The recently passed federal stimulus package will help Maryland balance its FY 2010 budget with fewer program and aid cuts than originally proposed by the Governor. But as of right now, the FY 2011 budget is projected to have a deficit of $630 million.

We reproduce the summary documents from the Governor’s revised budget plan below:

A few notes:

1. Federal dollars free up state money
The state is applying net federal additions in the amounts of $382 million in FY 2009, $435 million in FY 2010 and $392 million in FY 2011 to its operating budget. These include writing off assumed federal stimulus of $350 million in both FY 2010 and FY 2011. The actual federal funds proved to be much larger than the Governor originally assumed. The extra federal money enables the state to avoid layoffs, support community colleges and bolster some of its departments (including the state police).

2. Medicaid and education
These are the two biggest uses of federal non-transportation money. The state received increased Medicaid assistance of $420 million in FY 2009, $560 million in FY 2010 and $300 million in FY 2011. On education, the state using $721 million of federal assistance to fully fund the Geographic Cost of Education Index, growth in broader Thornton education spending and growth in teachers retirement costs. This is a boon to the Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore City governments and is greatly damaging to Senate President Mike Miller’s efforts to pass teacher pensions down to the counties.

3. More aid to the counties
All counties except Worcester and Somerset will receive more education aid. The leaders in terms of aid increases will be Prince George’s ($41.5 million), Baltimore City ($30 million), Montgomery ($26.8 million), Anne Arundel ($10 million) and Baltimore County ($9.5 million).

The budget problems may be eased for the moment, but they are hardly solved. The Comptroller is due to release more revenue estimates next month. The Governor assumes revenue writedowns of $300 million in FY 2009 and FY 2010 and $200 million in FY 2011, but the actual losses could be greater. The Governor projects a $630 million deficit in FY 2011 and outyear deficits could be exacerbated by the disastrous results of the slots bids. And the counties still have major problems. Montgomery’s $26.8 million education aid increase is nice, but it is still facing a half-billion dollar deficit.

I am sure the politicians will have great fun dealing with next year’s budget problems as they are running for re-election!

Update: Montgomery County's FY 2010 budget deficit is now $520 million.


The Money Chase: Montgomery County Offices

Today, we examine the campaign funds of Montgomery’s county-level office holders. All data pertains to the year ending 1/14/09.

Strongest Position

1. George Leventhal, At-Large (Balance $59,677.53, Net Gain $366.03)
Leventhal is the strongest of the at-large members. He has a broad base that reaches into every important group and every corner of the county. He finished first in the 2006 Democratic primary and is the early favorite to do it again. If Leventhal dominates in 2010, he will be a prominent mention for higher office in 2014.

2. Nancy Floreen, At-Large (Balance $33,206.64, Net Gain $11,188.95)
Floreen is the only at-large member to survive 2006 without getting on the Apple Ballot. She always raises money and works hard at election time. A supporter of union contracts in 2008 and the county’s prevailing wage law, she should have more labor backing in 2010. Floreen is a shrewd survivor who can never be underestimated.

3. Phil Andrews, District 3 (Balance $45,646.22, Net Gain $11,211.99)
Andrews refuses developer and PAC contributions but still has enough money to win. He is the most aggressive door-knocker on the County Council. Most labor unions despise Andrews, but their disastrous foray into Gaithersburg’s 2007 city elections may weaken their influence in District 3.

4. Valerie Ervin, District 5 (Balance $3,193.10, Net Gain $386.12)
District 5 has a history of close races. Derick Berlage won a five-candidate Democratic primary when the seat was created in 1990. Eight years later, Berlage won a hard-fought contest against Marc Elrich. Tom Perez triumphed in a four-way primary in 2002. But Valerie Ervin won the open seat by 24 points in 2006 and may not have a primary challenge next time.

Needs to Do More

1. Duchy Trachtenberg, At-Large (Balance $1,016.16, Net Gain -$2,475)
The county’s public employee unions endorsed Trachtenberg in 2006, but they are now very upset with her over her advocacy for a 2-point COLA cut in 2008 and her recent support of a bill that threatens collective bargaining. Other than the GLBT community and a few parts of the civic community, not many influential groups inside the county are making Trachtenberg’s re-election a top priority. Added to all this is that only 33.7% of Trachtenberg’s campaign contributions have come from Maryland sources since she began her political career in 2002.

2. Marc Elrich, At-Large (Balance $1,392.79, Net Gain -$100)
Elrich, who refuses developer contributions, always has money problems. He depends on a large grassroots network that agrees with his positions on growth and fiscal restraint. Unlike many politicians, Elrich is more focused on pursuing his policy proposals than doing political chores like schmoozing and fundraising. Labor support will be key for his re-election.

3. At-Large Challengers
No at-large contenders that we are hearing about have county-wide name recognition. The cost of building that name ID will be at least $300,000. Any challengers must start raising large amounts of money NOW.

4. Mike Knapp, District 2 (Balance $2,638.53, Net Gain -$7,690.32)
If Knapp is thinking of challenging County Executive Ike Leggett, he is not raising the money for it. If he remains in District 2, his combination of business and labor support should make him as strong an incumbent as last time. Knapp paid out $6,968.25 in rent and office expenses last year, an amount that exceeded any other Council Member.

The Wild Card

Doug Duncan, Former County Executive (Balance $331,545.46, Net Gain -$1,352.66)
We have heard no credible rumors that Duncan will be running for office in 2010, although he is certainly unhappy with the state’s political leadership. So what will he do with all that money? Duncan can still be an effective behind-the-scenes player in Montgomery County if that’s what he wants to do. Even another run for County Executive is not totally out of the question.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Ficker Moves to District 4 to Run in Special Election

The Gazette's Janel Davis has heard our call and has a scoop: Robin Ficker has moved to Fairland to run as a Republican in the District 4 special election.


