Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Education Reformation

Some issues simply require additional time for sober reflection.

When Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary and Councilman Jon Weinstein announced their collaboration on a bill that would turn the “all at large” seven member Howard County Board of Education into a body that would feature five district and two at-large seats, my visceral response was that it sounded like a smart reform measure. 

But distracted by all of the glitz and glam that the Metro Center area has to offer, I found myself lacking the time to give an appropriate level of thought to the proposal. 

Two months later, I think their bill makes a great deal of sense.  First, it promotes awareness and accountability.  Having one person serving as one’s district-based Board of Education member, along with two at-large members for everyone, makes it easier for people to get to know their school board member.  It makes individual advocacy efforts by parents, students, and other stakeholders easier.  Have an issue with a school in, for example, Elkridge? If the Atterbeary/Weinstein (Weinstein/Atterbeary?) legislation were to be enacted, a neighborhood-based board member becomes the logical point of contact.  This should also promote geographic diversity among the board membership and, hopefully, a greater familiarity with the unique opportunities and challenges facing all of the schools across our growing County.

Frankly, the same rationale applies to shifting from multi-member state delegate districts to single-member districts, but I will revisit that issue on another day.

Back to my main point, there are many entities that exercise policy-making functions whereby the individual members are elected by a smaller constituency to represent a larger interest.  This is how every state legislature works.  This is how Congress works.  This is how our County Council works. [Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly cited MoCo's BoE as an example here.  Are there elected Boards of Education with similar arrangements? I am going to go with almost certainly.  Do I have time to look them up? No, but feel free to do so]. [Second note: thinking about local examples, I believe that at least some of the Harford County Board of Education seats are district-based.  I think they have a hybrid that includes elected and appointed as well as at-large and district board members.  Again, you may want to check on that.].

My contention is this: the partial reorganization of the Howard County Board of Education would not invite an epoch of rampant provincialism.   Everyone who holds the office would know that their duty is to act in the best interests of the County as a whole.  Moreover, as is frequently pointed out, majorities are required for the Board to act.  Thus, it is difficult to make a compelling argument that having multiple district-based seats would lead to a “less equitable” distribution of resources anymore than saying that the current arrangement, with representation from only three of the five Council Districts, leads to such inequities.  

Bottom line:  as a measure designed to promote the connection between the public and the policy-setting body, the Atterbeary-Weinstein plan is the right move for Howard County’s public education system.  If you haven’t already, let your elected representatives know.  Tell ‘em Sparty sent you.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

On Poverty, Progress, and the CAC

There has been much discussion in recent days on the fundamental question, “What does it mean to be American?” 

Personally, I believe one hallmark of the American character is a certain generosity of spirit that stems from a recognition that we are all imperfect yet we want to improve not only our lot, but the well-being of those we call our neighbors.

Those of us in Howard County are fortunate insofar as many of our neighbors, from a pocketbook perspective, are not struggling.   But “many” is not all, and when it comes to poverty, some is too many.

Hunger is non-partisan, as is poverty.  The eradication of both, in a county of plenty, can and should be a top-of-mind issue, and goal, for 2016. 

In terms of numbers, 5.3% of Howard County’s population live in poverty, this translates to thousands of our fellow denizens.  Moreover, almost one in four (22.5%) single women who are the head of their household and who have children under five live below the poverty line.

As careful readers will recall from early 2015, before my new position brought me to the functional equivalent of a literary Elba, I wanted to spend more time talking about organizations doing good and important work in our communities.  With that, along with the aforementioned challenges foremost in mind, I want to spend a minute talking about the Community Action Council of Howard County (http://www.cac-hc.org/get-involved/).  

Feel free to click on that link.  I can wait a moment... 

Back?  Excellent.  The Community Action Council (CAC for short) has been on the frontlines of “helping people help themselves” as their President, Bita Dayhoff, describes in a letter outlining the mission of the organization.  This is key.  The CAC is focused not only on helping out those most in need of help, in terms of such needs as housing, energy, childhood education, and food, but also assisting them on the road to self-sufficiency.  And this is not a seasonal focus, but one that is addressed “24/7/365” as the saying goes.  Moreover, they help literally thousands of people, every single year.

The spectrum of services offered by the Community Action Council is broad yet bound by the common thread of helping those of us who are in a tough spot.  The dedication of this organization, their staff, volunteers, and partners, deserves recognition.  Beyond that, the questions must be raised, what systems can be put into place to help groups like the CAC achieve their mission?  What can be done, by the private and public sectors alike, to help ensure that all of our neighbors have full access to the promise of Howard County?

As long as poverty and hunger (and related issues) afflict our fellow residents, I plan on revisiting these topics throughout the New Year. I am hopeful that our collective can-do spirit, another American hallmark, will help yield creative and practical solutions to these challenges.  By building on the work of groups like the Community Action Council, I am optimistic that we can find novel ways to help our neighbors.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


That sums up the past several months.  There is no doubt a book there, but binding Confidentiality Agreements most likely make that a non-starter.  

