Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Crunch Time in Faulkner Ridge

Several weeks into a formerly crescent-fresh research assignment.  An increasingly immersive…and somnambulate…venture deep into the minds of those who study how humans learn, retain and apply knowledge during moments of considerable stress.  Still in the midst of this journey, hoping to wrap it up soon…at least take a break from it in a couple of days.  You see, an old friend of mine is coming into town this weekend.  He works in the Industry, in Los Angeles. He and I need to lock down a development deal for that movie I pitched a while back, “Smurfs: The Reckoning.”  Guess the studio didn’t go for the hard-R treatment. Thanks for nothing, Disney.

So little time to write in depth about community affairs, yet so many important events are taking place.  The Howard County Council recently passed the fiscal year 2015 budget, which funds our schools, the Merriweather Post Pavilion renovation, HCC, public health initiatives, libraries and many other programs and efforts that directly impact our quality of living.  All while being able to maintain a AAA credit rating (note: in February, Howard County was one of only 40 counties in the United States that obtained this rating, out of over 3,000 counties.  Source: The Baltimore Sun).  This is the 17th consecutive year that the County has managed to secure the highest rating.  That is top-flight fiscal management and our County Executive and County Council deserve credit for a job well-done.

Juxtapose that with the Columbia Association shenanigans and one can see the vivid contrast between responsible governance and clown shoes. Which is actually not fair since a few members of the CA Board seem to have made the acquaintance of Reality and Progress.  The newcomers? That appears to be another story.     

If you haven’t already, you should check out Frank Hecker’s posts on renovating Merriweather.  Just an absolute wealth of knowledge there. All well-presented too.

But the focus of this post is on yet another set of numbers, the first pre-primary gubernatorial campaign finance reports that were due by 11:59 pm on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Some highlights:

On the surface, disbarred attorney Michael Gisriel appears to be in decent shape.  Gisriel, better known for playing the role of Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy, is sitting on over $86,000 cash-on-hand.  But he owes himself $85,000 in loans to his campaign.  Will he actually spend that money or will he cut his losses?  Even if he continues to cut checks, will it make any difference?  The product he is selling remains Michael Gisriel and I don't know if the voters of the 12th are interested in that offering.  Yes he is on television but I have seen state legislative races where candidates with far healthier budgets spend their way to a fourth-place showing and 15% of the vote (in single-member districts).  They always wish they had kept the money and walked away from the table.  
In other D12 news:

Looking at cash-on-hand, Dr. Clarence Lam places second overall, with almost $74,000 in the bank.  Dr. Terri Hill’s campaign has slightly over $67,000 cash-on-hand following another solid fundraising period. 

Nick Stewart is fourth with a little over $42,600 cash-on-hand.  Eric Ebersole is next, with nearly $29,000 in his coffers.  Rebecca Dongarra is just north of $20,000 cash-on-hand ($20,767).

Rounding out the field are Renee McGuirk-Spence with $13,871, Adam Sachs with $1,607, Brian Bailey with $373, and Jay Fred Cohen, who filed his ALCE (Affidavit of Limited Contributions and Expenditures), indicating his intention to raise/spend less than $1,000 cumulatively.

Turning to 9B, Rich Corkran’s committee is in a precarious financial situation.  While he is sitting on $14,959 cash-on-hand, he owes himself $25,000 in personal loans he made to the campaign.  His report shows $12,055 in total receipts for the most recent filing period, that includes $10,000 in personal loans to his effort, another $1,000 from some other folks with the last name “Corkran” and a handful of other contributions.  In the meantime, he incurred over $20,000 in expenditures, largely on terrible direct mail-pieces. 

Meanwhile Tom Coale is showing $40,790 cash-on-hand, with over $26,900 in new receipts.  His is a true grassroots effort indicative of a campaign with a broad and deep base of support.

But my research beckons and I must return to that world. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Spoiler-Free 13th - Summer Is Coming

The shift from campaigning to governing will come soon enough.  But with the Primary Season winding down...that means more direct mail pieces in mailboxes, TV ads on screens, and campaign finance reports to be filed.  

And candidate surveys to be completed and published.  Speaking of, The Baltimore Sun has a handy resource that is worth of exploration: 

In there, one can find hidden treasures, like swords forged with rare Valyrian steel. For example, did you know that Fred Eiland (HD 13 candidate) is against the death penalty repeal?  His stated rationale is that: “Some crimes are so haunting that death is the only answer.  The punishment needs to fit the crime.”  While the death penalty is not high on the list of pressing voter concerns in Maryland in 2014, it is, nonetheless, one of those issues where a candidate’s stance instantly winnows him or her in or out.