Nancy Navarro Announces for District 4

We post Navarro's press release below.

Tuesday, February 23, 2009

Nancy Navarro Launches Online Announcement for
Montgomery County Council Candidacy
Campaign Promises to Build Broad Coalition of New Generation Democrats

SILVER SPRING, MD - Board of Education Member, Nancy Navarro, today formally launched her campaign for Montgomery County Council, through an online video announcement. The biographical video is posted simultaneously on: Maryland Politics Watch blog (, as well as Navarro's Facebook Group, "New Generation Democrats Supporting Nancy Navarro for County Council."

View the video at:

Navarro commented, "When I ran for County Council this time last year, I talked about promoting the politics of possibilities and trying to seek common ground between the often divergent viewpoints of residents in Montgomery County. But with our local and national economy at a crisis point, it is more important now than ever that we embrace President Obama’s call for renewed involvement at the local level and for a unified voice for positive change.”

Promising to transcend the past disputes that have divided County residents, Navarro hopes to build bridges between the traditional constituencies of civic activists, environmentalists, business and labor - but to also reach out to the seniors, young voters, working families and communities of color too often ignored in local politics. "The challenges facing Montgomery County are too serious and pressing for us to focus on what divides us. My campaign will be driven by a solution-oriented approach that seeks common ground to create jobs and protect services for seniors and working families."

Navarro's campaign team includes:

• Campaign Manager David Moon (Former Manager for Sen. Jamie Raskin, Purple Line NOW!, & Navarro's past Council bid)
• Deputy Manager Jackie Lichter (Former State Director for SEIU's Obama Virginia Effort, SEIU Local 500 Political Director)
• Field Director Ken Silverman (Former Iowa Field Organizer, John Edwards for President)
• Outreach Coordinator Patti Devlin (President, Flower Valley Citizens' Association, Consultant on Working Families Issues)
• Campaign Chair Oscar Ramirez (Former Virginia Policy Director for Obama for America, Chief of Staff to Congresswoman Hilda Solis)

For more information on Nancy Navarro, visit:



Five Reasons Why the MSM Should Cover the District 4 Race

Like many of you, I am mystified about why the mainstream media (MSM) is virtually ignoring the District 4 special election. As I understand that many representatives from the MSM read this blog, I’d like to offer my pitch for why this race is worth covering.

1. A compelling list of candidates
The four declared Democratic candidates are all archetypal Montgomery politicians. Ben Kramer is a businessman who comes from one of the county’s great political families. Nancy Navarro grew up in Venezuela, worked her way up from the PTAs to the School Board and enjoys a broad base of support in the labor, business, immigrant and progressive communities. Cary Lamari is a classic civic activist who has been a pugnacious political player for more than a decade. And Chris Paladino is a fresh face with good experience in the non-profit and business worlds. How could it be any better than this?

2. A wild race
Kramer, Navarro and Paladino will all have the monetary resources necessary to compete and Lamari should be able to put together a good volunteer base. That will give every candidate (and their supporters) enough ammo to go after each other, a fight that has already started on this blog. Throw in the shenanigans at the Board of Elections and this race could be wilder than the last one.

3. Balance of power on County Council
With Mr. Praisner’s passing, the council has returned to an informal 4-4 split. The District 4 winner will break the tie just as the council is heading into its 2009 Annual Growth Policy review.

4. Testing ground for 2010
Which issue will matter most in the special election? Growth? Traffic? Developer contributions? Jobs? Education? Rightly or wrongly, the course of this contest will be seen as a preview for the county elections in 2010.

5. It’s yer frickin job!
Come on now, I’m an MSM reader just like everybody else here. Unlike me, you MSM reporters are actually paid for your work. Is it too much to ask to get some backup on our reporting? Please? Pretty please?

OK readers, let’s see if there will be any MSM articles on District 4 this week.


The Money Chase: Montgomery County Delegation

Once again, it’s time to look at the mother’s milk of politics: cold, hard cash. Today, we examine the campaign funds of Montgomery’s statehouse delegation, as well as those of a few potential challengers. All data pertains to the year ending 1/14/09. We then weed through the data (with a little help from our informants) to determine who is in the strongest position and who needs to do more.

Strongest Position

1. Senator Rob Garagiola, D-15 (Balance $139,291.38, Net Gain $65,413.67)
Garagiola has far more money than he needs to win re-election, so he has the luxury of spreading his money to other Democrats around the state. That’s a sure way to build alliances, move up in leadership and keep Big Daddy happy.

2. Senator Brian Frosh, D-16 (Balance $138,876.99, Net Gain $30,400.42)
Frosh is invulnerable in his home district but must spread money around to other Democratic Senators to have a shot at succeeding Mike Miller. Fellow Senate President contender Mac Middleton has more money ($164,747.09) and may be better at playing this game than Frosh.

3. Senator Rich Madaleno, D-18 (Balance $10,726.87, Net Gain $2,514.58)
The money is irrelevant; Madaleno is immune to challenge in his district. If he ever tapped into the GLBT community and the connections associated with his seat on the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee, he would be a formidable fundraiser.

4. Delegate Brian Feldman, D-15 (Balance $60,168.93, Net Gain $29,348.62)
Feldman receives near-universal respect from our spies for his position in his district and his rapidly growing stature as Chair of Montgomery’s House Delegation. His fundraising total strongly suggests that he is not running against Comptroller Peter Franchot.

