Saturday, January 31, 2015


“Yeah there’s a storm on the loose, sirens in my head
I’m wrapped up in silence, all circuits are dead
I cannot decode, my whole life spins into a frenzy...”

Rumor has it that Mitt Romney was in his study, listening intently to this classic blaring out of his Klipsch speakers when he made his presumably final, final decision to not enter the ’16 presidential campaign.   Then, without warning, he hurled the caffeine-free Diet Coke clutched in his right hand into the fireplace…the crystal goblet shattering upon impact…and he screamed, “You can have Jeb!” 

Of course some sources are more reliable than others.  Personally, I believe he was quaffing chocolate milk.  Let the historians sort out that enigma.

For the true political aficionado, there is nothing quite like an election cycle with vigorously contested Democratic and Republican presidential nominating processes.  In the modern era, that means ’76, ’80, ’88 (more or less), ’00 (barely), and ’08.  Even then, 2000 just made the cut as Al Gore won every primary, with Bill Bradley’s high-water mark being a narrow defeat in New Hampshire.  He was done five weeks later.

[Side note: Pat Buchanan’s 37.4% showing in New Hampshire in ’92 against incumbent President George H.W. Bush made the GOP race interesting…for about two weeks.  Was it a serious challenge? No.]

With the latest reporting indicating that Hillary Clinton may push a formal announcement back to July, she is effectively freezing the field.  Oh sure, Bernie Sanders can keep living the Vermont Dream…and Jim Webb may find a way to run a campaign that won’t have the word “quixotic” permanently affixed to it (although his exploratory effort, to date, has been lackluster).  I have a hard time seeing Martin O’Malley make an aggressive push to secure the Big Chair, even if he decides to enter the fray.  Would he go negative on Hillary, knowing that it might cost him a spot on the VP short list or a Cabinet post?     

Will there even be any Democratic primary debates?  Clinton probably couldn’t avoid some forums if Biden jumped in, but why would he challenge Hillary?  His moment has passed.

So perhaps the tempest will be limited to the GOP contest.  Even with Romney out, two dozen legitimate potential Republican candidates remain, a figure that will probably settle down to closer to 10 – 12 by Ames, with a couple exiting shortly thereafter.   There will be action on that side of the aisle.

Still, it would be a shame for history to record 2015 – 2016 as a lost opportunity for Democrats to have a candid and thorough dialogue on the future of the Party and, more importantly, of America.  While a national conversation can take place without candidates, it is easier to promote an agenda when one is an announced candidate for the highest office in the land.  Can a debate be influenced from the Senate Floor?  Sure.  That said, a robust discussion of differing visions of government would be facilitated by a truly competitive nominating contest.  Obama was able to advance and refine his governing philosophy during the 2007 – 2008 forums and debates, as Bill Clinton did in ’92 when he faced off against Brown, Tsongas and the other Democratic hopefuls.  In both cases, it should be noted, the Democratic nominee went on to win the White House. 

And somewhere, far away from the spotlight, Mitt will ponder Whittier…

“For of all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

It would be unfortunate if there were prominent Democrats contemplating the meaning of those exact words in November, 2016.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let Us Cancel the "Mad Men"

Grandiloquence has a time and place; yet this is neither the hour nor the location for ornate language.

My message to the Maryland General Assembly  - frankly to every elected and appointed policymaker in this state and beyond – is simple:  Do Your Job and Treat People with Respect.

Always act as though your entire family is standing right beside you, and behave like a professional, and think about Kant and a categorical imperative…or whatever is necessary to prevent one from acting like a libidinous buffoon, sexist dolt and/or generally despicable human being.

Obviously, I am referring to the recent Kurtz article.  While not astonished by the content, I was nonetheless disheartened to read that such abhorrent behavior persists among some of those who hold positions of public trust. 

Such abuses occur in many places where political power concentrates.  They should never have occurred and they need to end now.

Of course not every lawmaker is guilty of such reprehensible deeds, but there are malefactors.  They need to be punished.