While he should be applauded for competing The Sun’s questionnaire, I believe his perspective on the death penalty is a little too House Bolton…out-of-step with progressive-minded voters…in short, the majority of the Democratic primary electorate in the 13th.

So, with Eiland out of the mix, that leaves the two incumbents (Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner) and two challengers (Vanessa Atterbeary and Nayab Siddiqui).

While I am a proud resident of the Fighting 12th, I would probably vote for the two members of Team 13 who are running for re-election to the House of Delegates. So, if I wanted to vote for three candidates for this multi-member district, the choice is simple: Atterbeary or Siddiqui.  

I lived in Kensington, Maryland in 2010, so I am familiar with Atterbeary’s previous campaign for the General Assembly. It was a little rough: there were issues with sign placement and questions regarding verbiage selection in an endorsement mailer.  It came across more than a little ragtag, in vivid contrast to her impressive resume.  For those who wanted another option beyond the D-18 slate, it was a frustrating campaign to behold.

It is important to recognize that she is running a much better effort this time around. 

Side note: I just saw her ad on television this morning, and by state legislative campaign standards, it was decent. From a technical perspective, the visuals are appealing/engaging (much better than Gisriel’s atrocious commercial) and some thought seems to have been put in to the messaging.

Her pubic speaking performances have ranged from merely OK (Columbia Democratic Club endorsement meeting) to pretty solid (with the League of Women Voters of Howard County Forum being one of her strongest).  At the latter event, her answers on transportation and attracting manufacturing & industrial jobs to Maryland stood out as reflective approaches to solving those specific challenges.

From the standpoint of ability, she has the brainpower.  From the perspective of issues, there is nothing to suggest that she would not be a good, progressive vote in Annapolis.

So let’s turn to Nayab Lannister.  Of course I mean Siddiqui.  Something must be amiss with my laptop this morning.

As a candidate for public office, he makes a great business leader.  I’ve seen this storyline repeat itself far too often.  Some people hit the balance just right (in terms of local folks, Ryan Frederic, the Democratic Senate candidate in the 9th comes to mind), while Siddiqui is Siddiqui.

I will be specific. Does he know that, if elected, he will be one of 141 Delegates?  Policy-making is a collaborative process. How well will he work with others? I’ve seen him truly bomb at some forums.  He can come across as haughty.  He hurled the news of his endorsement by a prominent office-holder at the Thurgood Marshall Club endorsement gathering in a manner that seemed rather patronizing.  Yes, the policy and media attentive citizens in the audience know who the good Congressman is, Mr. Siddiqui. These Tywin moments have occurred a few times. It must be a teeth-gritting experience for his campaign manager…what will Nayab say next?

I will give him credit for turning in a measured performance at the League of Women Voters forum.  His response on the problems with Maryland’s ACA insurance exchange was detailed and solution-oriented.

This is not an endorsement.  Let it be said simply that Team 13 is looking very much like House Stark and I have an affinity for those from Winterfell.  If I were a voter in that state legislative district, I would probably cast my ballot for that slate: Pendergrass, Turner and Atterbeary.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Brief Thoughts on a Shortened Campaign - Corey Andrews and the HoCo BoE

I am going to limit my commentary on Corey Andrews’ decision to suspend his campaign for the Howard County Board of Education to an off-the-top, visceral response.

It was a bone-headed move.

He should have stayed in the race.  Once you are in, you stay in and fight.  I see no advantage to his cause in removing himself from the field (figuratively speaking of course, as his name will remain on the Primary Election ballot).  Given the rationale he stated in his suspension e-mail, he implicitly acknowledges ceding the field to people he refers to as “bad guys.”  OK, let’s play out this line of thought.  If Mr. Andrews truly believes that “the people of Howard County deserve better,” then wouldn’t it be great if they had alternatives?  Oops. Well, look for one of them on the bench, because he opted to stop playing. That is the opposite of a rallying cry.

Perhaps he is hoping his self-imposed suspension will draw more attention to the race in general and all of the recent HoCo BoE controversies in particular.  If that was the calculus, I don’t think someone carried the two.  It just doesn’t work out.  