I have just enough time to offer up some brief thoughts on the likely contours of the 2016 GOP presidential campaign.    

The campaigns most likely to fold up their tents between now and Iowa:  With 15 heavies remaining (sorry Mark Everson), I believe that Senator Rand Paul (R/Lib – Au) and former Governor Jim Gilmore (R – No VA Car Tax!) are the most likely to quit the field between now and February 1, 2016 Iowa caucuses.  The latter might stick around until New Hampshire as his, let’s call it, “strategy” appears more focused on the Granite State.  That said, he might realize that a top 10 showing is not in the cards, and quietly withdraw at some point during the Holiday Season.  The former may decide to focus on his U.S. Senate seat, so keep a close eye on his early-state polling performances in November and December. If he can’t consistently cross the five percent threshold in the weeks prior to Iowa, expect a retreat to Kentucky.  One more to watch:  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, wonk-turned-red meat hurler, the former Bayou Wunderkind needs to break out of the second tier.  He selected Iowa as the state that gives him just enough of a push to get past the carve-out states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada).  Unfortunately, for Gov. Jindal, he is facing off against Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX/The Second Choice), former Governor Mike Huckabee, Former Senator Rick Santorum, and Dr. Ben Carson for the social conservative vote. 

The campaigns most likely to be done after Iowa:  Jindal if he even makes it to February 1.  I believe that Santorum will lose in the Clash of the Most Recent Iowa Victors Match-up, with Huckabee being the better positioned of the two to do anything in South Carolina.  Santorum will wrap up his campaign on Groundhog Day.  Just in time for him to head home to check on Punxsutawney Phil.

The campaigns most likely to be finished after New Hampshire:  Gilmore if he is still in the race.  Former New York Governor George Pataki will likely receive his last hurrah of the primary season in NH.  Either former Governor Chris Christie or Governor John Kasich will be on life-support or decently positioned as the Bush/Rubio alternative after New Hampshire.  Senator Lindsey Graham may opt for a strategic withdrawal and endorsement of another hawk prior to his home-state primary.

So who is a lock to be an active candidate for the South Carolina primary?  Former Governor Jeb Bush, Carson, Cruz, business executive Carly Fiorina, probably Huckabee, either Christie or Kasich, Senator Marco Rubio, and businessman Donald Trump.

What about March?  I think the short-term calendar shapes up nicely for Cruz.  I expect a Huckabee exit as well as a slow Carson (and slower Trump) fade (all to the benefit of Cruz) and that Bush will struggle. 

Beyond that, I think Cruz and Rubio are well situated to go deep.  Trump and Carson could accrue a significant number of delegates, with Fiorina performing well enough to warrant serious consideration as a VP pick.  If this were a Democratic primary, I would give Kasich better odds as a dark-horse candidate.  As it is not, I think he might emerge as the primary Establishment alternative to Rubio, but will have neither the resources nor the skills to compete with either Senator Cruz or Senator Rubio.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Future: Override

So the veto came, to the shock of none.

Assuming the four Council-members hold the line and no one "evolves" (or "flip-flops," depending on your point-of-view) on the issue, the Howard County Council appears set to override County Executive Kittleman's veto of the Nutritional Standards bill later on this month.

Policy considerations aside (although I tend to favor the compromise bill that the Council developed), I've gone back and forth on the wisdom of Kittleman's move from a political perspective. Ultimately, i think he is making a mistake.  But is it a good or bad kind of mistake for him?

I listened to his rationale for his veto, which can be found here, frankly it sounded like a boilerplate GOP play - perhaps principled but a little tired, mostly uninspiring and a bit platitudinous.  Yet another variation on "Get the government out of our lives! (except on the following 50 issues but let's not discuss those right now)."

So his veto helps him with his HoCo base, although I am not sure he needed that (or is he fearing a contested primary in 2018?!).  Perhaps he thinks a more confrontational posture will help him in future negotiations with the Council on other issues.  He has demonstrated that he can throw an elbow, OK..so what comes next?  Maybe he is looking at his future and sees a shift to the right as necessary if he wants to hold a political office that represents more than Howard County.  Does that mean the end of "Mr. Nice Guy?"  Perhaps the Kittleman brand is going to take another turn.  Maybe "Mr. No!"  That doesn't exactly radiate the sort of optimism one might expect from a "different kind of Republican." Let me use more "quote" marks.