5. Senator Jamie Raskin, D-20 (Balance $50,761.48, Net Gain $23,776.80)
Liberal hero will be unchallenged in 2010. He would be raising even more money if it were not for his massive fundraising expenses ($37,092.58 last year).

6. Delegate Anne Kaiser, D-14 (Balance $30,394.02, Net Gain $8,349.39)
Smart steady Eddie has lots of fans among our spies. One of Montgomery’s best hopes for a rare high-ranking Committee Chair.

7. Tie between Delegate Tom Hucker, D-20 (Balance $62,703.49, Net Gain $35,402.91) and Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-20 (Balance $67,000, Net Gain $13,695)
Both freshmen have locked down their seats. Mizeur was the only freshman picked by our readers as one of the most influential elected leaders in Montgomery County last year. Hucker has raised 66% of his total contributions from businesses, PACs and political clubs. Many of our informants believe these two are destined to one day run against each other for Senate.

9. Delegate Saqib Ali, D-39 (Balance $87,423.54, Net Gain $63,631.29)
The King of Facebook is also the King of the Cash Drawer. Ali’s net gain far exceeded any other Montgomery Delegate. He is constantly rumored to be thinking of a challenge to Senator Nancy King (D-39).

10. Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher, D-18 (Balance $53,824.73, Net Gain $23,619.16)
Waldstreicher is the top fundraiser on a united slate. He put on a campaign clinic in 2006 and is ready to do it again next year.

11. Delegate Roger Manno, D-19 (Balance $48,474.03, Net Gain $24,836.74)
Only one thing seems certain in ultra-chaotic District 19: Manno is the most popular office-holder and will be back in 2010.

12. Delegate Bill Frick, D-16 (Balance $35,413.93, Net Gain $5,238.40)
Our informants name Frick as one of the delegation’s brightest people with the most potential to move up. He has raised money and consolidated his hold on his seat amazingly fast given his status as a 2007 appointee.

Needs to Do More

1. Senator Jennie Forehand, D-17 (Balance $71,044.34, Net Gain $4,705.66)
Forehand is already facing a challenge from former Delegate Cheryl Kagan, who raised $20,634.69 last year and has $44,224.76 in the bank. Kagan is smart, aggressive, highly-motivated and knows how to win in District 17. Some spies are comparing this contest to the Jamie Raskin – Ida Ruben Senate race in 2006.

2. Delegate Kirill Reznik, D-39 (Balance $11,725.30, Net Gain -$1,134.85)
Reznik, who is an appointee and has never run for office, is not raising enough money. If Saqib Ali challenges Nancy King, Reznik will not benefit from a unified slate. Will Hugh Bailey, who vied with Reznik for the appointment, challenge him in 2010?

3. Delegate Jim Gilchrist, D-17 (Balance $9,577.60, Net Gain $6,970.00)
Gilchrist defeated Ryan Spiegel by just 519 votes in 2006. Spiegel is now a Gaithersburg City Council Member after winning endorsements from Mayor Sidney Katz and several labor unions. If Gilchrist does not look stronger, Spiegel may be tempted to try again. Also complicating the situation is a possible open seat if Delegate Luiz Simmons joins Cheryl Kagan in running against Senator Jennie Forehand.

4. Senator Nancy King, D-39 (Balance $40,217.23, Net Gain $21,713.61)
King is facing a potential challenge from Delegate Saqib Ali, who has more than double her campaign balance ($87,423.54). A King-Ali race will not turn on money alone but King needs to make sure she has enough cash to compete.

5. Delegate Craig Rice, D-15 (Balance $23,626.28, Net Gain $16,831.15)
District 15 is home to some of Maryland’s wealthiest communities and Rice won by just 152 votes last time. Those two facts together mean that Rice needs to be raising more money than he is.

6. Delegate Henry Heller, D-19 (Balance $2,785.65, Net Gain -$684.90)
Most of our informants do not expect Heller to run again.


As we discussed above, former Delegate Cheryl Kagan is mounting an energetic insurgency against Senator Jennie Forehand (D-17). This will be one of the marquee races in 2010 and we will give it more attention in a future post. District 18 Delegate candidate Dana Beyer (Balance $1,764.67, Net Gain $1,503.16) has never stopped running since her fifth-place finish in 2006. She has been making some noise on this blog and on her website, but she is not raising enough money to compete against a full slate. After loaning herself $75,000 in 2006, she may be looking at self-funding again. Former Delegate candidates Regina Oldak (D-16) and Ryan Spiegel (D-17) are not raising money or declaring their intentions - yet. Hank Heller’s possible retirement could set off another free-for-all in District 19. That is the same district in which two incumbent Delegates ran for Senate in 2006 - and lost.

Special Mention

Delegate Kumar Barve, D-17 (Balance $53,250.61, Net Gain -$2,562.21)
Despite his recent escapades, we do not see Barve as vulnerable. But as the House Majority Leader, he should have a bigger campaign account. We believe Barve should exploit his status as the funniest man in Annapolis to hold a ticketed event: “Bad Boy Comedy Hour with Kumar and Friends.” On warm-up: salty-tongued Senate President Mike Miller and a special reading of Saqib Ali’s latest Facebook updates.

Disclosure: I am the Treasurer of the District 18 Democratic Team.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Down With the Fairness Doctrine – Again

The Fairness Doctrine, which holds that the government has a right to mandate “balance” in broadcast media, is an oozing pimple on the face of liberalism. And like most pimples, it is difficult to get rid of and grows uglier the longer it is present.