Turning to our state government, Annapolis must take steps to eradicate the culture of sexism.  Those who violate the sacred trust that must exist between those who govern and the governed must face swift and severe penalties.  Moreover, the healing light of truth should shine down upon those who engage in predatory behavior….their constituents need to know about such matters.  Institutional reforms might prove necessary, and should be welcomed in the cause of good government…and the elevation of humanity.     

My apologies to my readers… I dislike writing while infuriated.  That said, sometimes, jeremiads are necessary.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

False Start (with an Update)

So much for the “new spirit of bipartisan cooperation,” a platitudinous phrase delivered, apparently bereft of sincerity, by Maryland’s new Governor, Lawrence Joseph Hogan, Jr.

As my policy and media-attentive readers are all too aware, within hours of launching his Administration, the One-Term Express, Hogan:

- Withdrew regulations that protect Maryland citizens from discrimination, based on sexual orientation and gender identity...

- Failed, in his first Executive Order, to include gender identity “as a grounds for equal opportunity.” [Source:]

- And, on another matter, while his move on pulling regulations having to do with phosphorous output was well-received by at least one Democratic State Senator (pump the brakes a little, Senator Mathias), the potential impact of his decision on the health of the Chesapeake Bay and other rivers is not sitting well with environmentally-minded Marylanders.

In short, within days of taking office, Hogan is veering hard right.   This shift is neither promising nor unexpected.

In his Inaugural Address, Hogan stated that we must “set the bar higher.”  Thus far, he is failing in the pursuit of that objective.  Moreover, when he said “Marylanders are hard-wired for inclusiveness,” he is not yet exhibiting evidence of that virtue.  And I would have to imagine that he decided against an appeal to the “better angels of our nature” by his decision to not protect the rights of all of our citizens in his first Executive Order.

Hopefully, others within Hogan’s party will call upon the Governor to live up to the moderate-sounding words he uttered recently in Annapolis.  Perhaps Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman has some thoughts he would like to share on this topic.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Update (1/23/15) from Equality Maryland's FB status update:  "Governor Hogan's office has reached out to Equality Maryland to tell us he has re-issued the Executive Order to include gender identity. It should be publicly available by Monday."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Judgment of Solomon

It is always a joyous occasion when local elected bodies are called upon to debate and decide issues that relate to religious beliefs and practices.

Such was the case recently when the Howard County Board of Education voted on the listing of religious holidays on the date boxes on the HCPSS school calendar.

Setting aside, for a moment, the decidedly Abrahamic focus (with the exception of dharma-oriented Sikhism and, arguably, the syncretic Bahá'í faith) of the officially recognized religious holidays, one should not confuse the debate itself as another front in the so-called War on Religion.

The inclusion or exclusion of the holidays from a calendar would have zero impact on the right of Howard County families to worship, or not, in the manner of their choosing.  The right of private individuals to express publically their faiths and belief systems remains unchanged by the Board’s decision.

In any event, the majority (correctly in my estimation), recognized that excluding certain holidays from the calendar could be deemed insensitive and othering in our culturally heterogeneous County.  This leaves two obvious equitable solutions – either including all holidays on the date boxes or removing all of them from the date boxes. 

So the Board threaded the needle with a third, design-centric, approach; with their solution calling for the creation of a “separate box” that names the holidays  “alongside the month in which they fall.” 

This action will, in all likelihood, not satisfy advocates of a strict separation of church and state; nor will it placate those who believe the removal of the holidays from the date boxes constitutes an insult to their chosen religion. 

However, it is a good and fair compromise.  Importantly, the discussion could have descended quickly into extreme rancor but it did not.   The sentiments expressed in the Baltimore Sun article were thoughtful and free from divisive language…which is encouraging in light of some recent BoE debates.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Let the Sunshine In!

Intrepid local reporter Amanda Yeager of the Howard County Times covered three stories in one article, all having to do, in varying degrees, with openness:

1) Howard County waits, with increasing bated breath, for the budget cut recommendations to be made public.  It is understandable, of course, that the County Executive needs time to review the proposals from the various departments.  No sense rushing into any decisions. Wouldn't be prudent. That said, those sands continue to follow gravity's course in the proverbial hourglass of time.  It is only a question of When and When is approaching.

