Monday, March 19, 2018

Maryland House District 12: The Challengers - Part One

First, I am trying out this speech-to-text dictation software.  Please bear with me.

This essay will focus on House District 12 Challengers, not the incumbents who are seeking re-election to the House.  There are a couple of mentions of Dr. Clarence Lam in this post, who is running for the open District 12 State Senate seat.  And Dr. Terri Hill and Eric Ebersole make cameo appearances, but I will focus on their questionnaires in a separate post…along with Lam.  Mary Kay Sigaty, running against Lam in the State Senate primary, informed me that “time did not allow her to participate with my questionnaire.”

I will post the completed questionnaires soon.  For right now, the questions the candidates received can be found at the end of this post.

Before I get too far along, I would like to thank the three Democratic non-incumbent candidates that took the time to respond to my questionnaire.  In no particular order, they were Mark Weaver, Jessica Feldmark, and James Howard.  But first a few brief words on the other HD 12 candidates…

I have visited the campaign websites of Jonathan “Jon” Bratt and Malcolm Heflin.  While they both possess interesting qualifications for local office, I do not know either of them personally.  Heflin, at least on social media, appears to be running a more active campaign than Bratt. I didn’t hear back from either candidate regarding the questionnaire.  Therefore, I am ruling out both of them for any endorsement consideration.

Dario Broccolino, also unresponsive.  Furthermore, he is also supporting Rich Gibson’s Republican opponent in the State’s Attorney race…which won’t help him with Democratic primary voters. Pass.

So, assuming votes for both Terri Hill and Eric Ebersole, that leaves (at most) three options for the third position. 

Mr. Weaver’s responses were concise. I think the progressive instincts are there, at least they were expressed clearly in some instances.  By adding examples and/or offering solutions on all of the questions, as he did for the Concentration of Wealth, Gender Equality and LGBTQIA questions, that would have given readers a better sense of his worldview. 

Weaver was vague on the Social Democracy question (in fairness, some of the other candidates opted to re-frame this query as a social justice question whereas a logical starting point for a response should tie into economic matters.  Clarence Lam, Terri Hill, and James Howard addressed the fundamental economic issue, at least briefly.

Some of Weaver’s responses could have pivoted to policy solutions, the Class War reply could have been a bit more detailed.  The Liberty & Equality and Class War responses felt a bit reductive. 

In short, while Mr. Weaver appears to be at least a legitimate state legislative candidate, I haven’t seen enough that would convince me that he is more deserving of my vote compared to the other two challengers who sent in their completed questions:  Feldmark and Howard.

Turning to those two, let us compare and contrast their responses:

Concentration of Wealth (Question 1) and Class Warfare (Question 5):

First, Mrs. Feldmark combined the Concentration of Wealth and Class Warfare questions into one mega-question.  She argues that the increased concentration of wealth is “corrosive to our democracy.” She points the finger at “strategy policy decisions” and (briefly) offers a general path forward, recognizing the challenges involved with “the role of money in our current political process” when it comes to bringing about progressive change.  Overall, I thought hers was a solid response but another sentence of supporting detail, on the solutions side, would have made it a stellar reply. 

Dr. Howard offered up a more nuanced approach, stating that this increased concentration of wealth is “evidence of corrosion to our democracy” and “corrosive to our society.”  Dr. Howard’s response implies that the corrosion to our democracy has another cause, with the increased concentration of wealth being a symptom.  His was a thoughtful reply but I would have liked another sentence on the underlying cause (and a little more on how it can corrode “society” as distinct from our “democracy”) before shifting into the proposed treatment(s).  Further, he flat out rejected the premise to the Class Warfare question. I disagree with his perspective on this case.  From this author’s perspective, there has been class warfare in this country, it began before we became an independent nation, the rich and powerful seldom lose, and they take deliberate and concrete steps to keep it going as it works in their interests. 

Social Democracy (Question 2):

Feldmark: pivoted to discuss “the government’s role and responsibility to promote social justice.”  Not 100% on point with the intention of the question, but fair enough.