Last summer, we wrote the following against the Fairness Doctrine:

From a policy perspective, the government should regulate speech – especially political speech – as sparingly as possible. (Some consider campaign contributions to be speech, but I consider them to be exercises of influence – a different thing entirely.) Free speech is the ultimate weapon owned by the citizens to exercise their sovereignty over the government. The content of that speech should be their decision alone.

From a tactical perspective, liberals look intolerant and fearful when they push the Fairness Doctrine. An independent observer would look at their efforts to use government power to muzzle the other side and think, “What are you afraid of?” There is nothing to fear from conservative ideas. Learn from them, steal any of the good ones and oppose the rest of them. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan forged a great career from doing exactly that…

I have several fairness doctrines. They’re called the remote control, the radio dial, the mouse and the off button. When I use them, no one’s free speech rights are abridged. Alternatively, if you don’t like speech from the other side, there are three constitutional things you can do about it:

1. Ignore it.

2. Debate it.

3. Defeat it at the ballot box.

But to use government power to censor it? Restrict it? Shut it down? That may work in Communist China, but not in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Unfortunately, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow must not read this blog. The Politico reported this exchange between Stabenow and liberal radio host Bill Press:

BILL PRESS: Yeah, I mean, look: They have a right to say that. They’ve got a right to express that. But, they should not be the only voices heard. So, is it time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine?

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): I think it’s absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it’s called the Fairness Standard, whether it’s called something else — I absolutely think it’s time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves. I mean, our new president has talked rightly about accountability and transparency. You know, that we all have to step up and be responsible. And, I think in this case, there needs to be some accountability and standards put in place.

BILL PRESS: Can we count on you to push for some hearings in the United States Senate this year, to bring these owners in and hold them accountable?

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): I have already had some discussions with colleagues and, you know, I feel like that’s gonna happen. Yep.
Those who favor the Orwellian-titled “Fairness Doctrine” have a backwards understanding of our First Amendment. Citizens who exercise their right of free speech are not accountable to the government. It is the government that is accountable to citizens exercising their right of free speech. Down with the Fairness Doctrine!


Friday, February 20, 2009

Board of Elections Plan Targets Navarro Precincts for Closure (Updated)

If implemented, the precinct closure plan recommended by Montgomery County Board of Elections Executive Director Margaret Jurgensen would disproportionately close precincts that voted for Nancy Navarro in 2008. That fact is abundantly clear from publicly-available information that is easily available to the board.

Below is a list of all District 4 precincts, their planned diversions to other precincts, and their turnout and winner in the 2008 District 4 special election. Click on the image for a larger view.

Of the 22 precincts won by Don Praisner, 8 will be closed and diverted to other precincts while 14 will remain undisturbed. Of the 21 precincts won by Nancy Navarro, 13 will be closed and diverted to other precincts, 7 will be undisturbed and 1 will have its voting location changed (to the Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center).

But there is more. Of the 5 precincts that had the highest turnout rates for Don Praisner, none will be diverted. Of the 5 precincts that had the highest turnout rates for Nancy Navarro, 4 will be diverted. The two precincts in Leisure World, which went for Mr. Praisner by 15 points and gave him 44% of his margin, will be left undisturbed even though they were split in two less than two years ago.

Furthermore, Navarro won a disproportionately large share of precincts with high black and Latino populations. By targeting Navarro’s precincts for shutdown, the Board of Elections plan may very well inconvenience black and Latino voters at greater rates than white voters.

This is the second major blunder by the Board of Elections’ Executive Director in less than a year. Just two months ago, Maryland’s Court of Appeals ruled the board made two major mistakes in its rulings on a referendum proposed by opponents of Montgomery County’s new transgender anti-discrimination law. First, the court found the board inaccurately calculated the signature threshold for getting the referendum on the ballot. Second, the court found the board should have checked the validity of petition signatures rather than merely count them. The board’s mistakes cost the county untold thousands of dollars in unsuccessfully defending a lawsuit against the referendum by supporters of the anti-discrimination law.

And now the Board of Elections’ Executive Director is proposing a precinct shutdown plan that could very well swing the District 4 election against one of the candidates and potentially disadvantage black and Latino voters.

The Board of Elections must pre-empt another debacle in the making and kill this plan. And perhaps it should reconsider the continued employment of its Executive Director as well.

Update: One reader pointed out that former County Executive Doug Duncan called for the resignation of the Executive Director over two years ago.


MoCo’s Least Liberal Senator? (Updated)

Montgomery County is known for sending liberal Senators to Annapolis. But we may have found an exception to the rule.

Six Montgomery Senators are co-sponsoring a bill allowing employees to sue employers for violations of the state prevailing wage law: Jennie Forehand (D-17), Brian Frosh (D-16), Nancy King (D-39), Mike Lenett (D-19), Rich Madaleno (D-18) and Jamie Raskin (D-20).

Five Montgomery Senators are co-sponsoring a bill to repeal the death penalty: Brian Frosh (D-16), Nancy King (D-39), Mike Lenett (D-19), Rich Madaleno (D-18) and Jamie Raskin (D-20).

Five Montgomery Senators are co-sponsoring a bill that provides for marriage equality: Rich Madaleno (D-18), Jamie Raskin (D-20), Jennie Forehand (D-17), Rona Kramer (D-14) and Mike Lenett (D-19).

Four Montgomery Senators are co-sponsoring a bill denying corporations the ability to deduct executive compensation exceeding 25 times the pay of their lowest employees from their taxable income: Brian Frosh (D-20), Mike Lenett (D-19), Rich Madaleno (D-18) and Jamie Raskin (D-20).

