Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Contingency, Community and Waffles

Claiming “Otherness” is a useful thing in political campaign.  It helps establish the perception of a moral center around which one’s allies can rally.  It assists in the creation of an antagonist to further a narrative. “They” are not “of us.”  “Their” preferences are alien to ours.  “Ours” is the authentic vox populi.

While it is within the bounds of fair play to have a civil discussion, where debates among reasonable people are grounded in reality, it is quite another case to insist that one’s opinions are true simply because…well…one believes them to be true.  “Your plan cuts down more trees than our plan.  Why?  Because it is your plan and therefore it must lead to bad things!” When one side adopts a “final vocabulary,” as Richard Rorty might say, it inhibits the ability of such a population to consider the validity of different perspectives.  It is a signifier of a closed mind.

Political language is meant to persuade.  Words and numbers are combined to develop the most compelling argument for (or against) one particular position or cause.  Rhetoric is employed to communicate that argument to an audience.  It is hoped that the language will move that audience to make a decision and take an action.  That said, when language is twisted and debased... or when the “others” are termed “enemies,” that coarsens the discussion and weakens the foundations of democratic governance.

Imagine if two groups were discussing waffles.  One group describes a waffle as “leavened batter or dough cooked between two plates, patterned to give a characteristic size, shape and surface impression" (source: Wikipedia).  Another group describes them as flattened disks of steaming evil and those who consume them are bad, ill-intentioned people.  Where is the ability to find common ground?  How can productive communication occur?

Of course that is what former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and certain GOP operatives did in the 1980s and 1990s when they sought to turn the word “liberal” into a vicious epithet.  Sully the group and make their ideas unpalatable.  In the short term, it might have given Gingrich and his coterie some victories….but it helped usher in an era of distrust, of hyper-partisanship, of gridlock and bitterness.

I have no hopes that his legacy will yield in favor of a newfound spirit of respect and cooperation anytime soon, not in DC.  That said, I hope in our corner of the universe, in Howard County, we can find ways to talk with each other civilly, and not at each other angrily.  

At least we should be able to agree on the definition of a waffle.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.



2014 Columbia Village Elections Re-Cap (with Suggestions)

While not always the case, participating in Columbia Association politics is akin to playing soccer with a satchel full of anvils.  Progress may be slow, it may hurt a bit, but grit will get you where you need to go…eventually.  And even then, sometimes you score an own goal.

This past weekend’s village election outcomes were disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, at least in two out of the three contested CA races.  Based on the resident votes (excluding the CA votes), Fontaine and Schwarz kept it close.  Klein’s machine – more Rube Goldberg than Tammany Hall – managed a narrow 52% - 48% victory once the parcel votes are removed from the equation.  No one will be calling him Landslide Alan anytime soon.  Schwarz obtained 44% of the vote in Hickory Ridge, that is a respectable showing in any book.  The Waller defeat was a bit of an upset, particularly in light of her record of community service in Town Center.  Well Ms. Ketley, check your calendar because it is time to govern like it is 2014.

A good friend (and future Delegate) penned some thoughts on increasing voter turnout in these elections.  The post can be found right here.
I thought I would offer up some suggestions of my own:

“Vote Columbia” community gatherings, held in the Village Centers in April, one week before Election Day.  Candidate forums are great but they tend to occur on weekday evenings and they can be sparsely attended.  Hosting Election Day community gatherings is fine, but I think such events – ideally - should launch a week of reflection and discussion of relevant CA and village issues.  So I would have them occur on the Saturday before the traditional Election Day.

Why not host a family-friendly event in each village, with food and entertainment, where residents can visit with their neighbors and receive information about the candidates…prior to Election Day itself.  Frankly, and this is very important, they should be able to vote at such events too, which leads me to:

Early/extended voting periods.  Beyond the mail-in ballots, it would be helpful to have more than just one formal window of opportunity to cast one’s ballot in-person.  Kings Contrivance allows residents to vote on Friday evening as well as Saturday.  I recommend formally opening the polls at the aforementioned “Vote Columbia” event….and then either keeping them open for a full week, or at least for the kick-off event as well as Thursday and Friday in addition to Election Day Saturday.  And advertise this expanded window.  Yes, voters can walk-in with mail-in ballots, but how many are aware that this is an option?  How many know where to go?    

An incentive.  While participation in the electoral process is its own reward, voting in village elections is slightly different than casting a ballot for a state or federal office.  In Wilde Lake, and I assume other villages, we receive a slip of paper with a number on it that identifies our specific ballot.  What if a drawing was held where the holder of that number received a discount on a CA program or service?  Nothing too extravagant of course, but enough to encourage more residents to take more of an interest in village elections.  I hear some villages hold raffles, so this suggestion is a variation on that theme…and it should be done in all of the Villages and Town Center.

Electronic voting options. This should absolutely be explored.

Design changes with the mail-in ballots. I think they can resemble junk mail.  Perhaps another look should be taken at them…to consider how to make them more eye-catching, more likely to be opened and read, and acted upon by the recipients.

Anyway, this is a start.  Although the ground is wet and I am sans cleats, I am just trying to kick this ball down the field a bit. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Baker's Dozen (Minus One) - Endorsement Edition

Time to engage in some Right Mindfulness.  The four-mile jog this morning definitely helped reframe my thinking…a pouring of a fresh, hot cup o’ perspective.

So let us focus on Maryland's District 12 today, my home district.  But first some quick thoughts:

Yesterday, I attended the Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club of Howard County candidate forum/endorsement meeting.  It was an absolutely gorgeous April morning and, although woefully bereft of my coffee, spirits were high.  Prime parking near the hotel that was hosting the gathering was tight…but another driver waved me into a spot, although we arrived at roughly the same time.  As she drove past, I realized the driver was a candidate.  We briefly exchanged pleasantries.  Total class act.