Howard: Noted that the “Nordic countries…can be a model.” An “A” response, even allowing for the wiggle room in his reply. Although he did identify himself as a “Third Way Democrat” in an era where the Clinton and Blair legacies in this regard are being viewed more critically, and where more traditional left policies and figures (such as Corbyn and Sanders) are enjoying a resurgence in support.

Racial Discrimination (Question 3):

Both delivered thoughtful replies.  I thought Feldmark’s use of the House Bill 512 example was timely and helped ground her argument a bit more solidly whereas Howard went a bit more Big Picture re: discussing threats to “Civil Rights-era laws” due to those pushing “political decisions.”

Equality and Liberty (Question 4):

Ideally, I would have liked to have seen someone articulate a point of view where the promotion of equality, skillfully implemented, increases effective liberty.  For example, a single-payer health care system that helps prevent families from enduring intense economic hardships due to exorbitant medical bills gives such families more control over their destiny, more freedom to pursue other life and career paths without the fear of crushing debt forcing them to remain stuck working long hours in the hopes of, perhaps one day, paying off said bills.  Former Deputy Labour Party leader Roy Hattersley wrote about this (occasional) false dichotomy in his book, “Choose Freedom.”  But yes, there are times when the equality and liberty principles come into conflict, which requires sound decision-making…and sometimes a need to strike a “proper balance between the two” as Lam wrote.

Feldmark’s response, basing “equality” on “equity” and offering up a mention of “balancing” “negative and positive liberties” was slightly more meatier in terms of a theoretical framework than Howard’s, although his response that “it is a core governmental role to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to advance and equal protection when they fall” is a very good speech line.

Gender Equality (Question 6):

Flipping the roles from Question 3, Howard offers up a compelling and specific present-day example (child marriage) while Feldmark speaks in broader terms about how “reproductive freedom is not enough without access to reproductive healthcare.”  This is, as she observes, a tie-in to the effective liberty point raised in the Equality and Liberty question.

LGBTQIA Concerns/Safeguards (Question 7):

Howard’s answer on “access to resources” and “enforcement” was more concrete than Feldmark’s stated willingness to “continue the fight” and “stand up as allies.” Both are important viewpoints, personally, I found the “policy”-centric response to be a little weightier than the “values”-focused reply.

So what does this all mean?  From a decidedly progressive point of view – I believe that Feldmark “won” questions 3, 4, and 5.  I think Howard “won” questions 2, 6, and 7.  Question 1 – as they approach it in different ways, is darn close to a draw.

In short, we have two excellent candidates in Feldmark and Howard.  Either would make a great Delegate.  Am I endorsing anyone today? Well that’s a good question.

Hold on.

Hello?  Is someone at the door?

I don’t know, sounds like moaning.


Wait…it can’t be…


1)         Do you consider the increased concentration of economic wealth in the United States to be corrosive to our democracy?  If yes, how should this issue be addressed? If not, why not?
2)         What are your thoughts on social democracy? 
3)         Racial discrimination continues to plague our nation.  This is evident in our workforce (hiring practices, income disparities, opportunities for advancement, etc…), in the administration of our criminal justice system, in systemic efforts to disenfranchise voters based on race, in the relative dearth of substantive environmental protections for communities where people of color constitute a large percentage of the population, and in other facets of American life.  What steps can and should be taken to address these issues?
4)      Thinking about the principles of liberty and equality, and this can apply to any given challenge (fiscal, social, etc…), how can they both be promoted to ensure that the “unalienable rights” of all Americans are protected?
5)      Let’s assume that something called “class warfare” exists.  If so, who has been winning? For how long? And in whose interest is it to continue the war?  
6)      Considering the UN’s sustainable development goals which refer to gender equality as a “fundamental human right,” how is America performing when it comes to promoting gender equality and what specific steps can and should be taken to secure true gender equality in the United States?
7)      Many LGBTQIA Americans have expressed concerns that the current Administration (and those who view the world similarly) are dedicated to rolling back recent legal protections fought for, and recognized, in this country.  What steps can and should be taken to safeguard the rights of LGBTQIA citizens to participate fully in the “pursuit of happiness” stated in our Declaration of Independence?  