Three Montgomery Senators are co-sponsoring a bill that authorizes judges to order people subject to temporary protective orders to give up their firearms: Brian Frosh (D-16), Jennie Forehand (D-17) and Jamie Raskin (D-20).

The one name missing from the above lists is Rob Garagiola (D-15). In addition, the Sun lists him as the only Montgomery opponent of death penalty repeal in the Senate. Rona Kramer declined to answer the question.

Update: The Gazette has more on Garagiola, Kramer and the death penalty.


Free Wine for Lobbying

A group advocating for liberalization of Maryland's archaic restrictions on beer and wine imports is trying a new tactic: giving away expensive wine to whoever can bring the most people to testify at a hearing on their bill. Just be sure to drink it after you testify! Following is the blast email from Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws.

To: X
Subject: Free Bottle of '03 Opus One on 2/23?
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2009 11:48:28 +0000

Dear [X],

Our opposition, the wholesalers and select retailers, would like you to believe that massive underage drinking will occur if SB338 and HB1262 will occur. Every minor from Ocean City to Deep Creek will be ordering Boon's Farm - I kid you not, one retailer actually brought in a bottle to the senate hearing on Wednesday - to be delivered to their door, and the unwitting FedEx or UPS drivers will gladly turn it over to them. The Chancellor for the University of Maryland actually wrote in a letter expressing his concern that their students could have over-21 resident advisors sign for their packages. If the retailers are so good at checking ID, then why were there 130 underage drinking violations in Anne Arundel County in 2007 and none reported via direct shipment in the 35 states that allow it? Oh yeah, and Senator Raskin pointed out that those states cover 80% of our ~300 million citizens.

To deal with this ludicrousness, I am offering a bottle of '03 Mondavi Opus One (value: ~$200) to whomever brings the most friends to the House of Delegates hearing on Monday 2/23 (must be 5 or greater including you in your party). Here are the specifics:

Monday, February 23rd
Economic Matters Committee (ECM)
Room 231, House Office Building
6 Bladen St.
Annapolis, MD 21401

The Committee will be hearing 47 bills that day, so you must register in advance with Delegate Tom Hucker's office (, 301-858-3474) to appear on the docket. Please let Maria Topper there know your cell number as the bill itself will most likely not be heard until 3PM or later so she can be in touch with you about timing. I will plan to be there in person, and whomever shows up with the most friends will win the bottle of wine. We spent a lot of time talking about why we want the bill to pass at the MD Senate hearing but would better like to coordinate our testimony at this one. Once you let Maria know your and your friends' information, I can be in touch with you individually about the testimony.

Please let me know if you have any questions and make sure to send as many of your friends to our Facebook page as possible:

Lastly, we have received some generous donations thus far but are always in search of more. As the fight seems so close, we need additional resources to get out the consumer voice, so please consider sending a few bucks our way:

Hope to see you there!


Executive Director
Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws
4315 Underwood Road
Baltimore, MD 21218
Tel: (443) 570-8102


Just Up the Pike Interviews Cary Lamari

As with all of Dan Reed's interviews, this one is a must-read.


The New E-Z Tax

By Rocky Lopes.

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) governing board voted on January 29, 2009, to impose cost-recovery fees for the Maryland E-ZPass system and increased tolls for certain classes of vehicles. As a casual user of E-ZPass, this caused me and many other Marylanders to become upset. The main issue that bothered many of us is that Maryland has now imposed the highest fees of any state that participates in the E-ZPass compact: $1.50 “account maintenance charge” assessed each month ($18/year), whether or not you use it, starting on July 1. (A state-by-state comparison is here).

The themes that many who are angry about this decision seem to agree on include:

1) The MdTA is an independent agency, governed by nine people appointed by the Governor; the Maryland General Assembly has no authority over any decisions made.

2) The MdTA had a comment period open about the new fee structure, but it was not widely publicized and seemed already to be a “done-deal” since I received a pre-written email defending their decision before the governing body met to formally consider it.

3) The word “fee” is just the same as another three-letter word, “tax.” Charge a fee or charge a tax; regardless, it comes out of the pockets of the taxpayers. But because it is a “fee,” the MdTA can impose it without legislative review. To many, this is a sneaky way to impose a tax.

Comments on articles written in several newspapers in the Baltimore and Washington Metro areas, as well as Red Maryland, indicate many Marylanders feel the same way.

E-ZPass offers a convenient way to bypass lines to pay tolls by cash in 13 states. Quoting from the Maryland’s EZ-Pass page, “with E-ZPass, you don’t need to worry about finding correct change for tolls or waiting in traffic! This convenient technology lets drivers pay their fees in advance and bypass toll station bottlenecks.”

Not only does E-ZPass offer a convenient method to get through toll plazas quickly, I have heard many elected officials in our state extol the virtues that using electronic toll collection methods reduces air pollution because cars aren’t idling in long lines wasting fuel.

The MdTA states on its website that the Chairman and eight Members of the Authority approved a cost-recovery initiative expected to generate approximately $60 million annually. It does not seem to be that the MdTA’s Governing Board really had a clue about how many of us will return our E-ZPass transponders to the state and close our accounts to avoid paying a nuisance tax, when we can get the same service from another participating state for free or for a far lower cost. I firmly believe this decision will backfire on them and our state, and not produce the projected revenues that they envisioned. I know that I am not alone in planning to return my Maryland E-ZPasses before the fees kick in on July 1.