Bottom line in this hastily written post - this is probably smart politics for Kittleman over the long-haul, assuming he has aspirations that require being nominated by a Republican party that is drifting ever right-ward.  But it is bad policymaking.  Moreover, he better get ready for life after the override because there is a fine line between "principled" and "ineffectual" - especially if he finds himself standing alone (or only with Mr. Fox) one too many times. There is a Howard County mainstream and right now, he is squarely to the right of it.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Orchestral Manoeuvres in Nu Shooz

And it was June 1986. Da Nang.  No, wait.  It was definitely Lapeer, Michigan. We would walk to the convenience store.  At the base of the Thumb, we called them party stores.  Sometimes, I would carry a small bag of carrots so I could stop along the way and feed Mindy.  Mindy was a horse.  She lived on a small farm just off the main road.  She could probably hurdle the low and increasingly incomplete fence, but she appeared satisfied with her present location.  Besides, it was abnormally hot; the air too humid and the ground too dusty for anything more strenuous than a leisurely amble.   It was 29 years away from having to worry about compliance with a corporate social media guidelines policy regarding personal blogs.  I am referring to myself, of course.  Mindy didn’t care about such things – they weren’t small, crisp, orange, and delicious.  She knew what was important.
Slats, who I hadn’t met yet, would later claim that he spent that summer gearing up for the Babbitt for President campaign.  Somehow, that involved six weeks in a rented villa ten klicks outside of Saint Tropez.  Gearing up was different in the ‘80s.  In any event, he left that effort the following year…well before the cornstalks were hip-high.  “Strategic differences,” he would mutter. 
But this is neither the time nor place for that – Michigan ’86 is.  Was? No, it is.  So that is where we should begin.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Hiram Atus: Attorney At Law

"So then it was written: 'And amongst the poodles of the Serengeti, there emerged one so majestic that he became known to all as...'"

"Hold on," cautioned Slats.  "First, I think that might be a Far Side reference.  Second, did you read this Social Media Guidelines document?"

Nodding my head emphatically, I replied, "Yes. Of course not."

"Let's see, it appears as though you need to say: 'This [posting] is the personal [commentary] of [Name] and contains my personal views and opinions only.  It is not an official communication of or endorsed by [Company To Be Named Later].'"

"So does that apply even when the opinions I express are not my own?"

"Doubly so, I would imagine," responded Slats.


Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Preliminary (?) Report Card

While the situation in Baltimore remains fluid, a quick review of the performances (to date) of some of the key political figures involved is in order:

Mayor of Baltimore Stephanie Rawlings-Blake:  From a communications standpoint, some of her initial remarks (her comments on “space” as well as her use of the term “thugs”) were ill-phrased (or misinterpreted, depending on one’s perspective).  Her prior veto of a body camera bill seems to have been a governance misstep.  However, as of this writing, she has demonstrated considerable steadiness in the face of a perilous situation.  If she were another politician, she would be lauded for being a “calm, cool, and collected” leader.  However, she is not another politician.  Respected in many quarters, excoriated in several others, and beloved in perhaps a few…she might be the best person Baltimore could have had as Mayor during this crisis.  Depending on how it turns out, she will probably not receive the credit she deserves for resolving it.  Overall grade at this moment:  Solid B.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.  Again, there were some early miscues.  He was having a difficult time striking the proper balance between compassion for others and adopting a hardline “law and order” stance.  He possessed the proverbial dear-in-the-headlights look during his initial press conference, which was less than confidence-inspiring.  He was decisive when he signed the executive order to deploy the National Guard; but he should have resisted the urge to remark how he wished that the Mayor (a potential 2018 opponent) asked for the action sooner.  One wonders how he will address the root causes of the troubles in Baltimore, and other cities, in the days, weeks, and months ahead.  That said, he appears to be collaborating well with local officials and engaging in genuine dialogues with community leaders and others.  Overall grade at this moment:  B.

Congressman Elijah Cummings.  While Rawlings-Blake and Hogan are executives, Cummings is a legislator, which gives him a different set of official duties and responsibilities.  This is both limiting but also liberating.  This allows him to focus on exercising his moral leadership, speaking in the churches and on the streets to call for the justice that will lead to the restoration of peace.  Frankly, he has done an impressive job.  Being out there amongst the people – to an extent that some public figures were unable and/or unwilling to do – has made a positive difference.  Moreover, he has the gravitas to raise the debate; making it about an exploration of American values and the policies and behaviors that stem from them (the role of police in our society, how the legal system treats all of our citizens, etc…).  He says he is in his twilight days, but he is showing his mettle.  Putting on my political commentator hat, I would go as far to say that his recent words and deeds reveal someone who would be a fine U.S. Senator.   Overall grade at this moment:  A-.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.          


Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Watch the Ripples Change Their Size"

Knowledge, of course, emanates from a source and can spread much as a pond ripple.  Such was the case at Patuxent Valley Middle School on Tuesday night, when three guest speakers spoke out on the topics of law enforcement safety, fire/EMT safety, and cyber/internet safety. 

Addressing a small but engaged audience, this event was part of the 2015 Parent Empowerment Academy series that is put on at the Middle School.  This particular program was co-sponsored by a local community service organization, the Continental Societies (Southeast Howard/Laurel Chapter).

The gathering, held in the school's media center, included parents, the speakers/subject matter experts, the Continentals, school staff (most notably BSAP Liaison Marcus Nicks), and Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary (MD-13).  

