Monday, July 8, 2019

Denouement and Conclusion: Retiring Spartan Considerations

Welcome to my “empire of dirt.”  After 336 posts since 2014, including some guest op-eds, I believe now is the right time to retire this platform. 

Of course, in reality, this has been the case since January 2019 when I started a new position in my old field. The statistics may not reveal the full truth, but they do not lie: in 2018, I posted 119 articles.  In 2019, including this one, a lonely 10.

It is with the irony fully embraced that I quote Oscar Wilde, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”  I have always endeavored to present my own voice through this blog.  Right now, it doesn’t feel as though the channel and the voice are aligned.  Perhaps covering two election cycles under the same banner was enough. 

Notice I wrote, “retire this platform.”  I still believe there is much to say about global, national, state, and local matters.  Medium might be a fresh, intriguing way of connecting with audiences, old and new.

And I do believe there should be an active voice of the Left in HoCo politics. There needs to be someone who spends their precious time and energy connecting the dots between public policy making and Big Ideas such as how best to promote economic democracy, empower the average person, and avoid the “regression into Barbarism.”  Perhaps a new platform will help replenish the will to reflect and write upon topics.  Besides, there are officials (elected and otherwise) who need to be held to account…and candidates mercilessly critiqued.  How can I shirk my responsibilities, especially in these times?

But what of your favorite “friends (fiends?) of the blog”:  Dr. Hirum Atus, Clive Hammerjets, and the incomparable Slats MacCune?  What of them?  Stay tuned.

That should just about do it for today.  Look for further updates via social media.  Until then:

In Solidarity.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Single-Member Districts: Why I Support Them

Note: This is a Guest Op-Ed, penned by Richard DeShay Elliott.  The opinions expressed are his own. Enjoy!

Single-Member Districts: Why I Support Them

            At a recent Board of Public Works meeting, Comptroller Peter Franchot endorsed the idea of single-member districts (SMDs) and computer-generated redistricting. I support these ideas, too. According to the University of Vermont, multi-member districts (MMDs) have a greater chance of re-electing the incumbents. Only 10 states in the country currently use multi-member districts, with 2 (Vermont and West Virginia) recently pursuing changes to single-member districts. Only Maryland, West Virginia, & New Hampshire allow as many as 3 representatives per district.

By states' own volition as well as court decisions, MMDs' usage began to decline from nearly half of legislative seats at the turn of the 1960s to 26% of representatives and 7.5% of senators in 1984. In the 1980s, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, South Carolina, and Virginia completely eliminated the use of MMDs and in the 1990s, Alaska, Georgia, and Indiana followed suit; Arkansas, North Carolina and Wyoming continued to use MMDs through the decade. By 1998, the number of states with MMDs had fallen to 13.

            Ironically, the current usage of SMDs and dual-member districts is to protect particular incumbents. It’s very peculiar that Senate President Mike Miller’s District 27, spread across Calvert, Charles, & Prince George’s County, is broken into 3 single-member districts. Ever wonder why Mike Busch’s district was arbitrarily cut into one safe Democratic dual-member subdistrict and a Republican subdistrict, all within D30? Miller’s district, broken into 3 parts in completely different counties, could never have an incumbent Delegate with the name recognition to beat him. Busch’s district makeup meant that even if insurgent Democrats went after him in the primary, his slatemate would likely be the one who lost. Selective single-member districts is just part of the incumbent protection package for leadership.

            With Maryland’s multi-member districts, the costs of running a race and the time needed to cover the 125,000+ population districts is too much for all but the most well-funded insurgent candidates. In many parts of the state, particularly Prince George’s County & Montgomery County, the only way to win is by joining the incumbent slate. This culture is deeply toxic and anti-democratic, as it forces people to be subordinates rather than independent legislators. Single-member districts would have 35,000 or less residents, allowing individual legislators to develop deeper relationships with their constituents and have a better grasp of their legislative needs. Doorknocking campaigns would be significantly more effective. At present, many districts have 2 or 3 legislators who are all from the community. With SMDs, we’d need Democrats from many more communities in Maryland.

If former Judicial Proceedings Chair Joe Vallario (D23B) or current Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis (D25) were in single-member districts, activists, unions, and advocacy organizations could target them. Under the multi-member district system, these slatemasters are protected, as their slatemates are the ones who would lose the election instead. For instance, an attempt to oust Judicial Proceedings Chair Luke Clippinger (D46) would threaten Robbyn Lewis. The current slate setup also allows incumbent Senators to win re-election by relying solely on the delegate slate. Reducing the cost of elections, the number of voters needed to win, and forcing every candidate to campaign on their own will yield great dividends for democracy and public accountability for politicians in this state.

            Gerrymandering is done throughout Maryland to protect incumbents as well, at both the federal and state level. Maryland’s 6th District was drawn for former State Senator Rob Garagiola, who lost in the 2012 Democratic primary to now-presidential candidate John Delaney. District 4 was redistricted to remove wealthy Black neighborhoods from Donna Edward’s district and put them in Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s district. District 47 was originally drawn in 2002 specifically for former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, prior to his first run for County Executive. District 34A was crafted following Mary Ann Lisanti’s policies as Havre de Grace City Manager, which have maintained racial segregation in Harford County. In District 23A, incumbent Geraldine Valentino-Smith was able to narrowly win reelection against grassroots progressive Shabnam Ahmed in her racial gerrymandered district. This gerrymandering frequently cuts up communities into having different representatives, weakening their ability to unite in opposition against individual representatives.