As I wrote in my recent post on the Howard County Board of Education candidates, Mr. Andrews did not emerge as “one-to-watch.”  I thought then, as I do now, that better choices exist.  Had I been an Andrews supporter, I would be left feeling disappointed by his decision.  As it is, I shrug, shake my head and move on. 

District 13? Coming up…soon.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Ides of May

This week has been a deeper shade of hectic.  No getting around that twisted reality.  Had to miss multiple events…the Tigers game, the “Delegate Guy Guzzone Annual Pizza Party” (presumably the final one, assuming he has a new title next year…which would be awesome, well-deserved and fantastic for the cause of good government in the State of Maryland). So prepare yourself for Random Friday Thoughts!

1. The Anti-Inner Arbor Fussbudget Brigade was in rare form this week.  Deciding that “facts” are for the pusillanimous, one of their ilk used the phrase, “Putin-esque” to refer to the Inner Arbor planning process.  Obviously this is true because of the tanks that rolled through Symphony Woods following the 8 – 2 vote in favor of the Inner Arbor Concept Plan and Trust.  Wait, there was no forced annexation of territory?  Correct, and further, not one blade of grass was damaged by the CA Board’s 2013 vote.  On the contrary, some ill-tempered protestors from the aforementioned Brigade recently inflicted their own brand of “environmentalism” in the Woods, as is referenced in this excellent blog post right here.

So who is trying to strong-arm whom?

2. Looking forward to watching the League of Women Voters of Howard County State Legislative Candidate Forum online this weekend (need to catch the D13 candidates).  A big round of applause to all of those at the LWV for performing such a vital educational service…informing the electorate through skillfully moderated forums and detailed voter guides.  Nicely done.   And yes, that write-up on District 13 will be handled. Soon.     

3. As I write this, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) is gathering in Anaheim, California.  Frankly, the opinion research industry is in need of a bloodletting.  There are some exciting…and possibly unnerving…technological innovations that are emerging (oh the possibilities of brain mapping).  Like John Cusack’s character in Grosse Pointe Blank, I hate meetings so I am not in attendance but I wish my colleagues well.  

That is all for today.  Have a wonderful Preakness/Wine in the Woods Weekend!

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Eighth Inning...or What's In a Name?

Supposed to attend a Tigers – Orioles game in Baltimore in a few hours.   Client demands might necessitate a change of plans.  If I do not go, the odds of an unassisted triple play occurring at Camden Yards tonight have improved by 75%.

Went to the League of Women Voters State Legislative Candidate Forum yesterday evening.  Could only stick around for Districts 9 and 12.  Will have to catch D13 on television or online. 

At this late stage of the primary campaign, fighting off forum fatigue is a tough challenge.  The mind is looking to express itself in original ways, which is not always the smartest thing to do. 

This manifests itself in a couple of ways.  In this case of this author, the temptation to engage in boredom-alleviating mischief making was strong.  The forum allowed audience members to write and submit questions for possible inclusion in the proceedings…with the moderator and/or other LWV officials deciding what question would make the cut and be asked of the candidates.

During the District 9A Republican panel, I had the question framed in my head.  I knew an obvious set-up wouldn’t get past the gatekeepers…but something disguised might.  So this is what I came up with:

“A transportation question: given Howard County’s proximity to several major airports, do you favor or oppose the appropriation of funds to measure the impact of chemtrails on our local residents and agricultural products?”*

* (If you don’t know what chemtrails are, you clearly aren’t spending enough time watching conspiracy theory videos on YouTube).

But I didn’t want to be accused of making a mockery of the event, so I showed some restraint and didn’t pass the question along. Although it would have been entertaining seeing how far and how fast the assembled Republicans would sprint to the right.  Someone must protect the Patriots from the menace that rains down upon us! My money was on Christopher Eric Bouchat as the one most likely to take that question and run with it, with Frank Mirabile a close second.   Side note: Bouchat wore that black shirt/red tie combo like a champ.
You could tell by looking at the faces of the candidates that most would rather be elsewhere.  Either knocking on doors and talking with voters, reading, wasting their money devising God-awful terrible negative direct mail pieces, bunker prepping, or a host of other activities.  Some seemed to enjoy the experience, while others wore forced grins…if they bothered with smiles at all.

Branding and message disciple are important.  At this point, most of the candidates – to one extent or another – have a well-refined pitch and thoughtful, well-practiced answers to a variety of policy (and other) questions.  Honing and repeating a strong message and building name recognition are important.  But it leads to some unintentionally funny moments.