Those fortunate enough to attend were able to participate in timely discussions.  The school's resource officer, Officer Laurita Cofield, did an excellent job fielding questions regarding law enforcement interaction strategies, stressing the importance of mutually respectful dialogue between citizens and police officers.

Mr. Brian Proctor, MFF/NREMT - Public Relations Specialist from the Office of the Fire Marshall, Howard County Fire and Rescue, delivered an insightful presentation that included several valuable fire safety tips.  Remember - it's always good to have a pan lid handy to put out small kitchen fires.  The cabinet above the stove caught fire? That is more of a conflagration and unless you have a fire extinguisher IN HAND, it is best to leave. Quickly.

Finally, let's call him "Mr. Smith," from a Department that rhymes with Bomeland Decurity, spent a few minutes discussing privacy and Internet usage.  It was a more technical presentation on such matters as encryption but it included some common-sense reminders regarding not giving out identifying information online and that everything put online remains online, for all intents and purposes, forever.  And yes, that includes social media.  Also, Mr. Smith's children were in attendance and they put on an impromptu karate demonstration at the end of his talk.  

Overall, it was an informative program for parents and students alike.  Having the three distinct fields represented in one event was a smart concept. It would be a good idea for such a program to be replicated at other schools in Howard County, and beyond.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Yet Again, Not Again

The spirit-crushing reality is that the events in Baltimore can happen in America anywhere, at anytime. It may not be a case of eternal recurrence, but it is undoubtedly an extremely persistent one.

Recognizing that reporting on historic and structural matters (racism, poverty, alienation, the ongoing existence of at least two de facto “separate and unequal” criminal justice systems) is less visually engaging than watching folks running out of a CVS…it is unfortunate – yet also unsurprising and depressing – that some traditional media reporting resembles reality television.

Meanwhile, there are stories emerging…primarily via social media…that are offering a more complete picture of events as well as the facts and motivations behind the positive and negative actions taken today.  Baltimore residents are talking about local leaders, private citizens as well as public figures, who are urging restraint, respect and reflection…these are the words and deeds of responsible men and women.  Quiet heroism in the midst of adversity.  These are true patriots.

This author was too young to recall the so-called Detroit Riot of 1967.  Yet the circumstances that led to that event, and the destruction left behind in the aftermath, endured long after the police raided that blind pig on 12th Street.  Twenty-five years later, the Los Angeles unrest witnessed over 50 deaths and 2,000 injuries.  Different places and times, similar causes.

It is unknown, as of this writing, if the civil disturbances in Baltimore will approach the scale and horror of Detroit ’67 or LA ’92.  Personally, I doubt if events will spiral to those depths.

We can hope for not just the restoration of order, but the enactment of a just peace.

What is known is that many of the underlying factors present at those places in those times linger within our society.  They may manifest themselves differently, but the blights remain.

Hopefully, wisdom and honesty will prevail…and we can find solutions to address these societal challenges that expose our hypocrisies and threaten our social compact.  We, as a people, can be better. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Oakland Thrills

With the Oakland Mills village election fast approaching, it important to revisit (briefly) the role of the Village Board.

In the view of this author, if one wishes to advocate on behalf of their neighbors, via service on the volunteer board of directors of a community association, it is best if one is – in word and deed – neighborly.

I have seen several village boards in action, and it strikes me that the Board members who demonstrate a certain generosity of spirit as well a dedication to their entire village are the ones who are best equipped to fulfill the service mission of their community association. 

With that in mind, I believe that returning Bill Woodcock and Marcia White to the Oakland Mills Village Board would represent a move in the right direction.  Both are experienced community activists, are highly knowledgeable about local issues, and care deeply about Oakland Mills. 

I don’t know Daniel Kirk-Davidoff personally, but I’ve heard positive feedback from trusted sources on his qualifications.  His candidate statement includes some thoughtful solutions (which is tough to do in a couple of hundred words or less).   Finally, Fred Eiland's background as a Community Organizer, and former Board Member, provides respectable credentials for another term on the Board.  

I encourage all of my OM readers to mark their ballots for White, Woodcock, Kirk-Davidoff and Eiland in the April 25 election.  More information about the election can be found here:  http://oaklandmills.org/?page_id=136.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MoCo – PG Shenanigans

I received the following telegram from a “Ma Kish” in Maple Lawn: “I see all of this automobile traffic on U.S. 29. So what is happening south of Exit 13?”

Excellent question Ms. Kish. 

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker endorsed Congressman Chris Van Hollen for the U.S. Senate today. 

The Official Wisdom is that this is a “bad day for Donna Edwards.”  In terms of expectations, I am not particularly surprised by the endorsement.  Moreover, I don’t know if Mr. Baker’s backing carries with it that many votes.   Favorability transfer is a tricky thing to operationalize.  Moreover, Baker’s support for a 15% property tax hike is tapping into his reservoir of goodwill.