The following is from an email that I received from someone at the MdTA writing for Ron Freeland, the MdTA’s Executive Secretary:

You should know that monthly costs must still be paid by the Authority to the contractor who administers our E-ZPass system for each account, whether or not the account holder makes any trips. Even if the $1.50 charge per account is approved, we still will pay our contractor about $.25 more per account monthly that will not be passed along to our customers. Please be assured that we are not making money on this proposal, but rather attempting to recover the costs of operating the E-ZPass system.
It seems to me that the MdTA got itself into a rotten contract that is bilking them for a lot of money to operate the Maryland portion of the E-ZPass System, and that is why they are imposing the $1.50 monthly account maintenance charge.

My counter-proposal: since the Maryland General Assembly has not yet passed this year’s state budget, ask them to cut the budget for the Maryland Department of Transportation by a like amount - $60 Million. I suggest that they direct the funds be placed into a reserve to fund costs that the entire State of Maryland will incur from the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency, which will get on our state's case about air pollution. We're already not doing so well in that regard – and many anticipate that the new Administration will be much more regulatory than the last one. Thus, I anticipate that our state will incur greater costs to combat pollution from vehicles - which E-ZPass decreases simply because vehicles don’t have to wait in long lines.

Mr. Freeland stated in an additional email message to me, “E-ZPass will still continue to offer convenient pre-paid tolling, significant time savings … and vehicle emissions reductions.” The irony here is incredible.

I offer my counter-proposal because I seriously think that the MdTA’s Governing Board, chaired by Transportation Secretary John Pocari, is being penny-wise and pound foolish – setting our state up for yet another disaster compounded by poor decision-making with anticipated revenues that will not nearly be met. When that happens, I’m certain we will see more “fees” imposed or increased, thus spiraling the problem into worse conditions.

Rocky Lopes is President of the Layhill Alliance and is a long-term civic activist in Montgomery County.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

MoCo Board of Elections: Close the Precincts

Montgomery County Board of Elections Executive Director Margaret Jurgensen is recommending that the county consolidate its polling places from 45 precincts to 22 for the upcoming special election. She cites potential savings of $47,000 in Election Judge payments and $7,000 in training costs. She believes the precinct closings are justified by low turnouts, but omits the fact that precinct closings are likely to further deter turnouts. Jurgensen's recommendation comes despite the fact that the County Council has already voted to oppose precinct closings. We reprint her memo below.

February 19, 2009

To: Montgomery County Board of Elections

From: Margaret Jurgensen, Election Director

Re: Polling places for the Special Elections for Council District 4

I am attached for your consideration the following items:

Calendar for the upcoming election

Polling place list representing two plans;

1. Consolidate precincts

2. Precincts available to the Board for use in special elections.

The staff of the Board of Elections recommends that the Board permit the consolidation of polling places for the County Council District 4 Special Election. It is our belief that with historically low voter turnouts for Special Elections, concerns of the school officials related to student safety and lack of parking at certain school facilities and the county administrations expressed request to contain costs related to the conduct of elections. the proposed solution of consolidating voting precincts to 22 locations is a reasonable response to cost containment. Additionally, the Election Judges have contacted the office to voice their opinion that precincts could be combined because the day is very slow due to a low turnout. Savings from consolidation of precincts would be around $47,000 in Election Judge payments and $7,000 in training costs. Board of Elections staff will be required to send postcards to notify the voters of these polling place changes. The sample ballot will be mailed with the ballot face and information regarding the polling place address, as always. Election Day will be easier to manage with internal staff as it will reduce locations in one half to verify compliance to the conduct of the election.

The County Council requested in their Resolution to the Board of Elections to use the same polling places as in the November 2008 election. If the Board directs the staff to return to all precincts used last fall, the Board will be allowed back into all locations but four. The three churches and Wheaton Moose Lodge have indicated that we should locate elsewhere this year. The advantage to this plan is voters will not be confused as to the location of their precinct to vote.

The County Council expressed their concern that moving voting sites will depress voter turnout and if the polling place is moved, additional signage will not motivate voters to vote at the temporary site. The disadvantage to this plan is parking at the schools remains a problem, some parents will complain about strangers allowed into the school for voting and Election Judges will again face a slow day with few voters. Chief Tom Manger from Montgomery County Police did attend the Council meeting and promised that the parking issues on the street and in the parking lots would be managed successfully Board staff will mail to the four precincts the location of the new voting centers. Staff will mail the sample ballot and have included a statement to encourage voting during those hours not associated with school start and dismissal times.

Staff will need a decision at the Board meeting on Monday. We will need to begin meeting with each school principal and building services manager to determine the location of the voting area in the building and install phone lines for communication links for all polling places.. We will not have the same location in the buildings as used in November in most cases but will be directed to sites used in the Special Elections. The school system will accommodate either decision


Saqib Stimulates the MoCo Delegation

MPW readers have seen before that Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39) is a vigorous man. Accordingly, his efforts to advocate for his local bill banning the sale of sexual stimulants to minors have gotten some members of Montgomery’s statehouse delegation aroused. But not in a good way!

Delegate Ali sent the following email to constituents of other Montgomery legislators urging them to tell their Delegates to vote for his bill:

Subject: Ask Delegate X to Protect Kids From Dangerous Chemicals!

Dear Friend,

Today I'm writing to you with an urgent request like none I have ever asked of you before. I need your help in passing some very important legislation currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly. I hope you can spare 5 minutes reading this email and taking some quick action to help a very good cause.