This positive energy continued through TMDC President Ethel Hill’s opening remarks and County Council member Courtney Watson’s statement.  The peaceful easy feeling ended abruptly…like a car door being slammed on the third phalange…when Lisa Markovitz (County Council District 1 candidate) stated: “village centers should be retained, if possible.”  [Emphasis mine]. Cue record screech sound effect.  This is where the reasonable-seeming mask, and it is a mask, is coming off that campaign.   Maybe it was a verbal gaffe on her part…but I think it reveals a window into a “let’s go back to the past” mentality that is bad for area merchants, bad for local shoppers and bad for Howard County as we seek to support existing residents and businesses…and attract new ones…to help keep our communities vital.     

Let us return to District 12. No sense in allowing the ill humors to gain a foothold.  Here are my endorsements for the Democratic Primary Election.  There are three of them (the 12th is a multi-member state legislative House District that elects three Delegates).

There is a question that pollsters ask, there are a few variations but it boils down to: “Does Candidate X understand the problems of people like me?”  I believe that Brian Bailey not only gets the challenges that families deal with in our district, but that he will be a capable advocate for our families in Annapolis.  I’ve been to multiple forums and he consistently presents a thoughtful plan for addressing some of the most pressing concerns facing Howard and Baltimore counties…ranging from education to job creation to transportation to environmental issues.  I hope that voters in our district take a good look at Mr. Bailey’s platform and consider the wide range of support that he is receiving from several progressive organizations. I’ve been around candidates long enough to sort the wheat from the chaff, the sincere from the phony, and the workhorses from the showhorses…I believe that Brian Bailey is the real-deal, ready to roll up his sleeves, and toil for the 12th. I stand four-square behind Mr. Bailey and I hope he is nominated in June and elected in November.

Several months ago, I would have thought it unlikely that I would write the following words, but I am supporting Clarence Lam as well.  I had some early concerns about his positioning, but he has proven to be a formidable candidate. He must have a teleporter because he is all over the District.  He is smart, hard-working and has an impressive background as a health care practitioner (Dr. Lam is a “board-certified physician in preventative medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health”) and as a public policy expert, having worked at the federal and state levels.  He is also active in the local community through multiple organizations.  The potential is there for a distinguished career in public service and that is why I support Clarence Lam for Delegate.

I wanted to endorse Dr. Terri Hill earlier, but something held me back. Perhaps some reflexive contrarian impulse kicked in when the Democratic establishment lined up in support of her candidacy (author’s note: I have a general predisposition in favor of insurgent campaigns).  That said, focusing on her stellar qualifications, her broad and deep knowledge about health care, and her commitment to social justice, I am convinced that Dr. Hill would be a great state legislator.  Harvard smart with an easy-going personality and accessible communications style, Terri Hill is ready, from “Day One” as the saying goes, to be an excellent representative for the 12th District.

If I had a fourth vote, it would be for Adam Sachs.  A low-key fellow with some bold progressive ideas…with the moxie to quote Lou Reed as he did at a recent forum…it would be interesting to see what someone like him could do in Annapolis. 

In the interest of riding this endorphin wave for as long as possible, I am not going to comment at length on the other six Democratic candidates at this time. I have already written about disbarred attorney Michael Gisriel.  I think Cohen is a complete non-starter. The others (Ebersole, Stewart, Dongarra and McGuirk-Spence) all have positives and negatives, some have more of the latter than the former.  But that is a discussion for another day, if necessary.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Promise in the Ninth

Last night, I was bombing down Centennial Lane at a rate of speed that would be considered inoffensive to all but the most by-the-book Maryland State Troopers.  A perfect early evening for driving…yet something was out of sync. Here it was, mid-seguing-into-late April, yet it felt autumnal with the chill biting through the air.  The newly installed candidate yard signs added to the early October-vibe that permeated the scene. 

The atmospherics of the election calendar brought me back to present moment.  It was that sense of promise; a feeling that is abundant this time of year, that convinced me that the bittersweet landscape of the fall was months away…that Yeats’ “nine-and-fifty swans” had not yet landed on a cold, leaf-strewn lake.

Promise is a good starting point for a discussion of Ryan Frederic’s State Senate campaign (Maryland – District Nine). 

I had not met him previously, but have some friends who spoke highly of him.  So I took the long, harrowing trip from Wilde Lake (“The Land of Dreams”) to the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock, Maryland…the gateway to Western Howard County.

Gathered there, in the Conservancy’s Gudelsky Center, were a few dozen Democrats, ready to get down for a classic meet-and-greet candidate reception.

It is important to note at this point that candidate remarks at such events generally range from dreadful to uninspired.  Too long, too short, too self-involved, too minutiae-centric, too boring…the spectrum of sins is long and oft well-covered.

I was thus pleasantly surprised that Frederic’s stump speech was…quite good.  His presentation was concise and focused. He related his impressive business experience and background in community service to tangible issues that voters care about (growing the economy, creating jobs, etc…).  In the parlance of the political industry, he pivoted very well from biographical information to voter concerns and policy positions.  Although a new candidate, he showed a level of seasoning and maturity that is generally only found among those who have served in office for many years.  So that is a big plus.

More importantly, he is the one Democrat running in the primary who embraces – and will fight for – Democratic values.  He is pro-choice; his primary opponent is pro-life.  He is pro-marriage equality; I do not believe his primary opponent is (if I am wrong on this, feel free to comment below).  In Frederic, voters in the 9th have a genuine progressive with a strong record of job creation.  His Democratic opponent lacks these credentials.