For example, because the candidates were speaking to the cameras, not knowing if the audience would see their paper nameplate on screen, many of them prefaced or ended their introductions and concluding remarks by stating their name…sometimes more than once.  In several cases, the candidates took the opportunity to repeat their name at the beginning of their responses to each of the questions (for the District 12 candidates, each answered six questions).  Yes Clarence, I am looking at you.

Which is exactly what you are supposed to do.  That said, by the fourth or fifth question, I kept wanting a candidate to mix it up.  Break out with a, “I am Keyser Soze,” or perhaps even an off-hand, “Tyler Durden” before launching into their 30-seconds on fracking.  Of course they would be ripped apart for showing a subversive sense of humor, which is unfortunate.

Big takeaways in the races with contested primaries: 

Tom Coale continues to show why he is the best choice in 9B.  He focuses on tackling serious challenges and working to improve the quality of life in Ellicott City.  Meanwhile his opponent, off-stage, appears to spend his energies launching smears….and I guess he didn’t think it wise to repeat his attacks in-person/on-camera.  Interesting.

As I have noted earlier, I think Ryan Frederic would be a great Senate nominee in District 9, but he needs to win the primary first.  He needs to make it clear that he is the only pro-choice candidate in the field…and I believe the only pro-marriage equality candidate as well.  One could infer his stances on those issues when he rattled off his endorsements, but he needs to be comparative and he needs to make those positions front and center. Now.

The hard-right is well-represented in the GOP primary in 9A.  If the Republicans continue running candidates like that, Democrats are going to make gains in Western Howard County…sooner than later.  The two Democratic candidates: Walter Carson and James Ward Morrow, seem like decent, respectable choices.  Carson’s monologue meandered a bit…I have seen him turn in better speaking performances. 

I have written extensively about the legion running in the 12th House District.  As a group, they are much better communicators than they were just a few short months ago.  Strictly from a professional perspective, it is encouraging to see that kind of maturation as the candidates grow more experienced, more comfortable.

Of course Jay Fred Cohen was a no-show.  In substantive terms, that might have been the case had he occupied a chair on the stage last night… but writing that seems mean-spirited.  I just haven’t seen a legitimate rationale for his candidacy.

There were mostly thoughtful answers provided to a range of questions dealing with transportation, the business-friendliness of Maryland and other priorities and issues.  Only one clear punch was thrown during this part of the forum; it occurred when Rebecca Dongarra referred to the two candidates who are new to the district.  She did not name them, but that information is easy enough to figure out.  More of a sharp elbow I suppose.

But this post is running long and the hour is getting late.  I will talk about the 13th soon enough. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Treachery of Forums

Ceci n’est pas une recapitulation.

One experiences a certain exhilaration driving 75 mph on icy Michigan highways during a relentless January evening snowstorm.  Semis, operated by road-weary professionals who believe they are the living Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page,” merge and careen across the lanes.  It is no place for a vintage Mercury Lynx with a couple of near-balding tires, but you white-knuckle it out, teeth gritting past every mile marker.  Wide-eyed, artery-clearing terror intermingles with the mechanical no-thought of skillful driving and the warmth of hope as the promise of home and hearth draws nearer.  Just need to work the physics…avoid the spinout.

I kept thinking back to that drive, the Kalamazoo-to-East Lansing trip from early ’95, as I was watching the League of Women Voters of Howard County – Board of Education Candidate Forum(s).  I have a feeling some of the candidates were in a similar place, mentally, as they sat there fielding questions from the moderators.  No one ended up in a ditch, but it was only one short stretch of the journey.  Several turned in good performances, but for some of them, if you take a hard look at their qualifications or past experience or general philosophy, the shine comes off rather quickly.

I tried to hack through the Gordian Knot and choose a final four, but that task will require more reflection, more time.  That said, I can winnow the field down to a top nine contenders.  Here are some impressionistic profiles of the seven Best-of-the-Best, the two Borderline who could move up (or down), and the four Others:

Top Seven (in alphabetical order, because I know you will ask):

Bess Altwerger: The Educator’s Educator.  Highly knowledgeable. Common Core skeptic. Recurring themes: well-rounded, individualized curricula & developing critical thinking. Positioned herself as an advocate for teachers and students (a plus in my book although others might view that differently).