Beyond that, Heather Mizeur announced this afternoon that she would take a pass on the Senate race.  This opens up some space on the non-establishment left, which should be good news for Congresswoman Edwards. 

Beyond beyond that, this field remains – and feels – unsettled.  I am re-reading Peter Goodman and Tony Fuller’s “The Quest for the Presidency 1984” and I am concerned that Team Van Hollen is running a latter-day version of the Mondale campaign:  putting organization and D.C. experience at the heart of the campaign’s raison d’etre rather than articulating a broader vision for America in general and Maryland specifically.  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

An Early “First 120 Days” Update

A long-time reader passed along two recent “First 100 Days” news articles. One was focused on Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, the other on Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner.  While the former presented a list of hits and misses, the latter tended to be a rather glowing review.  Captain Incremental vs. Action Executive. 

Recognizing that media coverage and reality don’t always align perfectly, and that the pieces were quite different in structure, length, and tone, there were some notable themes that emerged in the Kittleman piece:

Thus far, Kittleman seems to be practicing the politics of articulation.  He recognizes the fundamental resiliency of the Ulman Administration, and the electoral realities of Howard County.  This means tempering conservative instincts with moves with populist appeal (the sugar water order) and/or “good-government” technocratic initiatives (flood mitigation program funding).*

Of course, there have been missteps. 

Kittleman appears to be engaged in a modified waffle when it comes to his communications efforts relating to the storm-water fee…vocal in opposition to it when in Annapolis, more willing to articulate a nuanced wait-and-see-what-can-be-done-about-it stance when in HoCo.  Perhaps it is a question of time, place, and manner but he isn’t exactly elevating his leadership profile on this issue.

And while every CE is, and should be, empowered to bring in their own team, he might have ousted too much institutional memory and experienced talent from the previous Administration too quickly. 

His proposed reorganization of the Human Rights Commission seems to have been handled clumsily, as a rush to act resulted in the failure to obtain input from some key stakeholders.  This, in turn, led to the County Council tabling his bill. Not a shining moment for a new Administration that pledged to emphasize collaboration.

Over the next four years (minus @ 120 days), it will be interesting to see how his right-of-center ideological predilections manifest themselves in terms of policy.   Will he attempt to shift to the center and triangulate between a Democratic-majority Council and his Tea Party friends? Would voters perceive such an approach as Authentic Kittleman or merely calculated political positioning? Will his support of Governor Hogan tarnish his brand?  Where is La Isla Bonita? 

Too many unknowns at this point, but we will all have a much better sense of the answer to the question, “Who is the Real Allan Kittleman?” by 2018.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.    

* In a conciliatory state of mind, this author feels compelled to acknowledge that he supports the two specific actions mentioned in that sentence.  The time is now 4:33 in the a.m. and you are watching “Perspectives” with your host, Lionel Osbourne. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Waxing Crescent

The plan outline for Parcel A of Columbia’s Crescent property (the patch of land located near the corner of Little Patuxent and Broken Land; north and west of Merriweather) has been unveiled, via renderings, by Howard Hughes.  News coverage can be found here.
Overall, I am encouraged by the proposals.  There is a commitment to reforestation in the general vicinity, which is very important.  I have seen developments (Alexandria, Virginia’s West End comes to mind readily) where little to no attempt was made to restore the natural beauty of the lands surrounding new multi-story buildings.  The Crescent plans appear to be consistent with Columbia’s values, of finding a way to create something that exists harmoniously within the larger environment.   

Will that particular swath of Columbia be recognizable in 2020?  No but that is a good thing. While some might wax nostalgic for a certain time and place, there is a way to move forward that is far more beneficial to our residents and those who visit our community. 

For example, while the Wilde Lake Village Center looks much different than it did a few years back, the ongoing revitalization effort is producing a development that still retains a Wilde Lake-ness; a familiar and improved village center that will attract more residents, businesses and customers.  To not embrace change would have resulted in continued decline, followed by a failed center. Foresight, a thoughtful and respectful vision, and hard work are helping recreate Wilde Lake…and it seems as though the same general approach is guiding the process for that which will become Columbia’s Crescent neighborhood.  At least I hope that is, and will remain, the case.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Vital Neighborhoods

The Mrs. and I are considering moving into another house.  We would very much like to remain Wilde Lake residents.  The challenge, our village’s housing stock being what it is, is that a sizable percentage of the potential options on the market could use some upgrades.  There are fantastic properties in great neighborhoods, but some home improvement investments would be required.

This is not merely the whinging of one prospective buyer.  It reflects a broader problem. Columbia’s older villages include many such properties and those sellers are at a competitive disadvantage compared to those who reside in villages and other communities with newer housing.  It makes it more difficult for sellers to move their properties, and thus creates obstacles for new families who wish to move into established neighborhoods.  This, in turn, impacts our tax base, our schools, local traffic patterns, etc…

Which is why it is unfortunate that Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman opted to hold back $2 million in funding for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.  This program is designed to help buyers make improvements in houses that need them.  By making such upgrades, property values are enhanced, which grows our tax base.  It allows sellers in older communities to compete on a more level playing field.  And it provides another mechanism to bring new life into our older villages. 