Some say that his primary opponent (Daniel Medinger), as a pro-life Democrat, is better situated to defeat a pro-life Republican (Gail Bates) in the fall.  No.  Pro-choice Republicans, faced with making a decision between two pro-life candidates, are highly likely to stay with their party.  Pro-choice Republicans, given the option of voting for a Pro-life Republican and a Pro-choice Democrat, are at least cross-pressured.  Yes, Republicans in Western Howard County tend to be conservative, but if Frederic picks up a respectable percentage of pro-choice and/or moderate Republicans – and manages to capture a 6 – 5 majority among unaffiliated voters (aka Independents), he has a shot at putting together a winning coalition. A much better shot than Medinger.

Combine that with his demonstrated ability to fund a campaign, you have to say that Ryan Frederic has promise. 

Considering all of these factors together, I am endorsing Frederic for the Democratic nomination for the Ninth Senate District.

With the election of candidates in the 9th such as Frederic and Tom Coale (in 9B), voters can send a new generation of thoughtful, energetic progressives to represent us in Annapolis.  And that is good news in any season. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Gisriel Gets…What Exactly?

A one-time lawmaker should be expected to know and follow the law.  That is a reasonable enough starting-point.

Meet Michael Gisriel, disbarred attorney, long-time lobbyist and (relatively) new resident of Maryland's 12th State House of Delegates District.  A completely unremarkable fellow, except for the fact that he wants to be one of the three Delegates elected from the 12th.  Pump your brakes, Mike.

You might have seen his signs around town…or received one of his direct mail pieces featuring what appear to be photographs of the candidate from the ‘90s.  His slogan is “Gisriel Gets It Done!”

So what has Mr. Gisriel gotten done lately?

“The respondent, Michael Gisriel, having been found in violation of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.15, 3.1, and 8.4, was disbarred.”*

“Gisriel’s conduct, which constituted violations of many of the Rules of Professional Conduct, exacerbated by his hubris in the handling of the $1,000 check, warrants disbarment.” (5 – 2 majority, filed on June 18, 2009)

*[Rule 1.1 (Competence), Rule 1.3 (Diligence), Rule 1.4 (Communication), Rule 1.15 (Safeguarding Property), Rule 3.1 (Meritorious Claims and Contentions) and Rule 8.4 (Misconduct)]

His direct mail piece, presented as a “Report from Annapolis!,” is further evidence that Mr. Gisriel has lost the plot.  Running as an uber-insider, especially when one is a non-incumbent, is rarely a sound idea. His listed accomplishments involve such action verbs as “attended…spoke…spoke….and met.”  These are typical hallmarks of success for a lobbyist…. at least good for billable hours.  (possible new slogan: “Gisriel Gets Paid in Full"?)

His January 15, 2014 campaign finance report shows a number of contributions from individuals and organizations outside of the 12th District.  His is not a grass-roots campaign.  It barely even qualifies as Astroturf. 

The only upside to his highly improbable nomination and election would be the joy I would experience calling my local friends on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 to see who among them wants to run for his seat in 2018.

Welcome to the 12th, Mr. Gisriel.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

All Quiet in Wilde Lake?

Hardly.  That said, the Village election is only days away (April 26) and our races for the Wilde Lake Village Board (WLVB) and the Columbia Association (CA) Representative are uncontested.  All five WLVB candidates appearing on the ballot will be elected.  The CA Rep is running unopposed for another one-year term. 

So I will focus on the three contested CA Representative races. 

In Harper’s Choice: Bob Fontaine stands out as the far superior choice.  He has an impressive background in community service.  As a current member of the Harper’s Choice Village Board and in light of his skill-set, he is well-equipped to represent the Village and help facilitate the “civil discourse” he mentions in his candidate statement (Columbia Flier, April 17, 2014).  The Board needs consensus builders like Fontaine, not firebrands. 

In Town Center: Suzanne Waller has served on the CA Board capably.  In comparison, her opponent’s resume and platform seem rather thin.

In Hickory Ridge: Harry Schwarz has a positive, forward-looking vision and a long-track record of community involvement.  He has some solid ideas on enhancing community engagement. If elected, he would be an excellent Columbia Association Representative.

That is all for today. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

You Can Find Me in the Club

Some thoughts on the recent Columbia Democratic Club’s candidate endorsement meeting, but first a quick response to a reader:

“Why Are You Writing Self-Indulgent Claptrap?”

Excellent question. Let us re-visit our First Principles.

This blog is about change and continuity… the indefatigable reality of impermanence.  Politics is a recurring thread but, fundamentally, the blog is an exploration of evolving perceptions.  It is a discussion of thoughts at a certain time and place…of choices, musings and [yes] considerations.

I have to be willing to set the torch to it…to “keep, and pass, and turn again” as Emerson might say. Venture off-topic.  Alienate some readers.  If that means non-political subject matter, or writing in verse from time-to-time, then that is the stone-cold deal.

With that preamble out of the way, I have some topline impressions of the gathering.  [Select races only].

On the State Attorney General race:  I was pleased that all three Democratic candidates showed up to deliver their one-minute pitches. When it came time to tally the votes, State Senator Brian Frosh crushed it, securing a First Ballot endorsement.  Candidly, I haven’t focused on the AG race but I am inclined to support Frosh. Delegate Aisha Braveboy voted against marriage equality in 2012, so that rules her out.  That leaves Delegate Jon Cardin and I have yet to see a compelling reason to vote for him.

On Senate District 9:  I have met neither Ryan Frederic nor Daniel Medinger.  While Medinger captured the CDC endorsement, I have to say that Frederic has an impressive background and would make a fine State Senator.  Although I am not a resident of the Fighting Ninth, I look forward to learning more about these two candidates in the coming weeks.

On House District 9B:  What can I say that hasn’t already been stated, eloquently, by Howard County’s own Marshmallow Man here in this great blog post.