Stay tuned, as more will follow(?)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

HoCo Board of Education: Grading the Candidate Questionnaires (Part Four)

The final installment of this series...

12. Vicky Cutroneo.  A-.  Polished, aligned quite well with my expectations of someone who ran for the BoE in the previous election cycle.  Her response to Question Three reminded me of then-Senator Joe Biden’s one-word reply during the 2008 Democratic presidential debates.  If you are going to be concise, that is how it is done.  Downside:  could have elaborated more on the “tough decisions” that Dr. Martirano “avoided making” (Question 5).  If one is going to open up that can of worms, the average voter is going to expect to get a good look.   Her equity response could have addressed issues related to cultural competence and inclusiveness, so her stated “interventions” might have seemed incomplete.  She addressed these issues, in part, in her priorities statement…but it would have made for a more cohesive and compelling articulation for her to express a succinct worldview on equity as part of her Question 6 response.  The “holistic” assessment she outlined in her third priority, “school climate,” offers an interesting point of differentiation from the other candidates and a distinct worldview on what constitutes success.  Frankly, her answers on priorities, combined with the expression of a coherent worldview on the over-crowding problem, elevates a B/B+ response to an A-, in terms of attracting voter support. I might be a bit generous here, but overall, this is a helpful document for her campaign.

13. Bob Glascock.  B -.  Faded rapidly after the experience and duties questions. Great quals, on paper.  I was surprised how non-student centric his reply was.  Sure, he talked about students in his response to the equity question, but his short replies to the overcrowding and priority queries seemed to place more emphasis on inward-looking matters and not the impact that they would have on student populations.  The average voter would want to understand how specific policies might affect various populations.  He could have revised and extended his general thoughts on equity to cover additional programmatic elements (he did some of this, but almost in passing).  His two-sentence over-crowding statement did not articulate much in the way of a vision, although it touched upon procedural mechanisms for dealing with such challenges.  His stated priorities, while all reflecting legitimate needs/concerns, felt a little undercooked.  Sure, transparency, solvency, and supporting staff are all important and laudable goals.  Tell us more. Many voters, particularly highly informed ones, might find this completed questionnaire to be lacking in specifics.   

That is all for today.

In solidarity.

HoCo Board of Education: Grading the Candidate Questionnaires (Part Three)

Two more for now...

10.  Danny Mackey.  A-.  Full disclosure: I tend to be a bit more skeptical when it comes to younger candidates, those in college or, in the case of Mr. Mackey, recent college graduates.  While I would like to believe that I am not segueing into curmudgeon status prematurely, I do wonder about the breadth of life experiences of those who are, say, 25 or younger.  Yes, I know that many of our Founders were very active in public affairs at relatively young ages, but I digress.  Anyway, I am lampshading a potential bias so it’s out there.  Now get off my lawn.

End of digression.  His responses were, on the whole, thoughtful and clearly articulated. Sort of a Taj-light vibe to it, with the “health” priority being a connecting thread between the two questionnaires.  For voters who want to understand how a candidate’s background links up to motivations, philosophies, and priorities, that information is present.  There is generally a fine line between offering up that kind of personal information and being too self-referential, too inward-looking.  Mackey’s response is effective insofar as his narrative is presented in furtherance of issues and outcomes relevant to voters. His reply on equity, Question 6, has a bit of heart to it, you get a sense of authenticity in his response. Speaking cynically for a moment, voters eat that real-deal stuff up.  For voters who prefer to consume written information, this questionnaire would make for a very effective introduction to Mr. Mackey.