I have recently proposed legislation to protect children in Montgomery County from having access to certain “herbal supplement” products. If you visit a few area gas-stations or convenience stores, you may be surprised (as I was) to find Herbal Sexual Stimulant pills being sold next to the candy-bars. This sounds like a joke, but it is absolutely true. They are sold under sleazy names such as “Horny Goat Weed” and “Stamina-Rx”. These pills are sold over-the-counter without restriction for $6 - $8 each to anyone who wants them. Next time you fill up your gas tank, go inside and ask the store clerk.

There are numerous risks to public safety caused by the unrestricted sale of such pills:

These pills are not approved by the FDA. So there are very little safety standards in place.
These pills are sold over-the-counter but contain prescription drugs
Each packet is labeled with a warning that children under 18 should not use them. Yet they are sold to people of all ages.
There are numerous reports of teenagers abusing these pills for recreational and experimental purposes.
These pills are known to cause the medical condition priapism which is very dangerous and potentially lethal.
These pills can cause lethal reactions if mixed with other medications.
The age of sexual consent in Maryland is 16. So children under that age really shouldn't be buying sexual products.
I have laid out the case against selling these pills in painstaking detail with footnotes and references to scientific journals. You can see that entire case by clicking here.

For this reason, I have introduced “MC-908/09: The No So-Called Sexual Stimulants For Kids Act”. This bill would ban the sale of sexual stimulant pills to anyone under 18 years old. This bill will face its first vote sometime later this week.

However, I need your help. You see, I'm not sure if there are enough votes to pass this bill. I need every vote I can get. However, your representative -- Delegate X -- hasn't committed to voting for this bill. Could you pick up the phone and call Delegate X’s office right now? And could you send Delegate X an email too? I hope your call might help convince Delegate X to vote for this common-sense public safety measure.

Here is the contact information:

Tel #: (410) 841-XXXX
Email: [delegate.x]

Please make sure to:

Use your full legal name
Include your residential address
CC: on any email you send.
Ask that a written response be provided to you
Be polite and respectful but clear in your request. Here is what you can say and write:

“Dear Delegate X,

As your constituent and a faithful voter, I earnestly ask you to vote for MC-908/09: The No So-Called Sexual Stimulants For Kids Act. This is a common-sense public safety measure that will keep dangerous chemicals out of the hands of our children.

Please let me know at the earliest if I can count on you to vote for MC-908/09 later this week.


Your Name Here

Your Address Here”

Please make the call, and send the email right now, before it gets too late!

Please let me know the response you get.

Delegate Saqib Ali
(301) 685-3409

Friends of Saqib Ali, Authority Christopher Wilhelm, Treasurer
Several of Delegate Ali’s colleagues received emails citing this one. As a result, a few of them got pretty hot and bothered – and without any chemical aid whatsoever. The bill was put on hold at a County Affairs Committee meeting on 2/5/09. (One shameless Delegate actually wondered aloud whether the penalties were “stiff enough.”) Delegate Ali withdrew the bill six days later.

Expect more stimulation next year.


Doug Duncan’s Budget Record

Former County Executive Doug Duncan’s call for zero-based budgeting reminds us that he had a substantial role in formulating county budget policy for a long time. From the county’s FY07 and FY09 budget reports, here is a history of government spending and employee work years from FY98 on. (Click on the images for larger views.)

The county’s property tax charter limit was broken in FY 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2009. The first three breaks occurred during the Duncan administration.


Council District 4 Special Election Preview, Part Four

In Part Three, I gave my take on this race. Now we consult a group of our spies who have knowledge of this district. None of them have committed to support any of the candidates at this point. Here’s what they had to say.

Spy #1:

The race will effectively be between Navarro and Kramer, the other two won't have the name recognition or campaign experience to put together a serious campaign over the short term. Anecdotally, a lot of people seem to think Kramer has an edge because of name recognition, money, and the large concentration of Jewish voters on the western side of District 4. But I think Navarro has the edge right now for a couple of reasons:

1. Last year, she came within 350 votes of beating the widower of the beloved former councilmember, quite a feat given the sympathy Marilyn's death elicited in the electorate and the institutional power that had lined up behind Don.

2. Kramer has never run a great campaign, he squeaked in to his delegate seat after running a lackluster race and his performance in the precincts that overlap D19 and Council 4 was unimpressive.

3. In a special election with a short timeline money only helps so much and at some point you experience diminishing returns on your 10th or 12th mailing - and anyway Navarro is starting with 40k in the bank.

4. Navarro at least right now has the better team of organizers. David Moon is very good at what he does.

So I'd put my money on Navarro, but, in politics, there's never a sure thing.
Spy #2:

As I see this race shaping up, it will come down to two candidates: Ben Kramer and Nancy Navarro. Chris Paladino is impressive, earnest and well motivated, and he will be able to self-fund, but for a first time candidate, a special election with very low turnout is going to favor those with name-ID going in, so unless lightning strikes, I don’t see him making it. No one else has a shot.

Ben Kramer will run well in his part of the district, including Leisure World, where he and his dad are very popular, and this alone might be enough to take it. He has deep ties in the district and most of the local business community will line up behind him, given his longstanding ties there, and Ben is a likeable guy with a record of supporting job creation that will resonate well in this economy. A candidate with real business experience may be more attractive than ever now as voters look for leadership to help chart our way out of this fiscal mess. Also, he reportedly did some polling before the last race and the numbers looked very good for him for what that’s worth. He will be a real contender and is probably the front-runner going in.