Tom Coale is smart, hard-working, and knows 9B.  He would be an excellent State Delegate and would serve the people of his district quite well.

His primary opponent, Rich Corkran, seems like a decent-enough fellow but his heart doesn’t appear into it.  Until very recently, his campaign website still referred to his 2010 campaign.  His main lit piece is…lackluster and his presentation skills are middling.  Corkran is standing for election while Coale is running for election and that is a very important distinction. I know which candidate I would prefer to represent me in Annapolis.  

I am sure I will write more about this race soon.  For now, suffice to say that I am pleased that Coale received the CDC endorsement.  

District 12.  This is my home district.  I have thoughts on this race.  This will be the subject of a future post.  Note: Terri Hill and Clarence Lam both received the CDC endorsement for this three-member state legislative house district.

District 13.  Delegate Frank Turner was kind enough to hear me out on a government reform issue (here).  Having resided in Kensington in Montgomery County in 2010, I am familiar with Vanessa Atterbeary.  She has great credentials and would be a fine State Delegate. Her one-minute pitch was a little off (she acknowledged that she was nervous).  Sometimes great public policymakers are not natural campaigners.  I look forward to watching this race over the next several weeks.  Note: Delegate Turner and Atterbeary, along with incumbent Delegate Shane Pendergrass, received the CDC endorsement.

Democratic Central Committee (12 candidates are elected every four years)

Any list of Howard County rising stars should have Candace Dodson-Reed’s name at or near the top.  A talented policy wonk with top-flight political acumen, she will do fantastic work helping elect Democrats.

Among the incumbents seeking re-election, Abby Hendrix delivered a very thoughtful and compelling presentation regarding a strategic plan for the County Party.  This is not an easy task in a 60-second statement. In my humble opinion, she should serve another four-year term on the Central Committee.  Ethel Hill also made a very strong case for re-election. I will be voting for her in the gubernatorial primary election.  While I don’t know Deanna Peel as well as some of the other candidates, smart people…people I trust…tell me she is fantastic.  I have met Kim Pruim on a handful of occasions and I am aware of her reputation for solid constituent services work in the Second County Council District.  I am inclined to vote for both Peel and Pruim in June.  A soft-spoken Bill Adams gave a low-key presentation.  He had the tough challenge of representing the Mizeur campaign at the forum, not an easy position in what is considered to be prime Brown/Ulman country.  He put himself out there and I respect that.  I will probably cast my ballot for him.

Among the non-incumbents, beyond Dodson-Reed, a handful of others stood out.  Marcia White made a strong case for her election.  I think she will do great work for the Democratic Party as a Committee member. Kathy Macfarlane, based on my increasingly illegible hand-written scrawl, focused her one-minute presentation on the need for a well-financed operation, the need to “put money in the bank.”  Very sensible.    In contrast to Mr. Adams’ mellow approach, Josh Friedman offered up, in a rather forceful manner, some practical suggestions regarding establishing benchmarks for Democratic volunteerism.  His was the 49th presentation of the evening, but was probably the most entertaining.  More importantly, his ideas were interesting.  

I believe that works out to my top nine candidates for 12 seats.  I may vote for one, two, or three others but I need to see and learn more before deciding among the remaining candidates for the Central Committee.  As of this writing, Jonathan Branch, Patricia Thomas and Charles Bubeck are the most likely to round out my ballot…but who knows?  Campaigns are fluid.

[Note:  Candace Dodson-Reed, Abby Hendrix, Ethel Hill, Kathy Macfarlane and Jonathan Branch all received the CDC endorsement].

A long post on a rather chilly mid-April Day.  That will do for now.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Reagan

Being fond of parody and political satire from days of yore, I present...The Reagan (1989):

Once upon an Inauguration Day dreary,
while George (HW) Bush pondered weak, but not wimpy,
over America's staggering deficits galore -
While he nodded, nearly napping, suddenly,
there came a tapping,
As of some staff member gently rapping, rapping
at the Oval Office door.
"Tis Dan Quayle," he muttered, "thinking it the
bathroom door,
Only this, and nothing more."

Ah distinctly,  he remembered, it was three months ere November
And Mike Dukakis was the ghost of the dying ember
upon the floor.
Eagerly, he feared the morrow, vainly he sought to borrow
From the taxpayers funds (not by taxes) by the score
Yet the promise he had made, "new taxes are no more."
Nameless here, for evermore.

Open here he flung the door, when amazed at who stood before
In there stepped a stately Reagan, as from the olden days
of yore.
Not in the least pleasantry made he, not a
minute stopped or stayed he
But, with the mien of a dictator of Haiti
walked through Bush's office door.
Sat upon his chair, near the chamber door.
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this stately Californian caused Bush to smile
By his whimsical and fatherly decorum of the countenance
he wore -
"Ronnie, my friend," he said, "surely you
know of my troubles by the score.
Advise me, how do I increase government revenue when
'No new taxes' I swore?"
Quoth the Reagan: "Promise Nevermore."

Startled at the silliness of the reply the actor had spoken
"Ah, Ron, you know that you are President no more
If it weren't for the Twenty-Second Amendment, you would
probably serve two terms more.  Yet if I don't lessen
the deficit, four years from now, the voters
would throw me out through the White House door."
Quoth the Reagan: "Tax the poor."

"My image is bad enough," said Bush, "the public
thinks that the Vice President is a moron to the core.
Congress chooses my Flexible Freeze plan to ignore
The Press believes that the 'thousand points of light'
refers to my millionaire friends galore
What do I do?
Tell me, tell me the answers I implore."
Quoth the Reagan not a word
Only a gentle snore.

- Jason Booms, 1989 (English, "5th hour").