How far will the tendrils of austerity extend? Who will be touched by them?

2)  Kudos to "local blogger" Bill Woodcock for filing a complaint regarding "The People's Voice's" campaign spending reports.  Do their campaign finance filings for this cycle seem a bit hinky in light of the ballots they printed?  A little bit.  Frankly, Lisa Markovitz's online reply comes off as more than a little defensive, with the headline of her complaint response being "Response to a Baseless Complaint."  No mincing words there I suppose.

In any event, I am certain a group claiming such a rigorous and undiluted dedication to the proposition of transparency will be more than happy to cooperate with the Maryland State Board of Elections as they look into this matter.     

Bottom line?  Citizen vigilance is it's own reward.

3) And Jon Weinstein, the new Council Member representing the Fightin' First will be holding his first citizen workshops soon (on January 28 "in the cafeteria of Elkridge Landing Middle School" to be precise).  Excellent news. It should be a fantastic opportunity for information-sharing and neighbor-connecting.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Two Community Events

1.  The second Haiti Sister City Planning Committee Meeting is tonight from 7 pm to 8:30 pm at the Columbia Association HQ.  Looking forward to making some progress on the proposed Sister City arrangement with Cap-Haitien.  I will be posting about this effort throughout the year.

2. The scourge of human trafficking is a serious problem in our nation, state and yes, our county.  There will be a panel discussion on this topic and it will occur this Wednesday (January 14), starting at 7 pm at the Jeffers Hill Neighborhood Center.  It is a Columbia Democratic Club gathering, but obviously this issue is not a partisan matter.   The panelists include:

- C. Vernon Gray, Former Administrator of the Howard County Office of Human Rights and Chairman of the Howard County Human Trafficking Task Force

- Amanda Rodriguez, Manager of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Policy for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention

- Detective First Class Joshua Mouton, Vice and Narcotics, Howard County Police Department

- Nicholas Weikel, Member, Howard County AGAST (Advocacy Group Against Slavery and Trafficking)

I've attended issue-focused CDC panels in the past and they are amazing opportunities to listen, to learn, to ask questions, and to talk with others to help find solutions.  The forum on philanthropic challenges and opportunities was excellent and this event is shaping up to be another important gathering.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"A Tremulous Cadence"

It is altogether possible that Governor Martin O’Malley – Hillary or no Hillary - will receive a good look from Democratic activists in the early states, most notably Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Far from being a Celtic rock Dukakis, he has both a record of accomplishments and, importantly, a personality that could appeal to Democrats of varying ideological stripes.  This is important because, since 1976, the Democratic Party has tended to nominate candidates who are, at the very least, acceptable to the progressive and moderate constituencies who dominate the action in the presidential primaries and caucuses.  

Looking at the recent Democratic nominees who went on to become President:

1) In 1976, then-Governor Jimmy Carter cobbled together a coalition that included many liberal voters (who might have otherwise voted for Mo Udall or Fred Harris, to name a couple of the more prominent progressives in the field) as well as a number of moderate and conservative Democrats, despite the candidacies of the hawkish New Dealer Scoop Jackson and Governor George Wallace, among others. 

2) In 1992, then-Governor Bill Clinton welded together a campaign narrative that highlighted progressive solutions while using populist, and at times rather conservative, rhetoric.  With Brown firmly positioned on the left and Tsongas pushing a message of fiscal responsibility…and aided by the lack of serious alternatives (No Cuomo, No Nunn, No Gore, no Gephardt, No Jackson, etc…), Clinton crafted a winning coalition that was in a commanding position by March 17 (the date of the Illinois and Michigan primaries) and was on a virtual glide path to the nomination by April 28 (the day of the Pennsylvania primary).

