Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ten Random Questions

Here are ten random questions we – and the spies – have been asking.

1. Will progressives find someone to run against Rona Kramer?
Senator Rona Kramer (D-14) is the bane of the left, having an even worse labor and environmental record than her brother, Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19). And Rona had no coattails for Ben, pulling in only three of sixteen precincts in her district for his County Council race. But the left has not yet found a plausible candidate to take her out. If they do – watch out!

2. Will Saqib Ali challenge Nancy King?
Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39) reported a cash balance of $87,423.54 in January 2009 – higher than any other Delegate except Susan Lee (D-16) and more than double District 39 Senator Nancy King ($40,217.23). Ali competed with King for the Senate appointment and criticized her months after she won, leading to speculation of a contest ever since. If Ali does challenge King, it endangers any chance of an incumbent slate and may make District 39 Delegate Kirill Reznik vulnerable. This rumor refuses to die.

3. How many open seats will there be in District 19?
Most observers believe Delegate Hank Heller will retire. Delegate Ben Kramer has made it clear that he would rather be on the County Council. So how many Delegate seats will be open? If there is more than one, how many people will come out of the woodwork to grab one? As if this is not enough, we hear Senator Mike Lenett may draw an opponent.

4. Once Jim Smith runs for Comptroller, what will MoCo Dems do?
Comptroller Pete Franchot may be the most hated man in Annapolis, but he is a statewide incumbent from Montgomery County. On the other hand, once Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith finally announces his challenge, there could be pressure from friends of Franchot targets Martin O’Malley and Mike “Big Daddy” Miller to support Smith. That will put many members of the Montgomery delegation – especially those from Franchot’s home base in District 20 – in a tight spot.

5. When will the state make its decision on the Purple Line?
Last fall, the Maryland Transit Administration released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement listing eight options for the Purple Line: no-build, maintenance of existing bus service, three options for Bus Rapid Transit (with one of them on Jones Bridge Road) and three for light rail. We expected the state to make its decision by now and begin the federal review process. Which option will they pick? And why are they taking so long?

6. What is happening at the Washington Post?
Change is coming to the Post, but not in a good way. The organization is undergoing its fourth buyout since 2003 and Greater Greater Washington has written that at least one local reporter is leaving. The Post ombudsman is already warning of a drop in coverage quality. Montgomery County reporters Ann Marimow and Miranda Spivack together produce only about three articles a week. (A blog with that little output would struggle to hold its readership.) If either of them takes a buyout, the impact on local coverage would be devastating.

Meanwhile, one of the county’s politicians recently asked us, “So, did anything come of the Post editorial story, or did they arrogantly ignore it like the lazy monopolists they are?” Unfortunately, the Post continues to employ an intern to write its editorials despite conduct that would have gotten him fired anywhere else. One of his latest MoCo editorials saying, “Maryland bureaucrats think they know best about Montgomery County school funding,” mimicked the county’s press release on the state School Board waiver, which said, “This is a classic example of state bureaucrats second-guessing an agreement reached on the local level by Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Public Schools to fully fund County school programs.” We deserve better.

7. What will happen to the fifth floor?
The County Council has two kinds of staff: political and merit. Political staffers (on the sixth floor) work directly for individual Council Members. Merit staffers (on the fifth floor) are technical experts in their subject areas who perform policy work for multiple members and often last over several councils. While some of the political staffers are excellent - and some are not - much of the institutional knowledge of the place resides with the merit staff. And the best of them are approaching retirement age in the next few years, including Staff Director Steve Farber, Deputy Staff Director Glenn Orlin (known as “the tenth Council Member”) and Senior Legislative Attorney Mike Faden. If all of them retire at the same time and are not replaced by top-notch people, Rockville will go down the tubes.

8. How tough will Ike Leggett be at the bargaining table?
We all know that County Executive Ike Leggett wants to run for re-election as a fiscal conservative. Later this year, he will get his chance to prove his conservatism because five of the six public employee union contracts (all except the Fire Fighters) will come up for bargaining prior to their expiration. Leggett’s team will handle the negotiations with the police and MCGEO directly. While Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast will bargain with the three education unions, Leggett will have some influence over that process because of his ability to recommend funding levels for the education budget. So will Leggett be a tough bargainer? Few of our spies expect that. If he is not, then he will be leaving it to the council to decide whether to fund any cost-of-living increases. That will be a tough argument to have in an election year with another multi-hundred-million dollar budget deficit looming over Rockville.

9. Who will build momentum in the Prince George’s County Executive race?
Right now, we see three credible candidates in the hunt: former Delegate Rushern Baker (D-22B), who nearly defeated term-limited incumbent Jack Johnson in 2006, Senator C. Anthony Muse (D-26) and State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey. A few months ago, we picked Ivey as the early leader, partially because Baker’s and Muse’s finances were in terrible shape. But there is a long time to go in this race. Montgomery County residents have a lot at stake here because Prince George’s dysfunction often spills over the border, especially with regards to WSSC. Most of our spies with an opinion favor Ivey, with one calling the dropoff between him and the other Prince George’s politicians “huge.”

10. When will the At-Large challengers announce?
We have received an awful lot of traffic on our Whispers of the At-Large Race series. We are hearing that we have missed a couple prospective candidates and we may have to revisit them. In the meantime, only two at-large hopefuls have websites up: Jane De Winter and Guled Kassim.

We cannot stress to the challengers how difficult this race will be. All four incumbents are running again. The county is a huge and expensive place in which to run. Money is tough to raise. Whoever jumps out first and shows some game will have an edge in generating buzz, lobbying for endorsements and getting some backing. There is no reason why any plausible candidate would want to cede these advantages to his or her rivals. So we are looking for some action soon.

Lordy, people, that is enough trouble-making for one day!