Zaneb Beams:  Holistic perspective on child advocacy.  Brainy and a clear communicator. Recurring themes: Finding solutions, open communications, equity.  Showed some real passion during a discussion on technology usage (“every child should have it...” but made her opinion clear that advanced technology utilization is not an educational end-all/be-all).

Olga Butler:  Practical experience. History of involvement in the schools.  Recurring themes: building relationships, partnerships.  One of the highlights of the forum was her answer to a question asking about the biggest weakness of the system.  Her response was: “The Board.”  Regardless of your thoughts on that issue, you have to admire the honesty of the reply.   

Maureen Evans Arthurs: Good policy background. Recurring themes: collaboration, representing the will of the community. I think her “new voice” positioning is a bit risky, inasmuch as it highlights her relative inexperience.  Her best moment was a rebuttal of Mr. Dyer’s statement regarding technology, when she worked in a fitting reference to Oregon Trail. 

Sandra French:  Knowledgeable incumbent.  Frankly, I would like to see both incumbents seeking re-election on the November ballot if only for the largest possible electorate to have the opportunity to use the General Election as a referendum on the job performance of the incumbents…and the direction of the Board as a whole.  Offered up a weaker response on the technology question.  Support zero-based budgeting.   Favors giving the Board of Education some measure of funding authority.

Dan Furman:  Legal expertise.   Gets the importance of the budget as a policymaking/shaping tool. Recurring themes: proactive problem solving, relevant experience, knowledge of the budget.  Opposed to zero-based budgeting.  I can’t decide if he would be outstanding or merely OK, which is why I would like to see him emerge as one of the top eight vote getters in June. 

Cindy Vaillancourt: Energetic incumbent.  Would like for her to be on the November ballot for the reasons I articulated earlier regarding French.  Provided some thoughtful answers regarding system weaknesses (“too much focus on test scores”) and the importance of an educational system that equips students to travel down one of any number of potential life paths. 

The Borderline (also in alphabetical order):

Leslie Kornreich:  STEM.  Perhaps it is a question of presentation, but not much stood out about her performance at the forum, one way or the other.  She is concerned about the implementation of Common Core…and she adopted the most pro-STEM stance among the candidates.  Qualified for the Board of Education? Sure. But I haven’t heard a compelling vision for her candidacy yet.      

Christine O’Connor:  Teacher/education activist. Was caught up on the wrong side of a flood and was unable to attend the forum.  I have heard good things about her and would like to see more from her in the coming weeks. As of this writing, she is in the 8th position.

The Others (also in alphabetical order):

Corey Andrews:  This may be unfair on my part, but I tend to prefer candidates with a bit more life experience.  An amazing presentation might have convinced me that Mr. Andrews was a top-tier candidate…but I didn’t see anything that demonstrated a remarkable depth of knowledge.  He has a future in something…but I don’t know what that “something” is.  I don’t think he would be a good fit, at this time, on the Howard County Board of Education.

Tom Baek: I don’t believe he possesses a great handle on some of the specific opportunities and challenges involved with the Howard County Public School System.  He has an interesting and deliberative communications style that might lead to a better, calmer, more functional group dynamic at the Board-level but he simply doesn’t have the education background that other candidates have.

Allen Dyer: A couple of good moments during the forum but I would direct anyone to review the extensive public record on Mr. Dyer.  Draw your own conclusions.

Mike Smith:  While he spoke extensively during the forum…I didn’t hear much beyond broad generalities and some life experiences overseas that may, or may not, be applicable to the responsibilities he would face as member of the Howard County Board of Education.  I don't think he is particularly well-versed on HCPSS issues.  

Will I do a final four before Primary Day?  Probably.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Wincopin Steamroller

The deal went down last night. 

Mr. Reg Avery sits, officially, as the Columbia Association Representative from Oakland Mills. 

The Code of Ethics provision that fueled the controversy [about a Board Member not being able to be a candidate for public office while serving as a CA Representative] was changed to limit the applicability to a “Board Member sworn into public office.”  It is noteworthy that the new Harper’s Choice CA Rep, Alan Klein, pushed to strike the original, apparently controversial, language from that provision entirely but his motion was defeated by a 5 – 4 margin, with the minority position held by the three new Board Members and Ms. McCord. Mr. Swatek abstained. 

So Mr. Swatek suggested amending the language to cover a CA Board Member when he or she actually assumes office.  His motion passed by an 8 – 2 majority, with Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Schwind in the minority.