*Irony alert:  Ten years after this poem was scribbled onto a piece of paper, I worked on Vice President Dan Quayle's Presidential campaign.  Life truly does follow some unexpected paths.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Counties

[Saturday, early afternoon]

I am writing this post from my Eastern Shore Bureau office (which doubles as a coffee shop) in Princess Anne, Maryland.  On the weekends, you can find an establishment that produces a delectable latte, but don’t count on taking your first sip until 9:00 am, when the good café opens for business.  Those who crave the bean and can’t wait until that hour either have to settle for a Royal Farms offering or take the lonely drive up US-13/Ocean Highway to Salisbury, twelve and a half miles to the north.

Long before Get’n Grounded sold their first scone, former Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Samuel Chase hailed from this area.   The U.S. House of Representatives impeached him, on charges relating to “arbitrary and oppressive conduct of trials.” [In brass-knuckles Realpolitik terms, the Jeffersonian Republicans in the House were ill pleased with the outspoken Chase, who became an ardent Federalist.] Partisanship: same as it ever was.  The good news for him is that he was acquitted on all counts in the Jeffersonian Republican-controlled Senate.  He remains to this day the only Supreme Court justice to have been impeached. 

Oddly, Princess Anne hasn’t turned this historic curiosity into a major tourist attraction.   This is the same Samuel Chase who tried to corner the flour market during the Revolutionary War.  The statue sculpts itself.

The population of Princess Anne, the county seat of Somerset County, is 3,290, which makes it smaller than most Villages in Columbia. The presence of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore gives the town a somewhat greater sense of vitality.  The total population of the county is 26,470…about one quarter of the number of Columbia residents.

Before the aforementioned high-water mark from the 2010 census, the previous population peak of Somerset County was 26,455…it recorded this tally in 1910.  What followed was a decades-long decline to 18,924 in 1970.  The 1980s witnessed a 22% increase in population, smaller but steady growth in the ‘90s and ‘00s and a small dip from 2010 to 2012 (a net loss of approximately 217 residents). 

So what does it all mean?  While it is a lovely region, I suppose it serves as a cautionary tale on the dangers of stagnation.  There simply isn’t much “there” here.

Now, there are many, many differences between Howard County and Somerset County, and both are fine places to “live, work and play.”  That said, it is amazing to think that, even as recently as 1950, the two counties had roughly the same number of residents, with Somerset being the more populated of the two until that census.

It took bold, dynamic, and forward-looking leadership, from the private and public sectors, to help Howard County grow into the County that it is today.  It would be a shame if the plague of negativism and fear of forward movement gripped our communities, sapping them of the energy to find creative new ways to help maintain a high quality of life for all of our residents (new-comers and long-timers, young and old, etc…).

I can’t help but think that Samuel Chase, if he were alive today, would choose Howard County as his home.  And our grocery stores carry all the flour he will ever need.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Forum (Part III) – And the First shall be last.

Dawn.  Kowloon.  The Walled City.  The first rays of sunlight meandered between the tenement houses and gently alit upon a window looking out upon a caged balcony.  That window…and the figure talking into a telephone behind it…were visible from the rooftop of the apartment across the alleyway.  The sole human presence on that rooftop was a sniper, who was too pre-occupied focusing the sights on his Vapensmia NM149 to notice…

…Is how this post would begin if it were a Robert Ludlum novel.  Alas, it is instead about the League of Women Voters of Howard County Candidate Forum, specifically the panel discussion among the six candidates for Howard County Council (District One).

Perhaps it would be better crafted as a Ludlum work.  It could be titled The Elkridge Gambit.   But such thoughts had not yet entered my mind as I was scribbling away in that dark auditorium, watching four Democratic and two Republican candidates sitting onstage behind a rectangular table.  Each had the opportunity to deliver very brief opening and closing statements…and field questions from the Moderator.

Before I launch into a brief analysis of the candidate performances that specific evening, it should be noted that I, and some friends of mine, support one of them: Jon Weinstein (D).  I have other friends who support another, Wendy Royalty (D).  Regarding the other two Democratic candidates, I don’t believe I have ever met Dave Grabowski and my contact with Lisa Markovitz was limited to a brief exchange after the Forum.  I have not made the acquaintance of the two Republican candidates: Kevin Forrest Schmidt and David Blake Melton.    

My interest thus declared, here we go:

I believe Weinstein had the best night.  An experienced campaigner, he seemed comfortable with the format. He delivered answers that provided the audience members with insights into his perspective on governing: which includes a recognition of the interdependent nature of multiple issues (education, economic growth, transportation, etc…) and the importance of working collaboratively to find “balanced,” thoughtful solutions to the challenges facing Howard County.

Weinstein is a small businessman who has experience working with government agencies to promote “efficiency, accountability and transparency.”  He ran a good race in a tough seat (House District 9A) four year ago and enjoys some residual Name ID from that effort. I think his small business background, his service in the U.S. Army Reserves, and his community activism make him an excellent candidate for the General Election.  The First is a swing district, the only one of the five, and I believe that Weinstein can hold the Democratic base while pulling in a good number of Independent voters and perhaps a decent percentage of progressive-minded Republicans.  In my opinion, he is Democratic Party’s best bet to hold the seat and allow Democrats to maintain their 4 to 1 advantage on the County Council.

Royalty turned in the second best performance of the evening.  Having served as a pollster to dozens of national, state and local campaigns over the past 24 years, it is relatively easy to identify those who are new to the campaign trail as a candidate.  Royalty sounded like a candidate who is still working to find her voice.  Her late entry is not helping her (she filed in February and it appears as though she didn’t begin exploring the possibility of running for that Council seat until January…according to this article).

Make no mistake; Royalty is qualified to hold the office.  One of my higher compliments about someone is that they are serious, and she is serious.

