Friday, October 31, 2014

Vote Democratic

Entrenched, conservative interests in America have often condemned, or at least looked warily upon, citizen activism.  In the early days of our Republic, they castigated those who participated in “self-created societies.”  They believed that the people’s voice on affairs of state should be expressed primarily when casting ballots for public office, and infrequently (and quietly) otherwise.

These societies facilitated the ability of citizens to discuss public policy matters; and to organize.  Our first party system evolved out of these debates.

Our Republic, our Democracy, has changed a great deal since the Washington Administration.  Parties have appeared and vanished, issues have risen, been resolved, or transformed, rights have been recognized, extended and curtailed.

With that said, I would maintain that one animating principle remains constant…the interests of a conservative elite who wish to preserve their socioeconomic clout.  Not every conservative is so motivated; nor is every member of the elite conservative.  The point is that there are many who belong to a class that could best be described using Teddy Roosevelt’s classic phrase, “malefactors of great wealth.”  And, many elements of this particular grouping seem to have found a home in today’s Republican Party.

If voter turnout was 100% in Maryland, the forces allied with these reactionary interests would be in full retreat.  They rely upon a combination of citizen disinterest, and generous financial contributions to like-minded candidates and organizations, to advance their agenda.  Sometimes they can cloak their plans under the guise of fair-sounding populist verbiage.  When they have a losing hand, they go on the offensive in the hope of sowing fear and confusion.

That is why it is so important for the average citizen to participate in the electoral process.  It offers an opportunity to rebuke the narrow interests of this conservative elite while ensuring that the voice of the people will be heard, and not just during election season.

Chances are, if you are reading these words, you have already cast your ballot or you plan to do so via absentee or at the polls on Election Day.  This post serves as a reminder then, for you to talk with your friends and family members who may be occasional voters.  Ask them: who do you think wants you to vote and who do you think wants you to “forget” to vote…and why?   Which party and candidates best represent your values, and which are more inclined to work against them?

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Sun Missed Their Own Point – Watson Is the Better Choice

The Baltimore Sun showered Courtney Watson with praise in their recent editorial on the Howard County Executive race.  They referred to Watson as “an immensely gifted and dedicated public servant.” They “hope she [Watson] will find many more opportunities to share her talents with the community.”

Yet, they endorsed Allan Kittleman.  Let us examine their rationale for doing so.

They appear to give a great deal of weight to the importance of having something equating to a relative degree of parity between the two parties.  I can understand the innate appeal such a proposition would have among self-described adherents of a good government philosophy.  For such voters, it sounds inherently “fair”…something that might promote moderation and compromise. However, there can still be a “competition of ideas” within a political system where one party is stronger than the other.  Moreover, many states that have more competitive two-party systems than Maryland still witness highly divisive, highly partisan political environments.   

Frankly, their argument would have more merit if Senator Kittleman had decided to run for Governor.  First, he would have been a stronger candidate for that office compared to Larry Hogan. Second, even the Sun editorial stated that “Maryland is stronger when it has two viable political parties…” Note that.  Not “Howard County” specifically but “Maryland” in general.  Kittleman is not running statewide.  At least not in this election cycle.   

It has been established that Senator Kittleman’s voting record is more conservative than his persona.  How, precisely, is his “kind of independence” going to work out with a Democratic County Council and a Democratic state legislature?  Further, wouldn’t a Republican County Executive be cross-pressured by his base to pull to the right on economic issues?  On some social issues?  It seems to be more of a recipe for stagnation and deadlock than a path to move Howard County forward.

By labeling Kittleman a “relatively liberal Republican” and Watson a “relatively conservative Democrat,” the Sun missed two critical points:

First, both are running as progressives.  The key distinction is that Watson is closer to being a true progressive while Kittleman is highlighting certain policy stances in an effort to position himself as one…when he is really fairly conservative on a host of issues (Right to Work, education funding and assault weapons leap to mind).  Second, one can infer from their description of her that Watson is a different kind of Democrat.  Perhaps distinct enough from Mr. Ulman to provide a “fresh approach to leadership of the county?”  I believe so.