3) Senator John Edwards, on paper, was best equipped to occupy this space going into the 2008 cycle.  However, Mr. “Two Americas” never quite got on-track.  Crushed between the Clinton machine (which was running closer to the political center) and the Obama movement (a conventionally left-of-center effort), he suspended his 2008 campaign by the end of January.  The progressive/populist energy that might have fueled an Edwards candidacy was largely absorbed by then-Senator Obama, whose positioning (and superior understanding of the Democratic delegate selection process) enabled him to defeat Senator Clinton and secure the nomination. 

So what is my point?  It is simply this:

1) If Hillary runs, voters in the early caucus and primary states are still going to consider alternatives.  Manchin is too conservative and Sanders is too liberal.  That leaves two possible Clinton alternatives in the  “sweet spot” – former Senator Webb and O’Malley.  And Webb is out there already.  Of course the entry of a Biden (unlikely if Hillary runs) or Warren (a possible game-changer) could disrupt this equation. 

2) If Hillary doesn’t run, the floodgates will open and there will be multiple candidates rushing to fill the progressive/populist (but with centrist appeal) void. O’Malley will be one of many such aspirants.

So O’Malley, by saying that he is “very seriously considering running in 2016” (a statement equally true if he uttered it in 2009) but also indicating that he will decide in the spring, is putting himself in a position where he will more likely be reacting to events, rather than shaping the world around him.  Which doesn’t seem very Presidential, if you ask this author. 

In short, he should be viewed as ramping up his efforts, rather than adopting what feels like a “let’s-wait-and-see” approach.  I know he says that Clinton’s decision will not impact his choice…but it sure seems like it.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

“Columbia Speaks. CA Listens.” OK, So Now What?

In case you haven’t yet, you should check out the four documents that comprise the written reporting from the “Columbia Speaks. CA Listens” initiative.  The links for each can be found below.  One and four are the most important and are in bold; two and three are fine if you really want to get into the details.

1) Summary Report (14 pages).  A must-read.  Start here:

2) Table Discussion Notes (31 pages).  “Showing the work.”  It is worth a gander:

3) Post-Event Comments (6 pages).  If you read the Table Discussion Notes, you might as well look through this document too…

4) Comment Card Q and A (17 pages).  The other “must-read” as it also contains helpful news you can use (in the form of question answers from “appropriate CA subject experts”):

A. Initial Thoughts and a Hearty Thank You:

First, I am pleased that the Columbia Association took the time to put together this event and intelligence-gathering process.  Moreover, I am elated that (apparently), some specific operational and communications changes have been, or will be, enacted based on the feedback received from the residents who participated.

Kudos to all of those involved who took the time to provide, gather, analyze, and/or implement the intelligence contained in the four documents.

B. Beyond That:

1) I am a bit concerned based on the descriptor of the “discussion moderators.”  Without knowing anything else about their specific backgrounds beyond that they were “moderators from Howard Community College’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center,” I would have preferred if at least some of the small-group (read: breakout) sessions were led by professionally-trained meeting facilitators or, preferably, focus group moderators.  Being of the latter group, of course I am biased.  That said, I look upon this as being a research initiative, and if the purpose of “Columbia Speaks. CA Listens” is to uncover insights to inform and enhance business and communications strategies, well, I would want some qualitative research experts around to help structure and guide the discussions.  Sometimes conflict within such conversations is productive, it helps shed light on concerns and possible solutions.  To that end, I consider “mediation” to be a different mentality and skill-set.  This is not a criticism of their work, it is just something to bear in mind.

2) The summary report could have been organized a bit more efficiently so the reader could locate, at a glance, the executive summary of key findings for each of the main sections and, importantly, the implications/recommendations/tangible changes that the CA will highlight as they seek to reform the relevant processes and procedures.  It is OK in the current form, but a table of contents, the use of different colors, some re-ordering of the sections, perhaps even translating the narrative document into a PowerPoint deck, would make the document more reader-friendly. 

Now, these two abovementioned concerns might sound like procedural griping, and they are to a certain extent, but they are important nonetheless.  Both have the potential to impact the substantive success of the initiative and I hope that the CA keeps these considerations in mind for any follow-up listening programs.