She had a solid response to the question about support for the non-profit arts community when she remarked how “non-profits save millions of taxpayer dollars.”  This reinforces her platform calling for fiscal soundness.   She provided thoughtful insights on education and teacher morale (note: the Howard County Education Association endorsed Weinstein).  She offered up a vision of greater walkability around, on a better mix of businesses along, Route 40 (I believe it behooves candidates to spend more time talking about the future than the past, so this was a plus).

I really wish she chose to run for a different office.  She is the kind of candidate I like to support. She would make a great candidate for the state legislature (frankly her public policy background seems better suited for Annapolis) or a fine countywide candidate for the Board of Education, given her experience with various education-related organizations.  If Weinstein weren’t running, I would be advocating for her nomination in June and election in November. But that’s the problem, he is. I think he brings a unique skill-set and perspective to the Council. Moreover, I believe Weinstein, not Royalty, is the candidate best positioned to hold the Council seat in what could be a tough election cycle for the Democratic Party nationally.

Markovitz offers a different vision of Howard County.  Frankly, I had a tough time hearing her.  Perhaps it was the acoustics of the auditorium or the placement of the microphone but I missed out on approximately 20% of what she said, so I had to visit her website to fill in some blanks. I am not a particular fan of the organizations with which she is affiliated.  She has a Weltanschauung regarding land use planning, but one that seems out of step with most of the other Council members.  Is she qualified? Probably.  But she seems like the kind of candidate who, if elected, might adopt obstructionist tactics.  Ultimately, I don't think such a worldview or approach is beneficial for District One or the County as a whole.

One of Grabowski’s rationales for running seems to be that this represents the next logical step in his community involvement.  That is a terrible reason to seek public office. It sounds more than a little self-involved.  As a message, it doesn’t say anything about what he would do, if elected, for the citizenry of the First.  Over the course of the forum, he proceeded to sketch out something resembling a nascent platform, which is not encouraging since he has been in the race since June 2013, so he has had plenty of time to develop a more compelling and coherent rationale for his candidacy.  Is he qualified?  On paper, most likely.  In reality? He seems more public access than prime time.

In the interest of wrapping this long post up, I am not going to spend much time talking about the two Republican candidates: Schmidt and Melton.  Of the two, the former is stronger than the latter and will probably emerge as the Republican nominee.   Could either win?  It would take a certain confluence of events (heavy GOP turnout combined with light Democratic turnout in the First and/or the nomination of a weak Democratic candidate).  That said, demographics and party affiliation numbers give the Republican a fair shot at a pick-up. 

Next up…a return to Kowloon?  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Forum (Part Two) - A County in Bloom

One of the recurring themes at the League of Women Voters of Howard County's candidate forum was how best to manage growth.

Having conducted research on behalf of economic development organizations in regions that are trying to rebound after years of decline, I know of many municipal and county officials who would love to swap their problems for ours.

I've spoken with residents in areas facing truly tough times: dwindling populations, tighter budgets, higher crime rates, crumbling roads, major employers shutting down or cutting back...leading to diminished job opportunities.  They love their communities too, but many are debating the wisdom of staying.  They want to be part of a turn-around story but they have kids to raise or they simply want to be able to walk around their neighborhood without tensing up when they hear footfalls on the sidewalk behind them.

They want a quality of life similar to what we have in Howard County.

So the questions posed to the County Executive candidates dealt with such matters as the impact of growth on transportation and our infrastructure, on our school system, on housing.

[Before I go any further, I feel the need to disclose that I support Courtney Watson for County Executive.  So if you are expecting a consistently impartial, non-partisan analysis, you are in the wrong place.]

But back to the thread.   

First, the County Executive race. Strictly from the vantage point of performance: both County Council member Watson and State Senator Allan Kittleman did well. I would have been stunned otherwise. Both are smart, capable public officials.

It really comes down to who has the best experience for the position and best vision for the County.  This is where Watson's service as a member of the County Board of Education is hugely important.  Howard County public schools have a reputation for excellence and there is a concern that growth will put pressures on our education system.  As the Republican candidates for County Council (District One) noted during their panel discussion, our schools attract families and businesses, this drives economic growth and helps create the highly desirable communities that we have in Howard County.  Thus, having the in-depth understanding that Watson possesses on educational matters is an incredibly important attribute and a key point of differentiation between her and Senator Kittleman.

Moreover, when given the opportunity to make closing statements, Sen. Kittleman chose to talk about his father's work on civil rights, which was both commendable and courageous.  Again, putting on my political consultant hat, voters generally prefer to hear about the future than the past.  Tell us what you plan on doing. So when Watson spoke about keeping Howard County a "great place to live, work and play" and how she was poised to "help solve the challenges of the future" - I believe her forward-looking orientation is more aligned with voter concerns.  Kittleman should have pivoted from talking about the past to his vision for the future, but he did not do so.  At least I don't see anything like that in my notes.

I really wanted to cover the County Council - District One discussion in this post, but it looks like we are going to have a trilogy.   

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Forum (Part One) - Law and Order

“I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe... Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those... moments... will be lost in time, like tears... in... rain. Time... to die...” – Roy Batty, Bladerunner

When you have been in and around political campaigns long enough, you will have seen some remarkable things.  Last night, the c-beams were, at best, glowing dimly at the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Howard Community College.  For at that location, at that time, several public office-holders and seekers took to the stage for a League of Women Voters of Howard County-sponsored candidate forum.

I will focus on the highlights and the lowlights.  Moreover, I will discuss things that voters care about, for better or worse, so I will talk about both substance and – when necessary – style.