Dr. Calvin Ball, Howard County Councilman, recognized the need for such incentives to keep our neighborhoods vibrant, and worked collaboratively with the Council and previous Administration to create such a program for Howard County.

At best, Kittleman’s decision could be described as “penny wise, pound foolish.”  The reality is that this attempt at fiscal prudence, this nod in the direction of austerity, is extremely short-sighted and will end up costing Howard County far more than the $2 million dollar investment.  It is already more than $2 million.  As the Department of Housing and Community Development Director’s Report from August 2014 notes, with a $2 million dollar County appropriation, “it is anticipated that this level of funding will be sufficient to induce a private lender or lenders to contribute loan funds of as much as $20 million to the loan program.”  That is a great deal of revitalization money that has been taken off the tables of many would-be local homebuyers.  

Efforts to assist in the renewal of our established communities should not be hindered.  I believe that the funding should be restored for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.  If you believe likewise, perhaps it is time to reach out to your County Councilperson and County Executive Kittleman.  Let them know what you think.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Senate & House (Buddy Cop Show?)

Back from strolling around New York City on what appears to be a wintry December afternoon.  Yet the calendar reveals that it is March…it is hard to believe that Lá Fhéile Pádraig is a mere 12 days away.

In light of the fast moving political developments back home, I thought I would check out the must-read blogs, which of course includes The 53. 

Whilst reading The Cummings Path (note: Ludlum title alert), I noticed a reference to one of my latest posts, “Sparty sez that there should be a Howard County connection to our next US Senator.” 

I would say that “could be” is more in line with my current thinking.  The fields are evolving.  Many players are in deep deliberation mode. I don’t have favorites. Not yet. Not for the U.S. Senate seat, not for the 8th Congressional District, not for any other open seat – at whatever level – that might arise as a result of Senator Mikulski’s decision to not seek re-election.

As a general preference, I would like to see a candidate with a Howard County connection in the U.S. Senate field, which could include one (or more) of the five that I singled out, and/or one (or more) of the three U.S. Representatives with HoCo constituents.   Bear in mind that I enjoy multi-candidate primaries that feature several serious contenders.

I would imagine there are a fair number of progressives who would like to have an open and candid discussion regarding the Democratic Party’s vision and values.  Who knows, this might not occur in the presidential primary this cycle. I hope it does, but that remains to be seen.  So I would definitely favor a U.S. Senate primary in Maryland that allows for such a conversation.

If the Seventh Congressional District were to be an open seat in the 2016 cycle, well, that could be a fascinating opportunity for some local politicos.  We can talk about such a campaign at the appropriate time.

In the meantime, I look forward to the announcements that are certain to be made in the days and weeks ahead.  

Cassie Senate and Rebecca House.  Set in ‘70s Cleveland.  Might be time to work up a spec script.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Senator from Howard County?

I had planned on writing an article entitled “Lurching Towards Decrepitude” but it was about my 2001 Honda. 

Senator Barbara Mikulski is undeniably made of far sterner stuff.

Mikulski has been raising principled heck for decades.  She has entered the pantheon of Maryland institutions.  Elected and returned to the U.S. Senate five times by the voters, she has served the nation and state honorably.  While her vim clearly remains of the high-octane variety, she knew when it was time to begin the denouement.  Nicely done, Senator.

Over the coming days and weeks, there will be numerous pieces that extol – in detail – her considerable legislative accomplishments, trailblazing career, impact on American politics, etc…

There will also be many articles evaluating potential successors, both Democrats and Republicans, with the latter considering the opportunities for an upset of even greater proportions than the Hogan 2014 victory.  There will be plenty of occasions to read and ponder wisdom – conventional and otherwise.

I will turn my attention, today, to Howard County.  I believe our talent-rich corner of Maryland has, within its borders, multiple potential 2016 U.S. Senate candidates.  And no, I am not referring to the obvious possible contenders who represent parts of our County in the United States Congress…Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, and Elijah Cummings.   The five I have in mind all reside in HoCo and include three Democrats and two Republicans. 

In no particular order, they are:

Former County Executive Ken Ulman.  A CE whose term of office was so productive that both of the candidates who ran to succeed him pledged to “continue the progress” made in Howard County over the past several years.  That is quite the testament to his record.  And while he is not universally loved throughout the land, he is widely respected.  He was a solid LG candidate in a tough election cycle and would be formidable as a statewide candidate at the helm of his own campaign. 

State Senator Guy Guzzone.  A thoughtful policy wonk, he has made his mark in local and state government.  While Ulman has more of a hard-charging approach, Guzzone’s more affable style could be an even greater plus with voters across the whole of Maryland.   Given that he has just been elected to the State Senate, the question remains if he, at this juncture, would want to shift from Annapolis to Washington D.C.