The Sun seems to accept the belief that Ken Ulman will be viewed as a good County Executive, “whose legacy will ultimately be seen as having left the county better than he found it.”

And then they use language that might be found in a classic political science tome.  They state that Kittleman isn’t running “as a repudiation of the incumbent.”  Maybe, maybe not.  The point is that if you believe that Ulman’s legacy should be built upon, why would you endorse someone from the opposing political party?  That invites the politics of “preemption,” to use Professor Skowronek’s typology.  If you want to extend his legacy, it makes far more sense to practice the “politics of articulation” and elect someone distinct from, yet affiliated with, the identity of the incumbent. 

The good news is that there is such a candidate.  Her name is Courtney Watson.

In short, I suggest that the Sun editorial board re-read their own endorsement.  Perhaps they should re-think their conclusion.  A careful review of their own editorial might prompt a new one beginning with the phrase: “On second thought….”

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Going Down-Ballot

I just wanted to take a moment to recognize some candidates in contested, but lower-profile, local races who I believe are deserving of support.

Sheriff (Vote For One): James Fitzgerald.  He has done a good job and, in my opinion, should be re-elected to another term.  His opponent appeared, frankly, out of his element at candidate forum held earlier this year.  A write-up of that event can be found here:

Judge of the Orphans' Court (Vote For No More Than Three):  Anne Dodd, Nicole Bormel Miller and Leslie Smith Turner are all solid choices.  Dodd and Smith Turner are incumbents while Bormel Miller is seeking the office for the first time.  I believe all three will do a fine job executing the responsibilities of the position. Further background on the Court can be found here:

Still reading through the other questions on the ballot (the two proposed Constitutional Amendments and the proposed Charter Amendment).  Need to finish my homework on those measures tonight.

See you at the Bain Center soon!

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Breaking Campaign News: Oops Indeed!

Looks like the so-called "disputed" Allan Kittleman quote in the Team Howard Slate mailer was, in fact, properly sourced and completely accurate.  

In short, Kittleman said it.  Moreover, the Watson campaign and allies - contrary to claims otherwise - used the corrected story.

Based on the original Baltimore Examiner print article (dated 10/7/2006), it appears as though the Kittleman quote used in the now famous mailer (a JPG of which can be found here) was indeed 100% on point.  The quote language from both the original print article and the corrected article, which can be found online, is identical.  

The quote, as written by the Examiner Staff Writer, reads:

“ ‘I think that allowing people who are responsible, like teachers and principals, to carry concealed weapons would make individuals think twice about attacking someone,’ said Howard County state Senator Allan Kittleman, R-District 9.”

That sentence appears verbatim on one of the mailers, the one with the quote from a mother from Ellicott City who asked: "What was Allan Kittleman thinking?”  A picture of the piece appears at the end of this post.

The only difference between the original print article and the corrected online article exists not with Kittleman’s quote, but with the preamble leading into his remarks.  The mailer uses the language found in the online, corrected article that was published on October 7, 2006:

“At least one state senator said arming educators with guns in response to a string of national deadly school shootings is an idea worth considering.”

The original print article features a harder-charging lead-in paragraph:

“At least one state senator said teachers should start arming themselves with guns in schools to protect themselves and others from violent acts.”

The key point here is that, in both versions of the article, original and corrected, the Kittleman quote is the exact same.  And yes, the mailer used the corrected version.

This raises several questions…

1. Did the Kittleman campaign know that his quote was, in fact, accurate?  If so, when did they know this?  If they didn’t know, that is poor due diligence on their part.  If they did know, then why did they falsely accuse the Team Howard Slate of putting out misleading information? 

2. Does Kittleman still stand by his quote? If yes, why? If not, why not?

3.  Does Kittleman also stand by the position, appearing later in the same article, where he states that, “I am currently a supporter of reducing the restrictions on people who carry concealed weapons.” If yes, why? If not, why not?