First up were the two Democratic candidates for State’s Attorney, Howard County: the incumbent Dario Broccolino and challenger Rich Gibson.  The former focused on discussing specific achievements and a turnaround narrative while the latter spoke of the importance of community outreach.  Frankly, both candidates appeared qualified.

Our Register of Wills, Byron Macfarlane (D), is running unopposed for re-election.  His brief statement was solid and accessible. He talked about his efforts to humanize and modernize the office.  He made the work of his rather arcane office sound interesting, which is not an easy communications task.  He is another very-well qualified public servant.

Four Democratic candidates running for Judge of the Ophans’ Court came next.  The primary election will winnow the field down to three Democratic nominees, and they will face off against two Republican candidates in November.  Neither GOP candidate appeared at the forum.  A total of three judges will be elected for this Court.    Two of the four present at the forum (Anne Dodd and Leslie Smith Turner) are incumbents while the other two (Nicole Bormel Miller and Shari Lynne Chase) are challengers.

Oh where to begin, perhaps more importantly, where to end?

Based solely on performance alone, Anne Dodd and Leslie Smith Turner finished in the top tier.  Judge Dodd was a bit more polished/comfortable with the format while Judge Turner did well talking about her priorities, her experience and commitment to public service. 

Nicole Bormel Miller is obviously very smart and is qualified to be a judge on the Orphans’ Court.  Putting my political strategist hat on for a moment, I would counsel her to not talk about her combination of “youth and experience” as a key point of differentiation.  I am in my 40s and most of the audience members were Baby Boomers or of an older generation.  I don’t think she won many points with that line.

I can feel my blood pressure spiking as I begin this paragraph.  Although we live in a relatively free and open society where people with minimal qualifications can seek public office, based on what I witnessed last night, Shari Lynne Chase has no business running for Judge of the Orphans’ Court.  I did not hear her articulate any legal credentials.  I did hear her utter banal sentiments about treating people fairly.  Most worrisome, if elected to the office, she seems to want to strike a balance between her personal notion of a “humanistic” perspective and the letter of the law.  No Ms. Chase, that is not how judges, or our courts, operate.  In fact, the application of such personal beliefs, in matters of law, can undermine our system of jurisprudence.          

This is why it is important for voters to pay attention to all of the races, even the down-ballot ones.  It would be truly unfortunate for Howard County for a candidate such as Ms. Chase to be elected simply because of her easy-to-pronounce name or the placement of her name on the ballot.  The Orphans’ Court handles very serious matters.   Ms. Chase is not a serious candidate and I hope Democratic primary voters understand and remember her lack of qualifications when they enter the voting booth.

Following the Orphans’ Court discussion, the three candidates for Howard County Sheriff gathered on the stage. Rather, two assembled while one fell apart.  The two Democratic candidates – current Sheriff James Fitzgerald and Captain John Newnan, appear qualified to hold the position.  They covered substantive matters, ranging from collective bargaining to the need for greater diversity within the Howard County sheriff’s department. 

Meanwhile the Republican candidate, John Francis McMahon, described himself as a retired, reluctant candidate who admits to being “less qualified” than the others.  He said he would not be a captive of “special interests.” Overall, he seemed a bit less than present for the proceedings. I think that is all that needs to be said.

Coming up…Part Two (County Executive and County Council races).

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Skulduggery in Oakland Mills?

Subtitle:  Open (Village) Covenants...Openly Arrived At

For the record, I am not stating that there was any illegal or otherwise nefarious goings-on involved in the decision by Alex Hekimian to not seek re-election as the Oakland Mills Representative to the Columbia Association Board of Directors, and the...presumably 11th hour... decision of current Oakland Mills Village Board Member Reg Avery to seek said post.

But secretive? Perhaps. Hence the use of the word "skulduggery" and the question mark.

Neither person was under any affirmative duty to disclose their electoral intentions in advance of the filing deadline.  Their actions, neither technically nor physically, prevented other candidates from filing for that position. 

However, as they say in the public relations business, the optics are bad.  Moreover, Mr. Avery's decision to run for another office, the Howard County Council, puts the Columbia Association...specifically the Board of Directors...in an awkward position.

In recent years, the CA Board in general (and certain members of the Board in particular) have adopted "transparency" as a watch-word.  A letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun from April 2013 touts Mr. Hekimian as the candidate of "openness and transparency." [The letter can be found here.]

So it does seem incongruous for such a person - someone committed to such values - to inform another person, privately and shortly before the filing deadline, "Hey, I am not going to run, but why don't you go ahead and put your paperwork in?" Because, from the outside, that looks exactly like what went down.

Would other candidates have run if Mr. Hekimian announced that he was not running for re-election? I am not a resident of Oakland Mills, but I am inclined to believe there would have been a contested race.

At this point, there is no apparent wrong-doing.  Even if there was a matter of collusion - which has not yet been proven - well, they played within the rules, right?  It might be neither just nor fair but politics is politics.   Not exactly what one expects in civic-minded Howard County, but "oh well," right? Or no?

So now Mr. Avery, as the sole candidate for the office, is poised to win election....however....

This brings us to the second major point of contention.  Mr. Avery is also a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Howard County Council (Second District).  The Columbia Association's Code of Ethics would seem to indicate that Mr. Avery, as a candidate for another office, would have to make a choice: either forgo your campaign for County Council between now and the election/the beginning of the new CA Board term, give up your quest to sit on the Columbia Association Board of Directors this time around, or apply for a waiver that would allow you to be seated.  However, that third option doesn't resolve the issue that the Columbia Association's Code of Ethics is intended to prevent: eliminating the possibility of a conflict of interest or the appearance of impropiety.

Mr. Avery's statements regarding the ability of other candidates to seek multiple offices (found in this article) are...disingenuous at best.  In those circumstances, the relevant state statutes permitted those candidates to run for two federal offices simultaneously.  Here, we have a case where the Columbia Association, a nonprofit service corporation that exercises quasi-public functions, seems to have clear rules in place that would prevent a member of the Board from running for another office.