C. Beyond “Beyond That”:

I. Programs and Service Offerings – Proposed Changes:  Of the ideas presented, improved signage sounds like a reasonable, and relatively simple, fix.

2. Governance – Proposed Changes: It essentially boiled down to “how best to increase participation” and “how best to empower our residents, given the specific responsibilities of the CA.”  Nothing earth-shattering here, with one notable exception.  The proposed “advisory task force” could be very helpful, or rather deleterious, to Columbia…based on the composition, world-view, and recommendations developed by such a task force, should one be created.  This is a notion worth watching.

3. CA Communications and Engagement – Proposed Changes:  Some practical website revisions were outlined, as were some ideas on improving other existing information delivery vehicles. I think some additional website usability testing might be in order.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

High Above the Subway Sub-Shop

Subtitle: Right Association

The ferrets of melancholy are at their most wistful on wintr’y days such as this.  It is best to distract them with activities lest their sighing lead to sulking or even, dare I suggest, brooding.

The title of this post refers to my first place of employment in the market research field. From the office on any given January morning, looking out of the second story window that faced the snow-slush gray Bank One building across the narrow avenue, you could see well-bundled pedestrians attempting to navigate the chaotic and partially concealed ice patterns on the sidewalks.  Snowplows could be heard scraping the asphalt, when they bothered to come out.  And the smell of fresh-baked bread, radiating through the air vents from the Subway ovens downstairs, filled the office with that distinct Subway fragrance…and cravings for a Cold Cut Combo, usually around 11 am.

Of course no one would mistake those for the Halcyon Days.  Not then and not even now, as time and memory conspire to smooth out the rougher patches.  The money was decent for a college student, not so much for a graduate.  The bitter yet fading recession of the early 90s was still very much top-of-mind, so few of the employees were embracing a full-on laissez les bon temps rouler mentality.  But we worked hard and, as I look back on it, the camaraderie made the time pass far more pleasantly than anyone of us could or should have expected. 

Perhaps with coworkers, as Tim Canterbury once opined, “all you’ve got in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day.”  That said, it was a form of community – sharing not just physical proximity or the same business name on our paychecks – but a gathering of people who, for a time, enjoyed the company we kept when we found ourselves at that place on Evergreen.

Recognizing the Heraclitus quote, “no one walks in the same river twice,” I still use that experience as the gold-standard for collegiality.  Should I find myself back in a traditional office environment in Corporate America, I would count myself fortunate to find coworkers like those again.  Treading diligently alongside thoughtful, hard-working, purpose-filled and respectful coworkers, on our shared carpet, is a thought that warms the heart. Even on a frosty day such as this.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Content, Seulement Content

The dearth of snowfall, in tandem with the pompatus of frigid drizzle, is making for a bleak 2015 launch.  The raindrops are packed with hydrogen, oxygen and ennui.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s announcement that he is leaving his Fox News television program to explore the possibility of a second presidential campaign no doubt sent shockwaves through his audience of hundreds. I just can’t see a GOP field that contains both Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  Perhaps they both enter, but one of their campaigns would be on life support the day after the Iowa caucuses. In any event, Huckabee seems like yesterday’s news…which is not disqualifying…but he isn’t adding any energy to the emerging contest. At least not yet.

This is a bit insider-y but former Virginia Senator Jim Webb’s decision to bring Craig Crawford on board as his Communications Director is a moderately big deal. If you had asked me back in 1999: “Who will host Meet the Press in 2015? The Hotline’s Chuck Todd or Craig Crawford?” First, I would have replied, “What? Hold on. I had my Discman on.  TLC’s ‘No Scrubs.’ What did you say?”  After the question was repeated, Crawford would have been my reply. Smart, witty, engaging on television.  He seemed more of a natural for the milieu compared to the knowledgeable and earnest Todd.  I don’t know if Webb is the best vehicle for an Outsider Democratic presidential campaign, but Crawford is a great hire who adds some gravitas to the effort.

First post of ’15 and 100th overall.  Let’s keep it short and sweet.  Go Lions!

Stay tuned, as more will follow.