4. Will the Kittleman campaign apologize to the voters of Howard County and/or the Team Howard Slate for stating, non-factually, that the quote in the mailer was inaccurate?
So there you have it.  The quote stands as yet another example of Senator Kittleman’s more conservative stances.  One that I am certain his campaign would rather not discuss, as it would add to the perception that some of his beliefs are out-of-step with the majority of Howard County voters.  Definitely not a topic they would like to touch during the same week fellow Republican and current GOP gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

A JPG version of the original print article can be found here: 

The quote from the corrected article can be found here, on the mailer:

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tom Coale and Ellicott City

Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that a “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory, and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”  This outlook is based, among other factors, upon the supposition that state legislators represent a population that is more likely to share common interests related to geographic proximity and other provincial characteristics.   They are intended to be closer to “the people” of the regions and municipalities of a particular state as compared to those representatives elected to serve as a member of the general, or federal, government.

With that in mind, I can’t think of anyone who cares more about, understands better, or will work harder for, the citizenry of Maryland’s House of Delegates District 9B than Tom Coale.

His extensive record of public service is truly impressive.  Beyond that, Coale has a deep, sincere and abiding commitment to Ellicott City.  Having kicked around the political arena for a while, I have been unfortunate enough to meet some office-holders and seekers who were, shall we say, primarily driven by self-interest.  Coale, thankfully, cannot be counted among that number. 

When I first moved here, Tom’s blog ( helped acquaint me with Howard County’s characters and challenges.  It was, and remains, an invaluable resource for someone who wants to understand the who, what, when, where, why and how of our corner of Maryland.  The more I write, the more I appreciate Tom’s erudition and dedication to educating his readership about the goings-on in our community.  It takes time to craft smart, focused posts…and to make them interesting.  The fact that he accomplishes this, consistently, is remarkable.

Having served a stint on Wilde Lake’s Village Board, I gained yet another perspective on the challenges facing those who serve on the Columbia Association Board of Directors.  It is a volunteer position yet it is really, at the very least, a part-time job.  And it is not a sinecure.  Tom dove into it, did the hard work, took some principled stands, and left his mark.  That, my dear readers, is the textbook example of leadership.

So now District 9B, as a single-member district in the House of Delegates, has the opportunity to send one Delegate to Annapolis to work on their behalf.  This person should be someone who is effective, knowledgeable, can get things accomplished and who is not an ideologue.  From my perspective, of the two candidates seeking the office, Tom Coale, with his pragmatic focus on addressing concrete problems (such as combating flooding in Ellicott City) seems to be the better positioned to deliver for the District.

Granted, I am a District 12 resident.  I already have great choices on Election Day.  That said, if you believe, as I do, that our General Assembly needs more smart and serious legislators…and if you are a 9B resident, I hope you cast your ballot for Tom Coale.  He would be good for Howard County and for our great laboratory, the State of Maryland.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

So What is New? (Post Sun CE Debate Edition)

It has been a hectic and (potentially) extremely productive 24+ hours.

I couldn't attend the most recent Howard County Executive forum in person, but I followed it via live stream.  The feed was a little choppy and there were some shampoo commercials interspersed between the back-and-forth (frankly, the candidates should have done live reads, Allan Kittleman pitching Prell in front of an audience - in the middle of his remarks - would have been a hoot).  But here are my primary takeaways:

1) I can't speak to the atmosphere in the room, but the debate sounded mostly positive and issue-focused.  While some have been decrying the supposed horrific negativity of this campaign, I heard a forum that was largely civil and focused on substantive matters.  I can't recall any low blows or mudslinging. It was a fact-driven discussion.  Sure, there was some comparative activity occurring, but nothing under-handed. Just a frank exchange of ideas on two governing visions by two candidates.

2) Who won?  Strictly in terms of such esoteric debate criteria as controlling the space, rhetorical abilities, and appearing confident vs. defensive (going to the "strong leader" attribute), I believe there was a winner.  In my estimation, of the two, Courtney Watson came across as the more serious, policy-driven, collected, and better prepared to take on the challenges of the position. In short, Watson won the forum.  By contrast, I thought that Kittleman sounded a little thin-skinned when answering certain questions (this was particularly apparent during the assault weapon discussion, he might have been going for "emphatic" but i think he veered closer to "aggravated" than he intended during the course of his reply).