11. Saif Rehman.  B.  Second full disclosure…C-suite candidates.  Generalizing very broadly, a disproportionate number of successful business executives who run for public office love to talk about their leadership abilities. These skills don’t always translate when applied to holding elective offices, especially on highly collaborative (and *relatively* non-hierarchical) bodies such as boards of education.  So I will admit to a Robert Downey Jr. eyeroll when I came across the first, and second, mentions of “leadership.”   I think he banged the drum too loudly and for an extended duration on that theme on the “budgeting and finance” section (Question 4).  So you will “lead” the discussion…despite the fact that you would be newly elected to the Board, if elected, and that many other stakeholders will want to play significant roles in such fairness, he does get to a “listening” message shortly thereafter, but he comes across extremely self-confident, that works with some voters, not so much with others.  His specific reflections on equity (Question 6) show a more thoughtful, outward-focused candidate… which reads MUCH better.  He also does well when connecting the heightened security risks involved with “trailers.” Given his professional background, I would like to see more of his thoughts on the effective integration of technology in the classrooms…and how he plans on squaring that with the need of “righting our fiscal ship.”  I darn near give him a B- but some of his better responses revealed a thoughtful candidate who has spent some time mulling over how to address certain challenges. For that, his questionnaire deserves a B.

OK, on to lunch.  This will be a Four-Part Post.

In solidarity.

HoCo Board of Education: Grading the Candidate Questionnaires (Part Two)


6. Chris Hilfiger.  C-.  Voters will not react well to the fact that he has “not attended a board meeting in person.”  Yes, you are busy.  We all are.  Combating “waste and inefficiency” is not a unique point of differentiation.  Yes, the message appeals to some voters, but they have other choices with similar priorities on the same ballot.  Overall, he didn’t provide much in the way of meat in his responses.  The average media and policy attentive voter is likely to come away thinking that he isn’t as immersed in the issues as the other candidates.  The C- is a bit generous.

7. Anita Pandey.  B+.  Dr. Pandey is well-qualified based on her extensive education background.  So why the (relatively) low grade?  Whenever one writes more than Robert Miller (the BoE version of the Mendoza line), that is likely a sign that some careful editing would help.  Even informed voters who take the time to delve deeply into policies and platforms have their limits. There is so much there there, that time-pressed readers might not locate the truly important information.  In fairness, this is not a problem throughout her responses – but it is most apparent in the experiences section (Question 1) and in the equity reply (Question 6).  I believe she has some excellent content in the “budget and financing” query (Question 4).  The line that “the last place we should cut funding is the classroom” is simple yet powerful; and she backs it up with specific ideas as to how HCPSS might be able to realize some savings.  She takes a novel narrative approach on equity, linking it up with the history of Columbia, which should have some appeal, especially with Columbia voters.  She provides a great deal of supporting material but the central animating principle, which appears to be located at the end of the second paragraph in that section, is a buried lede. Her priorities response is what, ultimately, gave her a B+ and not a B.  It was succinct, memorable, and well-rounded...moving from “outcomes…inclusive pedagogy,” to budget issues, and to “listening to/learning from students…to retaining and rewarding educators.” From a communications perspective, she ended on a strong note.  She just needs to bear in mind the information delivery and exchange needs and preferences of the Howard County electorate.

8. Carleen Pena.  B.  There wasn’t much in her responses to the first six questions that stood out.  If a voter was looking for a reason to vote for Pena, there wasn’t much until the “overcrowding” question (Question 7) where she went into some detail on her thoughts on the problem and possible solutions.  That said, her choice of language on busing as it pertains to diversity might be off-putting to some segments of the electorate (and, in these times, a positive amongst others). Some language, “our school communities are more than just polygons” or “robbing Peter to pay Paul” was a bit boilerplate, she did best when she talks about what she is against or has concerns about (PARCC, arming teachers).  I just don’t think there was enough, in this questionnaire alone, to change many hearts and minds in her direction.

9. Chao Wu.  B-.  If brevity is the soul of wit, then this response was the cleverest (although not humorous, pity).  Very logical (engineering background, and it shows) but sorely lacking in detail.  Voters might agree with his priorities, but without greater depth, some of his replies come across as platitudes (“I believe equity is great…”)… well, OK then.  Concise, but not illuminating.  This was a lost opportunity for Wu to connect with voters who prefer to receive information from candidate questionnaires. 

Next up, Part III: the final four. 

In solidarity.

HoCo Board of Education: Grading the Candidate Questionnaires.(Part One)

Some ground rules/guiding principles:

1.       The focus of this essay is on exploring- briefly- how well each BoE candidate fared in terms of crafting a questionnaire response that appeals to the electorate.  Will their replies help them earn votes or no?