Former County Councilmember Courtney Watson.  A dedicated public servant with a solid resume for higher office, she encountered decidedly unfavorable political winds in 2014.   That said, Watson demonstrated an admirable tenacity and, importantly, impressive fundraising abilities. Like Guzzone, she would have to be considered a relative long-shot for the nomination, but she has the skills to be a fine U.S. Senator.

County Executive Allan Kittleman.  In all likelihood, he would be the Maryland Republican with the best profile for a statewide effort in ‘16.  One would have to assume Kittleman will be focused on his current job, with an eye on a re-election bid in 2018, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee and other heavy-hitting GOPers might push for him to consider the open seat…if they truly believe that Maryland could be competitive in a presidential election year (an unlikely proposition). 

Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford.  Why not?  He was a decent LG candidate with non-shabby credentials in the public and private sectors.   The Republicans could certainly field far worse candidates than Rutherford. Put that on a bumper sticker.

Am I omitting the names of a couple of accomplished Howard County individuals who could run a credible campaign for the United States Senate?  Sure.  Why? Because some are wrapping up their careers in public service while others appear to be quite focused on other offices, challenges and/or pursuits.  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Palace Intrigue in Columbia?

Watching the Squirrels of Greater Mischievousness sprint across Faulkner Ridge this morning.   So much motion; yet what purpose is being served?

A recent Howard County Times letter to the editor with the title, “Gag effort toward Alan Klein cannot be ‘anonymous’” distracted me from my rodent-focused observations.  The third paragraph, in particular, deserves a bit of attention. 

Stepping back for a moment, a re-cap of the specific allegations can be found here: 

Now, returning to the letter, the author claims that this action against Mr. Klein is an “effort to disenfranchise his constituents.”  Given the scope of the Columbia Association’s authority, and the process whereby the Board Members are elected, this assertion, even if it had an ounce of merit, is either a finely crafted piece of satire or a shockingly egregious example of hyperbole.

From my perspective, which is admittedly that of an outsider, it appears as though the Board is undertaking a procedure designed to ensure the integrity of the Columbia Association in general and the Board, as the governing body, specifically.  Further, it seems as though they are investigating this matter in the proper, legally prescribed manner.  I would think Columbia residents, particularly those who dwell in Harper’s Choice, would respect a “by the book” approach in the handling of this complaint.

The author of the letter states that this is a “staff-instigated” effort.  Oh?  So then he knows the identity of the individual who filed the complaint?  I thought he was concerned about the anonymity of the complainant.  If he doesn’t possess this information, it would appear that he is making a fairly grand leap to the conclusion that this is some sort of staff conspiracy.  Has palace intrigue become the parlor game of choice at the Wincopin HQ?  

The author, of course, is free to exercise his First Amendment rights.  It is my belief that his not-so-subtle depiction of Board Members as so many CA staff puppets is unfair, ill-founded and disrespectful.  It is arguments such as this that undermine confidence in the work of the Columbia Association.  That is the pathway to estrangement, disillusion, and ultimately the sort of disenfranchisement that he claims to working against.

I look forward to the resolution of the Klein matter, although I am certain the debate will merely take another form, because why resolve something when one can continue running about in circles, chasing after elusive acorns.       

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

And Then There Were 23

Pardon the brief hiatus dear readers. 

You see, my compadre Slats was mistaken for being a man of confidence by a handful of local officials in a small fishing village in Guatemala, about 10 kilometers outside of Champerico.  So that took a bit of time to sort out.  Two tips: taking the 14 out of Escuintla is not a “short cut” and there is no Yelp for locating top-notch English-to-Spanish-to K’iche’ translators.  Lessons learned. Crisis resolved.  Situation = Askew.  Back to “Normal.”

Oh such flights.

As the calendar pages hurtle (of their own accord??) off the wall, we find ourselves slightly less than six months away from the Ames Straw Poll.  With the Iowa Republican Party deciding (unsurprisingly) to retain the event for the current presidential cycle, this means it is quite likely that at least one GOP presidential candidate, someone who hasn't even officially announced yet, will see their electoral ambitions dashed on a hot August night, somewhere in the general vicinity of Pearson Hall, on the Iowa State University campus.  Home of the Tusslin’ Cyclones.      

The thrilling element here, and there is one, is that I count 23 potential serious or semi-serious Republican candidates who might jump into the fray.  I anticipate that that number will dwindle down to 14 by August 2015, but the prospect of such a crowded field should tantalize any self-respecting political junkie. 