Further, I think he lapsed a bit into Annapolis-speak (similar to Beltwayese) during his education response.

3) Kittleman made the biggest unforced error of the night, one that undermines his argument about his ability to work across party lines.  During the re-zoning/referendum conversation (this occurred around the 18-minute mark of the forum), he drifted into a discussion about how Maryland has a "one-party system" in Annapolis and how if his name had been off a bill that he sponsored, it probably would have passed instead of stalling in the House of Delegates, which is what happened.

So if he faces these obstacles as a Senator, who serves in Annapolis, won't these same obstacles exist for him if he was elected as our next County Executive? How would these political realities impact his ability to represent our citizens? To work for our interests? I think these are legitimate concerns.

This opened the door for Watson, in her closing remarks, to point to her 93% success rate with her primary sponsored bills passing the Howard County Council, compared to Kittleman's 8% success rate with his primary sponsored bills passing the General Assembly.

Building consensus is important in representative government.  Ideas don't become policy by themselves, it takes skillful collaboration to shape them into legislation that can win the votes necessary to take effect.  Watson has a much stronger record of achievement in this regard.  And this skill-set matters - it impacts the ability to craft effective solutions on education policy, on public safety, on job creation, on environmental concerns, and a host of other policy matters. 

I believe Watson demonstrated, once again, her readiness to work for Howard County.

I hope undecided voters have the opportunity to watch the debate, as well as the League of Women Voters forums, as they make their choices in the days ahead.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How Much Does a Moon Shadow Weigh?

Perhaps it was the recent lunar eclipse, or listening to Cat Stevens on Spotify (or was it Pandora?), but whatever triggering event it was allowed for a pleasant reverie on space and time, on light and darkness, on "being and nothingness."  Being an astronomy nerd as a kid, and a political philosophy major in college, I was in full geek legion mode as I pondered the moon above, how it impacts our life our Earth, and how we perceive its significance.

Of course then I made the mistake of re-reading a comment from someone who posted on my blog.  Mellow harshed with extreme prejudice.

I shouldn't have let it bug me.  These silly comments from folks posting on the Internet...words bereft of substance.  Time to pop open a can of equanimity. Get back to center.

And that is when I noticed something odd. 

So this "Philip Ortiz" comments on my Eagles-inspired entry from 9/26:

He offered a rather blustery and ultimately disingenuous defense of his chosen candidate in the HoCo Council District 1 race, Kevin Forrest Schmidt.

I don't know who Philip Ortiz is.  I haven't heard of him before.  So, I looked him up on Facebook and guess what, there is a Philip Ortiz.  No photo, no friends to show, just one "like"...Kevin Forrest Schmidt.

That sure is one dedicated supporter! Very single-minded in focus apparently.  Frankly, a little weird.

Does Philip Ortiz actually exist? I am not 100% certain, but I am going to go with "probably."  If he wants to meet up for coffee, I am up for it.  Is it possible that he is a Kevin Forrest Schmidt sock-pocket?  I would like to believe that Schmidt wouldn't do something so monumentally stupid.  Then again, I don't know him.  Then again, again, how many HoCo residents really know who Schmidt is?

I have heard Schmidt speak at the forums.  I don't believe he has a strong grasp of the duties and responsibilities of the position he is seeking, which is why he lapses into platitudes...or launches baseless attacks against his opponent, Jon Weinstein...who is far more qualified to serve on the County Council.  Weinstein is serious-minded and has been active in our community for a long time. He gets the needs of the district, being of the district, and will represent it well if elected to the Council.

By comparison, the rationale behind Schmidt's candidacy seems very light, practically weightless.  Hopefully, the electorate in the First will vote accordingly.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Reviewing Two Resumes

For the sake of today’s entry, let us re-conceptualize the campaign season as an extended job interview process.  Albeit one with slightly more hand shaking, parade marching and door knocking compared to the amount of each undertaken by your average applicant for a corporate gig.