2.       It is not about grading the candidates themselves. This isn’t an endorsement post.

3.       I will be assessing communications as much as policy, so the grades should not be perceived to be based on support for, or opposition to, any particular policy stance. Again, see Point One (above).

4.       I don’t give A+ grades.

With that said, here are (in no particular order) some topline reflections on the completed Andrews Questionnaires:

1.       Timothy Hamilton.  Incomplete.  Did not respond to the survey.  On an unrelated note, he established a Twitter account for this “campaign.”  It has one lonely tweet.  He and Ian Bradley Moller-Knudsen must be off strategizing…somewhere.

2.       Sabina Taj.  A.  Bearing in mind audience, context, and purpose, I think Ms. Taj’s questionnaire was very focused from a messaging perspective. Her treatment of equity was thoughtful, demonstrating a depth of knowledge on the topic.  I think there was an appropriate balance in terms of addressing the needs and interests of various stakeholder populations.  She conveyed her qualifications in a way that linked to her background to specific outcomes and topics about which voters care.  I believe her “healthy schools, healthy students” articulation of that priority (Question 8) is a well-constructed point of differentiation.

3.       Jen Mallo.  A-.  Her questionnaire reflects both her serious credentials and that she has given a great deal of thought to challenges and potential solutions, with her responses to the budget and financing issues (Question 4) being a high-water mark.  The 12-point Equity response (Question 6) she wrote works better as a speech.  That said, the “cultural competency” verbiage and other language revealed a very reflective, comprehensive grasp of equity.  I am certain the “Teacher Empowerment” priority will appeal to considerable swathes of the electorate.  Compared head-to-head, I think Taj’s handling of equity (and related solutions) was slightly stronger than Mallo’s.   

4.       Mavourene Robinson.  B+.  I would have liked to have seen more detail on Question 4 regarding “operational efficiencies.”  Some examples would have been helpful here.  Another sentence (growth areas, perhaps?)  on Dr. Martirano would have been nice, just to get a forward-looking sense of what Ms. Robinson thinks Dr. Martirano should be focused on in year two (and beyond).  Granted, Mallo’s response on that question (Question 5) was similar in length but it seemed slightly more detailed. I think Ms. Robinson’s thoughts on equity raise more questions than answers (“conduct personal research”).  Being fairly well-informed on the equity issue – I get Mrs. Robinson’s point-of-view but it sounds as though she is attempting to strike a balance where one doesn’t need to be struck.  I think the “unwise programmatic investments” statement is a bit of a straw man argument. Even some policy attentive voters might wonder where she really comes down on equity policies, based on the response she crafted here.  Her top three priorities, essentially, boil down to identifying and rectifying inefficiencies, advocacy, and dialogue/relationship building.  It seems like that third point could be consolidated with the second into one mega-point: Advocacy and Engagement.

5.       Robert Miller.  B-.  Mr. Miller, being candid here, can be a little prolix in his responses.  Oddly enough, his reply was not the longest submitted (more on this later). But let’s get back on track regarding political communications.  His handling of the responsibilities question (Question 2) was a long bullet pointed list of duties…not an ideal presentation.  On Question 4, the budgeting and finance issue, he writes about waste (bringing to mind the old joke about there being a budget line item called “waste, fraud, and abuse”), but I don’t think he handled the safety argument well, particularly in these times.  While he was clear to caveat his point by calling for a review of security to ascertain what is truly effective, the line “saving money in the area of security” simply does not read well.  Yes, the rest of the sentence modifies the point, but the eyebrows have already been raised.  Again, I would have liked to have seen a bit more on his thoughts on Dr. Martirano, since he opened the door on how the Superintendent hasn’t satisfied everyone, including him (well…how so?).  I think his treatment of equity had an oddly defeatist tone, especially his second paragraph (Question 6).  Granted, some may argue that he was being pragmatic, and he does go on to list some solutions but I think his tonality here might be off-putting to some voters.  His overcrowding thoughts are detailed…but the handling of transferred students, I don’t know.  There might be some unintended consequences stemming from such a policy, if implemented.  Finally, his priorities are very much centered “in the classroom,” which is understandable, given his background.   That said, I wonder if voters this cycle – given what is going on in HoCo schools - might want/expect candidates to have systemic fiscal issues as a top priority.