There were some hard truths spoken and tough questions asked.  One of the Board Members in the aforementioned two-person minority, joining the discussion via telephone, wondered aloud if some future Board Member, seeking elective office, might jeopardize the Association’s 501(c)(4) status. Bill Woodcock, graciously congratulating Mr. Avery on his election, also raised concerns about the possible future implications of allowing Board Members to be candidates for office simultaneously.

Meanwhile, there was a heated debate occurring directly behind my seat.  The janitorial service was just outside the door of the meeting room, making the sounds one would expect of a cleaning crew…a bit annoying but sporadic…and not 120 decibels.  A former CA Representative sitting in the audience wanted the glass door to be closed, to help shut out the noise.  Another person (according to my sources, a CA employee) insisted that the door stay open, in keeping with the spirit of an “open” (read: not closed) meeting.  So voices were raised as tempers flared.

Frankly, their debate made as much sense as anything else last night.  Many of the arguments in favor of seating Mr. Avery or revising the Code of Ethics had much to do with the circumstances surrounding the election of a specific individual….and not the application of a specific policy.  Remember the whole, “a government of laws and not men” philosophy? Not many people did in the Columbia Association Board room last night.  One gets the feeling that – had a candidate with a perspective different from theirs been elected – some members of the audience who supported seating Mr. Avery without the need for a waiver and/or the Swatek Amendment - would have instead pushed for a rigorous adherence to the existing policy. 

Am I saying there was a certain paucity of intellectual honesty and an abundance of disingenuousness in the room? Absolutely.

Oh yes, and Mr. Stack is going to be the Chair for the first six months of the year, and Mr. Swatek will assume the Chair for the second six months.  This came following a 5-5 split on the election of the Board Chair.  I left before this vote occurred, but my understanding is that there were no surprises regarding the composition of the two voting blocs.

I have a feeling we will see the same coalitions emerge on other issues over the course of the next 12 months.  The calendar says 365 days, but it will seem longer.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Showdown Near Lake Artemesia

A quick analysis of last night’s Maryland Democratic Gubernatorial Debate:

If one accepts the premise that a key success metric is: “Did Candidate X achieve what they set out to accomplish?” Then by that standard, Delegate Heather Mizeur won the first debate.  At least she fared the best of the three candidates on the stage.  If I were grading their performances, I would probably give her a B+ (I am a tough grader).

Mizeur needed to look and sound like a Governor.  Her presentation was largely positive and policy-focused, she came across like a Chief Executive.  This was helped by the fact that Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler chewed up a considerable amount of clock with their back-and-forth squabbling.

Mizeur needed to stay on message and focus on conveying the key points of her platform.  Again, she was largely successful in this regard.  From a technical perspective, she delivered a superlative response to the “experience” question by citing concrete examples of how she helped “get big things done.” Excellent pivot.

Perhaps she spoke about a living wage one time too many; and there could have been more “loft” in her closing statement, a more compelling articulation of her vision for Maryland.  That said, by not engaging in the finger-pointing or getting caught up in the muck and mire, she made the most of her opportunity.  

What Mizeur needs to watch out for?  Rising poll numbers will make Mizeur a target in a second debate.  With such a scenario, she has to be prepared to handle tough questions from the moderator/panelists and the other two candidates.  The trick will be to stay on the high road while being able to respond, effectively, to any criticisms.  She also needs a better closing statement, something that wins over hearts and minds by simultaneously elevating and grounding her slogan: “Real Results for Maryland Families” into language that connects with voters.  Could be as simple as a re-working of one of the themes she touched on earlier.  For example: “it’s time to get big things done, for a Maryland for all of us.”

I would probably give Gansler a B-.  His opening statement was solid. If he was running in an open primary, I would probably have given him a B but his profile and positioning tend to be to the right of Brown and there are simply fewer likely Democratic primary voters – in a closed primary – who occupy that space.  His attacks on Brown were better-crafted and executed than Brown’s critiques of Gansler.  Gansler also didn’t come across as a seething rage-aholic, which is a plus for the Attorney General.

What Gansler needs to watch out for?  Gansler has shown he can throw a punch, but he risks alienating potential voters (most notably soft Brown supporters who could be convinced to support another candidate as well as persuadable undecideds who might be averse, attitudinally, to “comparative" campaigning). So he has to worry about hitting too hard, or too often.  Doing so might open up the temperament question, which leads straight to the character issue that remains a looming menace to his candidacy.