            While single-member districts and computer-generated gerrymandering would likely break the Democratic supermajority in the House of Delegates, it would also force the Maryland Democratic Party to become a serious statewide force in the general election. Subdistricts such as the Arbutus/Halethorpe section of District 12, Linthicum/Glenn Burnie in District 32, the northwestern Baltimore base of Yitzy Schleifer & Dalya Attar, Olney/Ferndale in District 19, & the Fells Point & Canton waterfront of Baltimore could be pickups for the Maryland Republican Party. But we could also gain Democratic Delegates from Cambridge, Salisbury, Hagerstown, and in other forgotten parts of the state where energized volunteers, small dollar donations, & a strong social media campaign can oust a sleepy incumbent.

Single-member districts would allow unions and advocacy organizations to target corporate Democrats and would make it easier to elect grassroots candidates. Finally, it would force “safe” Democrats and Republican incumbents to engage their voters or risk being ousted. This would be a positive step for increased democratization of Maryland and the elimination of the current machine culture within both the Democratic and Republican parties. I strongly support single-member districts & computer generated redistricting as electoral reforms in Maryland.

-       Richard DeShay Elliott is a Political Science Ph. D candidate at Johns Hopkins University, a public policy researcher with Delegate Vaughn Stewart, and campaign strategist with Tim Adams for Mayor of Bowie. You can find him on Twitter at @RichElliottMD and on Facebook.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Question of Legitimacy

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter recently opined that Donald Trump was not legitimately elected to the office he currently holds, citing Russian interference in our 2016 presidential elections.

The present author agrees with that contention, but would like to take it further.

In the case of Trump, his campaign was also aided and abetted by Republican officials in various states, most notably Secretaries of State, who have actively sought to disenfranchise voters. Mother Jones magazine, in a December 2017 article entitled "Rigged: How Trump Really Won," examined how "voter suppression threw Wisconsin to Trump" while also mentioning the voter purging efforts occurring in states including, but not limited to, Ohio, Georgia, Kansas, and Alabama.

Let's be clear, these steps taken to restrict the ability of the citizenry to exercise their right to vote represent a vicious assault on democracy itself - and they impact far more than one, albeit one very important, federal office.  Voter suppression has produced many illegitimate "elected" officials.  Brian Kemp of Georgia is the Governor of that state, and not Stacey Abrams, because of his strategy to disenfranchise disproportionately low-income and minority voters during his tenure as Secretary of State.

At the core, voter suppression is a tool of powerful oligarchic-inclined interests to hold onto as much political and economic power as possible.  These same interests have demonstrated their willingness to bend or break laws in pursuit of this agenda, and do not care if they are deemed to be illegitimate.

For the record, I believe that any President who came to office having won the electoral college but who did not receive the greatest number of popular votes was not legitimately elected, full stop. 

From that premise, we need to step back and look at our history and ask: Who was denied the right to vote (de jure or de facto) in each of our past presidential elections?  We have had many such elections where significant percentages of the adult population were unable to vote.  Thus, one could argue that many of our past Presidents were, from a democratic perspective, elected with something less than a legitimate mandate to govern as determined by the people, all of the people.

I believe the disaggregation of political and economic power and influence, and measures that accomplish those ends, will help prevent voter suppression efforts and similar assaults on the exercise of our inalienable rights. In the meantime, even with a rigged system, victories can still be won...and this must be kept foremost in mind as 2020 nears.

In solidarity.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Spinal Tarp

Who is rarin’ for some Esoterica? Which, as you know, is the title of a long-forgotten 1987 release from Def Leppard….’s former gardener Sven “the Tornado Puncher” Hedlund.  Who can forget, or hope to forgive, his now-infamous tour, the Magical Mystery Blur?  Not his fans, and certainty not the team of ravenous litigators representing Messrs. McCartney, Harrison, Starr, and the estate of J. Lennon.

[Note: No joke, I came up with that name, seemingly at random, but then I thought, well perhaps I should look it up just to be certain there is no Sven Hedlund guilty of war crimes.  Sure enough, there is a Svenne Hedlund, who was an actual Swedish pop singer.  Perhaps I knew it all along and it was in my subconscious?]

No matter. I am working on a project where a skilled expert informed me that I have eight seconds to impart my message.  I am long past that mark so you are probably not even reading this. 

You might have noticed my extended absence, or looking at it another way, a prolonged visit from my old friend Hiram “Hy” Atus. Read it slowly.

Work has been keeping me quite occupied since January so malheureusement, I have not been able to focus on local HoCo matters. 

My readership numbers tell me you are less interested in my musings on socialism or British politics.  Well, that’s steely fromage as they say in Akron.  I am about half-way through with Bhaskar Sunkara’s latest, “The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality” and it is a delightful page-turner, both accessible and informative. I will likely pen a review shortly after I complete it.

I am tempted to comment on the state of the presidential race, but I will not plummet down that hole Lidsville-style.  I will say this: I am waiting on Stacey Abrams.  If she doesn’t join the fray, I am down to three choices:  Elizabeth Warren (talkin’ codetermination!) and Kamala Harris are running neck-and-neck for the lead…with Comrade Sanders (imagine it being said by Peter Taaffe, it will sound better) in third.  Then comes the next tier…

I really want to get fired up over the latest HoCo BoE developments but my interests tend to be on the international and national scene…so I would say expect more of that in 2019.

And no, in answer to a fan letter, I am not Slats.  I am only 10% similar to him, 15% on a bad day.  He may appear every so often, we shall see.

Let’s wrap it up there. 

In solidarity.