Nancy Navarro is the other candidate with a real chance of winning this thing. She can pull together the broadest coalition, labor, minority groups, some business leaders, and she has the right inclusive message about expanding economic opportunity, a good theme in a time like this, and a balanced view on growth and transportation issues, plus she has positive name ID from last time. But her chances depend on running a highly disciplined and focused campaign and we will see if she does a better job this time at turning her supporters out in a low-turnout special election. If she does, she might overcome Ben’s advantage in Leisure World. Last time there was a great “sympathy” factor that worked to Mr. Praisner’s advantage but I don’t see that happening this time. District 4 voters have gone down that road, and many who did not support Nancy last time have commented recently that they regretted backing Don. They won’t do that again, even if another Praisner family member jumps in. Some of that potential support may be more comfortable with Nancy than with Ben on issues, and some may go with Ben because the civic crowd so harshly and unfairly demonized Nancy last time. We’ll see, but I think some of that vote will break her way and that makes her a contender.

As for Cary Lamari, let’s face it, the guy is a shallow, hypocritical windbag who loves to hear himself talk, but he is well outside the mainstream and his appeal is very narrow. He has been preaching his Johnny-one-note anti-growth message (anti-jobs, anti-housing, etc.) for years. This may resonate with some in the militant civic crowd, but I don’t see that message resonating at all with voters in the midst of a deepening economic crisis, and he will not be able to win over labor, teachers and other public employees, minorities or local businesses – all of whom pay the price for his “let’s all go back to the ‘60s” stance. If he were elected, you could count on a declining tax base and lots more furloughs and layoffs for public employees, teachers, firefighters, etc. for years to come. I think people get that connection now, and understand the “no-growth=no-jobs” equation: We need some job growth, some new roads and transit, and some new home construction to keep our economy alive. He talks a “smart growth” game, but his record is anti, anti, anti. Now we’ve seen what happens to our budgets when we bring everything to a grinding halt and it’s not pretty. It is interesting that he continues to blast away at the building and development industry, when he has dabbled in those industries himself as a small-time would-be builder and developer. Anyway, the good news is, he’s got about as much chance of winning as George W. Bush has of beating Martin O’Malley in the 2010 Democratic Party Primary in Maryland. That would be zero, zip, nada, and that is a good thing for you and me.

Ike has got to be smarting from his role last time too. What a mistake he made. He is the main reason Don won the seat, and how many times could Ike count on Don’s vote these last few months? Now District 4 is again deprived of leadership at a critical time, plus Ike took a lot of heat from the minority community that he is still paying for. Don’t look for him to get as visibly involved this time.
Spy #3:

I believe the only candidate in the race thus far deserving of support is Cary Lamari. Mr. Kramer is beholden to the business and developer community and this county needs an advocate for neighborhoods. Ms. Navarro too has taken an inordinate amount of money from developers and Supt. Weast's support of her against Don Praisner shows that as a Board of Ed member she showed no independence and served as a rubber stamp for him. Weast's record is an extremely tainted one and his arrogance about relating to the communities he is supposed to serve has reached epic proportions. As to Mr. Paladino, nothing is known about him for the reason he has done nothing in and for our communities and it is the height of egotism and arrogance for him to come forward to desire to represent one fifth of the county with absolutely no record of activism at anything.

No one in this race is more knowledgable on county issues nor more concerned for our communities than Cary Lamari. His service as President, of his Civic Association and of the Montgomery County Civic Federation is only a small reason why his experience is head and shoulders above the rest.

It is my opinion that Kramer will attempt to buy this election as he did the delegate seat he now holds. A family name is no qualification for the office he seeks.
Spy #4:

The only candidate who would genuinely reflect what the voters have gotten from Marilyn is probably Cary and he'll never get the resources to mount a credible campaign. Cary would most likely vote like Marilyn 95% of the time. The unions probably wouldn't find him more friendly than Marilyn or Don, and he's not going to lie down and play dead for Weast. I think Paladino will have a ton of money from the developers and business folks who gave a lot to Nancy, but he has almost no community connections. Debates are sparsely attended and it will be hard to get to know him via a mail campaign. They'll try to do with him what they did with Nancy - paint the landscape with his flyers and try to buy it. It's hard to say where he is because he hasn't answered any hard questions, but you got to figure that the Chamber and business interests don't line up behind a candidate that they don't think/know will take care of them. I don't think Nancy can win - the unions are tapped out for money and a bunch of her $$$ supporters have gone to Paladino. The power play for an election during vacation failed, nice try though, so her road gets harder. There are also one, possibly two, more minority candidates in the race who won't have much money or ground game, but they could sap some of her vote.

All that said, I think Ben likely wins and he'll eschew taking any developer money, so I heard, and then play that against Nancy. He's less of a developer, in the actual world, than he's perceived to be - he owns a couple of shopping centers but he's not out there building housing or office buildings. He's going to have to fight off the perception, but like Paladino he'll have enough money to paint himself any way he wants to. He's very pro-business and he played a big role in fighting the millionaires tax. Not sure how that plays in a district without many millionaires. He has a base in Leisure World and Kemp Mill, the precincts that vote are very favorable to him and I heard an interesting number - 63% of the voters in the last special election were over 65.

It will be interesting.
Spy #5:

This is a tough one.

Last time, Nancy nearly upset the sentimental favorite Don Praisner with a combination of labor, business and the teachers, and by running a smart campaign where she raised a lot of money in a short time. Ben Kramer will take much of the business support away from Nancy. I see Leisure World as the issue here. Ben likely will have the support of Ike, and with his dad helping him work Leisure World, he will get a lot of votes there. Nancy has a strong coalition with minorities, teachers and unions. If she can take just enough of the vote from Leisure World, she may be able to pull it out. The question is, how much of the Leisure World vote does she need?

At this point, I would give Nancy a slight edge.