Brown delivered a C/C+ performance.  His attempt at tagging Gansler with the “reprimand” back-fired.  His opening statement was a bit bio-heavy, but candidates seeking higher offices can get away with spending some time talking about their personal narrative…to a certain extent.   Both Mizeur and Gansler did a better job of discussing issues that voters care about in their opening remarks.

What Brown needs to watch out for?  Well the good news from Brown’s off night is that his expectations might be lower for the second debate.  He clearly didn’t accomplish what he set out to do and he looked vulnerable in the process. His campaign has the most work to do in terms of message re-tooling and debate prep.  He did well when he talked about service…but he rarely linked that theme up with a specific issue or Higher Purpose (the role of government in, say, education…or health care).  Connect the dots from a philosophic underpinning to how he, as Governor, can turn that vision into a reality, a reality that will help the lives of Maryland families by X, Y, Z. And, frankly, he needs to be less cautious…while also framing better criticisms of Gansler.  When he tried to go on the offense, he swung and missed too many times.

The next debate should be considered Must-See TV.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Cacophony of the Desperate

A perfect day for a run today, did the 4-Mile/4-Village Loop…from the Wilde Lake Village Center (open for business with plenty of parking off of Cross Fox!) over to Harpers Farm Road, down Cedar Lane and past the Hospital to the long Hickory Ridge Road straight-away, left onto Broken Land Parkway and completing the route with a dash back up Twin Rivers.

Wish I could have enjoyed the scenery a bit more, but one discordant note kept popping up.  I recognized the tune.  It was the Cacophony of the Desperate, a solo composed by Rich Corkran, candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates. 

What does it say about Mr. Corkran when…

…he is a former teacher but the Howard County Education Association (HCEA), which represents more than 5,000 Howard County educators, endorses Tom Coale?

…he keeps repeating the refrain that he is a “lifelong Democrat,” but the Columbia Democratic Club and other progressive organizations and individuals support Tom Coale?

…he appears to spend a fair amount of time on Facebook attacking Tom Coale whereas Mr. Coale spends time engaging with other members of the community…talking about working collaboratively to find solutions to some of the challenges facing Howard County in general and District 9B in particular.

By launching his amateurish attacks, Mr. Corkran reveals himself to be what he is: a hollow candidate who can’t articulate a positive, substantive rationale for his campaign.   It is very disappointing that Mr. Corkran, who should know better, decided to go negative against a fellow Democrat. 

Mr. Corkran seems to forget the adage that politics is, fundamentally, about addition and not subtraction. 9B is a swing District.  For a Democrat to win the General Election, you need a top-flight, forward-thinking candidate who can also appeal to progressive-minded Independents (and yes, even a few Republicans…because some of them won’t be able to stomach the eventual GOP nominee).  I have seen candidates like Mr. Corkran before…too many times…they tend to lose and lose badly.  I don’t think the voters of 9B want to endure four years of either Bob Flanagan or Carol Loveless, and that nightmare scenario is far more likely to happen if the hapless Mr. Corkran were to become the Democratic standard-bearer.

Given a choice between:

Candidate A: A smart, serious-minded Democrat who is a problem-solver and who works well with others and who can win in November OR

Candidate B: A Democrat who spends time and resources attacking Democrats (much like a Republican would)…and who is likely to get stomped by whichever conservative Republican emerges out of their primary.

Well, the choice is not difficult. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Character and a Flamingo-colored HQ

Eighteen years ago, I was serving as the press secretary for a congressional campaign.  The candidate, simply put, hated being a candidate…with an passion uncommon among those who operate at that level.  The Governor asked him to run against a long-time incumbent who belonged to the other party.  In the previous election cycle, a challenger who could have been described, charitably, as the proud possessor of a thin resume almost knocked out said incumbent Congressman.  The logic flowed that if a lightweight almost succeeded in ’94, surely a Heavy could finish the job in ’96.  So, dutifully, he gave up his position as the head of a state agency and entered the race.

To say that he barricaded himself in his campaign office at one point would be an over-statement…  but not by much. It is safe to say that he found the experience grueling.   He wasn’t a political animal; he was an expert on transportation issues who found himself on the campaign trail.  It was a bad fit from “go.”  Too bad though…he would have been a good, thoughtful U.S. Representative. 

It’s been a long time since I sat in that campaign office, a small bright pink building off Dixie Highway in Waterford, Michigan.  I hear it housed a clothing boutique once, but that is only an apocryphal tale.   The place had character, as did the candidate.