Consider this:  from 1980 to 2012, in the election cycles when there was a legitimate contest for the GOP nomination, the fields included 10 to 13 candidates.  Now, I am including some, let us call them lesser lights, in those tallies.  For example, Fred Karger in ’12, Alan Keyes in ’08, Herman Cain in ’00 (yes 2000, but he didn’t get past the exploratory stage),  Morry “The Grizz” Taylor in ’96, as well as Ambassador Ben Fernandez and future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld…a couple of times. Not to disparage any of these individuals, but they either exited the process very early (as in the year before the Election) or they performed miserably once the caucuses and primaries got underway.  As was expected of them.

In this cycle, there are fewer apparent “longest of long-shots” in the race.  Are there favorites and relative heavies? Absolutely.  Moderate long-shots?  Sure. But complete non-starters?  Not so much.  Even some of the non-traditional candidates are interesting from an electoral perspective.   Consider Dr. Ben Carson.  Some are quick to dismiss him out of hand.  Will he emerge as this cycle’s Santorum 2012?  Doubtful, but he has a personal narrative and a bit of a nascent constituency.   I think he ends up somewhere between Bauer 2000 and Gingrich 2012.  The presence of other, better-known, social conservatives in the field will block his path to the nomination, but I predict he will run a credible campaign.

With six (yes six), occasionally over-lapping, significant voting blocs in today’s Republican Party, potential candidates are envisioning multiple paths to victory, based on the coalitions they believe they could forge…with the right financial resources, talent, communications, calendar, fortune, intervention by Providence, etc….I will elaborate on this in future posts but the six are, in no particular order:  Social Conservatives, Libertarians, Establishment Center/Right, Tea Party-Aligned, Working Class Cultural Conservatives, and the small number of remaining GOP Moderates & “Liberals.”      

Examining each of those blocs, with the recent decision of Senator Bob Corker to take a mighty pass this time around, are 23 likely candidates. 

I believe that at least seven and possibly all nine of the following group will announce that they are running for President this year:

Paul, Carson, Cruz, Perry, Santorum, Bush, Huckabee, Walker, and Christie. 

With the exception of Carson, all are Governors or Senators or former Governors and Senators.  All have appeal within multiple GOP constituencies (some more pronounced than others).  This is the single strongest Republican field since ’80.  Frankly, it is probably deeper based on this tier alone.

Beyond that first grouping, I anticipate that at least half of the following will enter the race:

Jindal, Fiorina, Graham, and Rubio.  

No slouches here.  I think Graham’s entry, if it transpires, could diminish the perceived value that South Carolina primary generally enjoys. It could be akin to Harkin ’92 when other Democratic candidates avoiding competing on the Senator’s home turf, which inflated the importance of the New Hampshire primary, which helped Clinton and his “Comeback Kid” narrative and the rest is history.  Fiorina, despite her 42% performance against Senator Boxer in 2010, should not be underestimated.  With her business credentials and (potentially) being the only woman on many Republican presidential primary ballots, she could catch fire and go deeper into the calendar than most of the other contenders.

Many within the third group will ultimately decide to forego being a presidential candidate in 2016, but I project at least a couple will mount challenges:

Bolton, Pence, Gilmore, Ehrlich, Pete King, Pataki, Kasich, Snyder, Palin, and Trump.

OK, Trump is a non-starter, but his celebrity (read: notoriety, apparent lack of filter, and not inconsiderable wealth) will generate some buzz…if he gets in (I don’t believe he will).  Governor Mike Pence is serious, as is John Kasich, but they will have to ramp up their efforts, soon, if they want to compete in the Not-so Invisible Primary.  Especially with fellow Midwestern Governor Scott Walker garnering attention and making interesting staff hires. 

Sarah Palin.  She has indicated interest.  Ignore that.  If she runs, it will be an attempt to prop up the Brand.  Based on her public statements, I generously estimate a 9% chance that she gives it a shot in 2016.  In reality, it is most likely under five percent.

Beyond these 23, are there others?  Why yes, I am glad you asked.

My long list has 67 Republicans.  Don’t worry, I won’t run through them all, I will just mention one more worth noting:

Mitt Romney.  Yes, I know he just bowed out.  I peruse Le Monde like you do.  But let’s assume, for a moment, that it is late August 2015.  The Bush campaign is hobbling along. His controversial positions on Common Core and immigration, in conjunction with some gaffes, lower-than-expected fundraising totals, declining poll numbers, and various miscues make him look vulnerable.   Christie acts like Christie and is on the brink of imploding after yelling at some Iowa farmers. Pence and Kasich decided to stay home, so Walker is left standing as the top choice of the Establishment Right…barely.  Would Mitt see himself as the only one standing in the way of a Cruz or Santorum or Huckabee nomination?  He is probably the only one who could jump-start a campaign around Labor Day and pull a serious organization together.  In short, keep glancing over at Romney.  It might not be over for him. And if he is a candidate by September 15, 2015, you read it here first!

A long post?  Absolutely.  Yet the primary season itself is long and full of wonder.  Savor it.  I mean it, commence with the savoring already!

Now if I can only find that luggage.  Waiting for a call from La Aurora International Airport…

Stay tuned, as more will follow.  Count on it.