Mr. Avery's interpretation of his attorney's perspective on the matter is not dispositive. 

If he continues with his course of action, running for County Council after being elected to the CA Board, he will require the Columbia Association Board of Directors to decide whether or not to seat him...or whether or not to grant him a waiver.  Beyond rewarding a decided lack of transparency, how will it look for the Board to ignore its own clear rules in such cases?  When others faced a similar situation, they did the right thing and stepped down from the Board. 

If elected and seated, how can Mr. Avery - with a straight face - extoll the virtues of transparency given how he arrived at the Board?

The answer seems to be clear: he should either vacate his current candidacy for one position or the other.  If he opts to give up his long-shot County Council race, he can take his seat on the CA Board (granted, he got there in a somewhat unseemly manner, but that matter can be addressed in a future election).  If he decides to end his candidacy for the CA Board, it appears as though there would need to be a new election for CA Rep from Oakland Mills.  Then, Mr. Avery can proceed with his quixotic and ultimately doomed District 2 campaign.

Definite shenanigans, which is too bad, given the energy that needs to be spent solving real issues.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.





Monday, April 7, 2014

Clash of the Titans

Every so often, it is important to get the adrenaline riled.  Otherwise, the tedium sets in.  Once that happens, sloth and melancholia tend to lurk about, shambling listlessly through dimly lit alleyways. No sense inviting them over.  

For the politically-attuned, General Election Day offers the prospect of serious action, excitement of the first order.  In 2014 anno Domini, in our corner of the known universe, the marquee countywide general election matchup will be County Council member Courtney Watson (D) vs. State Senator Allan Kittleman (R) in the race to succeed the outgoing County Executive, Ken Ulman.   

This is our Ali – Frazier.

Even with historical trends favoring the hypothesis that 2014 will be a decent Republican year, Howard County Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 3 to 2 margin (93,354 registered Ds as compared to 56,285 registered Rs).

The Watson campaign, adopting the structures proposed in Professor Stephen Skowronek’s seminal work, The Politics Presidents Make, is practicing the politics of Articulation.  She is assuming that the current County Executive’s regime is resilient, and will be viewed as such through November.  In which case, affiliating with the current Administration makes the most sense.  Her campaign’s messaging reflects a theme of continuity (“continuing the progress in Howard County”).  Watson’s promise is that she will use her expertise to move the County forward, charting her own course yet following a path not too dissimilar from the one chosen by Ulman.

Her challenge is establishing her own brand in the minds of voters.  At the presidential level, sometimes those who adopt the politics of articulation (“orthodox-innovators” to use Skowronek’s descriptor) fare quite well (Theodore Roosevelt) while others have more difficulty adapting to changing circumstances (George H.W. Bush).  The good news for Watson is that she is a known entity with her own record of accomplishments and that, as of this writing, Howard County voters are less likely to be disenchanted with the state of the county as compared to the state of the state, or the state of the nation. 

Meanwhile, the Kittleman campaign is banking on the politics of Pre-emption.  They recognize that the party affiliation numbers are not in their favor and are downplaying the Republican label, at least outside of Western HoCo.  Their theme is that Kittleman is a “proven Independent leader.” He is promoting his support for marriage equality and reminding voters about his family’s long-standing commitment to civil rights.  In short, he is not running as a conservative Republican.  He has little choice. His electoral predicament is not dissimilar from the one facing Nixon in '68, or Clinton in '92...both of whom were candidates belonging to the non-dominant order of their time.  

The Kittleman strategy is to work for a heavy Republican turnout in County Council District Five and hope for a depressed Democratic turnout countywide.   Unfortunately for his campaign, the one true swing district in the County – Council District One – is held by one Courtney Watson, who has represented Eastern Howard County on the Council since 2006.   If Kittleman can’t win in the First, he is, in all probability, doomed. 

So who will win?  The smart money is on Courtney Watson.   If Democratic turnout is 60% or higher, Watson should win.  60,000 votes should be sufficient for victory this time around, and Ulman garnered 66,121 four years ago in his rout of Trent Kittleman…in what was, nationally, a Republican election cycle.  Sixty percent of 93,354 registered Democrats works out to 56,012 votes…that means that Watson would only need 4,000 votes among Republicans, unaffiliated and “other” voters to reach the 60,000 figure.  Even assuming a two percent under-vote for that particular office, 60% Democratic turnout overall should elect Watson as our next County Executive.

With 60% Democratic turnout, Kittleman will have a tough time cobbling together a coalition that would approach 50% plus one.  His hope rests in a Democratic turnout at or below 50%.  If that occurs, and if Republicans follow the party-line and turn out in sufficient numbers (65%+ GOP turnout; 90% - 10% for the Senator) and if Independents account for approximately 25% of the electorate and if they break 8 – 5 for Kittleman, and if he pulls a slightly higher percentage of Democratic voters into his column (15%) than Watson does among Republicans (10%), then yes, Kittleman could emerge with between 50.1% and 51.5%, with 52% most likely being his hard ceiling.

Notice the number of “ifs” in that paragraph?

Watson’s ceiling is closer to 60%.... and consists of far fewer ifs.  She needs to energize the base.  Turning to elements beyond the direct control of her campaign, it would be helpful to her efforts if the best Democratic candidates emerged victorious in the swing districts in the June primary elections…nominees who can motivate Democrats to cast their ballots in the General Election while also appealing to Independent voters.  Specifically, I am thinking about Howard County Council District One as well as the State House of Delegates District 9B.  I have some thoughts as to the ideal Democratic nominees for both of those races.  I will share them in a later post.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.