Character is a fascinating attribute. Political scientist James David Barber, in his work, “The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House,” focused on what it could tell us about a presidential aspirant, and what particular challenges a Chief Magistrate – if you permit the usage of a rather archaic descriptor - might face based on the amount of energy he or she exerted in executing the duties of the Office…and his or her outlook on life, the world, and the role of the Presidency.

Barber categorized U.S. presidents into one of four groups based on two criteria: their energy levels (active/passive) and their attitude or “orientation” towards the job (positive/negative). So there are four possibilities: active/positive, active/negative, passive/positive, and passive/negative.

I’m not a particular proponent of this heavily psychological classification scheme, but let’s adapt & simplify the concept and explore the space a bit…

An active/positive would be a president with a high energy level who enjoys the responsibilities of the office.  They are adaptive and strive for “rational mastery.”  They may experience issues dealing with the “irrational in politics.” As is the case for all four clusters, some achieve more success than others. Two recent examples of this type of character would be Presidents John F. Kennedy and Gerald Ford.

An active/negative is also high-energy, but derives “low emotional reward” for their effort. They tend to be less flexible and they endure bouts of pessimism, exacerbated by a disconnect between their political ambitions and the “condemnations of a perfectionist conscience.” President Woodrow Wilson is of this group, as are Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

A passive/positive tends to be reactive, but possesses a “superficial optimism.”  They are driven more by a “search for affection” than the other types.  This need for external approbation can be a source of strength and a considerable weakness. Looking at recent presidents, Barber places President Ronald Reagan in this bloc.  Personally, I believe that Reagan’s optimism was not merely superficial and that his energy levels, at least for a significant part of his first term, were somewhere between active and passive on the energy spectrum.  His politics and policies aside, I do not think Reagan is the archetype of this group.

A passive/negative is also reactive, not an initiator.  They are duty-focused, with a tendency to “withdraw, to escape from the conflict and uncertainty of politics by emphasizing vague principles…and procedural arrangements.  They become guardians of the right and proper way, above the sordid politicking of lesser men.”  Barber cited President George Washington and President Dwight Eisenhower as two examples of this character type. Again, these are Barber’s classifications and even he recognizes that his characterizations are rather broad tendencies.

So what does this all mean?  Well, let’s take it from “president” to “local office-seeker.”  Understanding that greatness, or massive ineptitude, can spring from any of the four groups, several questions leap to mind.  Among local public officials and candidates, who falls within what categories? What can that tell us about what they might do and how they might serve?  What should we, the voters, consider when thinking about their character? What challenges should they keep in mind? How can their energies and worldviews be harnessed to bring out the best in them? 

Academic? Perhaps.  But a fun thought exercise nonetheless.  Definitely much more engaging than trying to coax a candidate to unlock a door so they can meet up with a local precinct delegate they can’t stand.   

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reading Between the Lines

This post was supposed to be about the League of Women Voters of Howard County - Board of Education Candidate Forum.  The event was well-run by a team of...ninjas? My notes are almost entirely illegible. Blame it on a pho broth spill. Let's assume I meant "moderators."

I penned about 350 words but the story lacked both a hook and a core, so that assignment is going to be put aside...for now.  I might craft a BoE endorsement post, but I would need to winnow the field down to a top four first.  As of this moment, the best I can do is three tiers: Probably, Probably Not, and Heck No. If anyone wants to make a pitch for their favorite(s), feel free to comment below or send me an email or message.

There is some positive news that deserves attention: A new library and senior center is coming to Elkridge.  Being a huge fan of libraries in general...and Howard County's acclaimed library system in particular... I am elated that Council County member Courtney Watson's determined efforts - along with Howard County Library System CEO Valerie Gross and the support of community leaders such as Jon Weinstein (who testified in favor of the Elkridge library upgrade at a recent budget hearing) - have produced big results that will enhance the quality of life for many of our residents.  Great news indeed.

Relevant coverage can be found here and here

This is exactly the sort of leadership that Howard County needs: smart, practical, hard-working, collaborative and outcome-oriented.  And of course I would be remiss not to recognize County Executive Ken Ulman for increasing the funding necessary to move ahead on the library and senior center.  

Looking at the leadership descriptors I used in the first sentence of the previous paragraph, perhaps this post was about the Board of Education after all.     

Stay tuned, as more will follow.