Howard County has the opportunity to hire a new County Executive this year.  With that in mind, the electorate – as the hiring authority – may wish to consider one question above all others:  “Of the two candidates for the position, who is best equipped to move Howard County forward over the next four years?”

In my estimation, the answer is Courtney Watson.  Here is why:

1) Her background is much stronger for the County Executive position. 

Given the specific responsibilities of the office, her experience on the Board of Education and her long – and ongoing – service on the County Council have provided her with the expertise that Howard County needs when Ken Ulman leaves the post.  It is my belief that her knowledge of, and involvement with, the issues and solutions that directly impact the lives of Howard County citizens are considerably more extensive compared to her opponent, Senator Allan Kittleman.  I am not calling the Senator a slouch.  I am simply articulating my perspective that Watson’s record of relevant accomplishments is quite impressive.  Our schools and our county are widely respected, and that isn’t by accident.  It takes brainpower, hard work and resolve.  Watson has all of those attributes.   Of course, one can neither credit – nor blame – the state of the County on any one individual.  But when it comes time for our next County Executive to sit at the table, tackling serious challenges with community members, business owners, government officials, and others, I have a great deal of confidence in Watson’s ability to find solutions that improve our quality of life in Howard County. 

2) Her vision for the County is thoughtful and well attuned to the needs of our residents. 

I have read through both of their platforms.  Watson’s successes and proposals underscore her readiness for the County Executive post.  For example, education is an enormously important matter, and Watson’s ideas on enhanced technology utilization in the schools, support for an International Baccalaureate program, and combatting funding inequities are bold yet realistic…and demonstrate that she fully understands the need to address current challenges while keeping an eye on future. 

By comparison (since competitive elections, by their nature, compel them), Kittleman articulates some decent suggestions.  However, I wonder about his ability to accomplish what he says he wants to achieve.  I think Watson is better positioned to turn her ideas into actual programs and services that benefit Howard County residents.  Moreover, he champions a couple of activities on his website that strike me as being a little…off.  For example, he mentions his sponsorship of “Right to Work” legislation.  I can see that playing better in other parts of Maryland, but not so much in Howard County.    

Winding back to the original metaphor, I believe Watson delivers a better answer to the key question, “If hired, what do you want to accomplish?”  If I had to grade their replies to that query based on the body of work presented thus far, I would likely assign Kittleman a B or B- with Watson receiving an A (sorry, I don’t give out A+s). 

And this is Howard County…why not choose excellent when excellent is an option? 

So, I would extend the job offer to Ms. Watson via my vote for her for County Executive.  It is my hope that a majority of Howard County voters will do likewise. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sentimental Liberation

“Cause we live in a time/When meaning falls in splinters from our lives
And that’s why I’ve traveled far/Cause I come so together where you are…”

-       Bob Welch

“Don't run.  Nobody exists on purpose.  Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV.”

      Dan Harmon via “Morty”

Without necessarily accepting either as being True, I would argue that both sentiments are ultimately hopeful, freeing and life affirming expressions. 

Rather then resigning oneself to a despairing and nihilistic acceptance of the notion that we are alone in the universe and that human lives lack an intrinsic Meaning, each reflects different aspects of an impulse to seek out and create Purpose. 

Perhaps we would view existence differently if our life expectancies were only 24 hours long, or if they spanned 500 years.   In any event, we all are present here and now, so we might as well strive to produce something…a family, a body of work, a legacy, anything that could be used to define, positively, our identity and what our relation is to the rest of what is known.

These creative strivings generally involve some measure of collaboration with other humans.  And if our lifespans are finite, we might as well make our existences and associations count.  Embrace what matters to us and figure out how to find Meaning in every effort…from taking a breath, a business meeting, or the hand of another in marriage.  Find Purpose in each moment, value in every interaction, and joy in our participation in a story that we can help shape.

Next up: perspectives on zoning?

Stay tuned, as more will follow.