Look for Part 2 (most likely of 3) soon.

In solidarity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

No Recap, No Precap

Greetings. Some quick updates:

My professional and academic schedules are going to continue to demand the vast majority of my non-slumbering hours between now and early May.  As the recently and dearly departed David Ogden Stiers, in the role of Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, once remarked about himself, “I do one thing at a time.  I do it very well.  And then, I move on.”  Amen, brother.

So unlike 2014, when the present author was all about being “in the room” at every gathering involving two or more candidates, 2018 has been tough sledding.  My current election cycle forum attendance count has maintained at a steady zero.  I find myself more reliant on social media, on traditional media, and on word-of-mouth for news I can use.  So, I would like to thank the folks who are doing the heavy lifting there. It is my hope that I can re-join the fray in a matter of weeks.

Of course, there have been some interesting developments.  My comrades in Our Revolution Howard (note: I belong to the national chapter, I have not been active with the local group) have made some interesting endorsements for state and local office. 

Specifically, Ben Jealous for the Democratic nomination for Governor (which makes sense given the Bernie-tendencies of this group and his involvement in the Sanders campaign, and related efforts, in 2016…and beyond).  That is old news. 

More recently, on March 12, the local chapter announced their backing of Jen Terrasa for District 13 Delegate (Yes!), Hiruy Hadgu for County Council District 3 (well, I can see why they would make that choice, but I have already expressed my own preference in that district), and J. Ward Morrow for Orphans' Court Judge. 

Let’s first acknowledge the raise of the eyebrow and smirking chuckle involved with some endorsements in the Orphans' Court race.  I’ve read his bio, Morrow seems extremely well-qualified for the position.  All of the six candidates who filed appear qualified. I am already supporting two incumbents, Leslie Smith Turner and Nicole Bormel Miller, so I don’t wish to comment further. I will say that I haven’t seen much from the third incumbent this cycle, Anne Dodd.  Meanwhile, Morrow and Elizabeth Ann Fitch have been quite active communicating via social media platforms.  And kudos to them for doing so.  The remaining candidate, Ajile Brown, I haven’t seen as much from her campaign yet. 

As I commented on extensively in past cycles, the Apple ballot is a huge deal in Democratic primaries (signed, Captain Obvious).  I am curious to see what happens with the HCEA in races such as HoCo Council D3, D4 (do the right thing!), and (surprisingly) D1.

Beyond that, I wanted to thank – formally – Corey Andrews for developing and sending out those HoCo Board of Education candidate questionnaires.  The responses have been…illuminating.  I am still going through them.  I am hoping to have some initial thoughts in decent enough form for me to do a write up…perhaps as early as this weekend but we shall see.  And thanks to Scott Ewart for aggregating the content for easy viewing.  A bucket of kudos all around.   

Have to conduct an in-depth interview in 20 minutes.  Just in time…

In solidarity.

Friday, March 9, 2018

First Principles

While I am not a journalist, I believe that public affairs blogs in the early 21st century have a duty to perform a role similar to the one historically exercised by newspapers, as described by Finley Peter Dunne, the writer of the Mr. Dooley column that was “one of the first nationally syndicated newspaper features.”  Specifically, the newspaper “comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable.”

This author takes his First Amendment rights very seriously.  In a time when traditional journalism is facing severe challenges (financial, reputational, etc…), it is imperative for “citizen journalists” (although I think the phrase is a bit of a misnomer) to tell their stories to help inform the public.  And if not “educate” in a classic sense, at least entertain in a thought-provoking manner.

Going back to the quote in the first paragraph, this blog will not “punch down.”  It will, however, vigorously defend itself, our principles, our friends and our comrades (when they are right, and I, of course, reserve the right to point out when they are wrong). 

This is a self-appointed standard, but it is the standard that Spartan Considerations has maintained, and will continue to abide by, as long as this blog covers national, state, and local politics.

In solidarity.