Leventhal Trolls Trone

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member George Leventhal, who is running for County Executive, is running the ad below on Facebook.  While ostensibly directed at President Donald Trump, it’s an obvious shot at a possible campaign opponent, Total Wine co-owner David Trone.

Leventhal has gone after Trone before, blasting him for illegal campaign signs and corporate contributions.  The latter charge is ironic considering Leventhal’s taking of more than $300,000 in corporate contributions over the last three cycles.

Negative campaigning has a long, LONG history in Montgomery County.  But it’s a bit unusual to target a person who is not yet officially running.  In any event, it is now crystal clear that if David Trone does run for Executive, George Leventhal will be ready.

Washington Post Poll Shows Hogan Vulnerability

By Adam Pagnucco.

Governor Larry Hogan loves to discuss his high approval ratings in polls, which have usually been in the range of 60-70%.  But a new Washington Post poll that examines his reelection prospects shows that they are well below his approval numbers and provides hope to Maryland Democrats.

The Post poll of March 16-19 has sample sizes of 914 adults and 841 registered voters.  The margin of error for those two groups is 4 points, growing to 5.5 points for a half-sample and 6.5 points for the 317 respondents who live in Maryland’s D.C. suburbs.  These margins of error must be kept in mind when reading the poll –  effectively, only large gaps are meaningful for small sub-groups.

With that significant caveat in mind, let’s examine data on Hogan’s reelection prospects.  The Post asked respondents the following question: “Thinking about Maryland’s Governor’s race in 2018… if Larry Hogan ran for re-election as governor, do you think you would vote for him OR for the candidate nominated by the Democratic Party?”  Among adults, 39% said they would vote for Hogan and 36% said they would vote for the Democratic nominee, an advantage of 3 points for the Governor.  Among registered voters, 41% said they would vote for Hogan and 37% said they would vote for the Democrat, a margin of plus 4.  So far, this looks very much like Hogan’s 4-point victory in 2014.

But the sub-group results are more interesting.  We compiled the Post’s sub-group data on this question in the presentation below.

Let’s recall the margin of error estimates above.  Margins of 10-15 points or less for small sub-groups are probably not very meaningful.  That said, many of the Governor’s strengths are predictable.  He does well with Republicans, Conservatives, Whites and rural residents.  He is weak among Democrats, liberals, African Americans and Prince George’s residents.  One item that stands out is his strength with seniors, with whom he has a 17-point advantage.  Seniors are among the most reliable voters in any election.

Now let’s compare the geographic results of this poll with how the Governor actually performed in 2014.

The Governor appears stronger in the poll in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs, but weaker elsewhere than in 2014.  This could be statistical noise due to large margins of error.  But it could also be the result of tax fatigue in some Democratic strongholds, like Montgomery (where voters recently passed term limits by 40 points) and Prince George’s (where the County Executive proposed a 15% increase in property taxes two years ago).  It’s hard to believe that the Governor is actually weaker in Anne Arundel and Howard, both of which have Republican Executives who are strongly favored for reelection.  (And a random question: what pollster combines Baltimore City and County in one estimate?  C’Mon, Man!)

The big takeaway from the poll is this: Larry Hogan will not be coasting to reelection.  Maryland is simply not wired that way.  It has too many Democrats, African Americans, liberals, immigrants and people who are either employed by or do business with government at some level to give any GOP statewide incumbent a blowout win.  From a purely political perspective, the Governor deserves credit for his focused message of tax cuts, job growth and reform (like redistricting) while trying his best to avoid distractions from the right, the left and Washington D.C.  His approach gives him a path to victory in a rather blue state.  But if the Democrats begin preparing now, play smart and field a good candidate for Governor, Larry Hogan can be defeated.

Hogan Exploits Rape for Politics

By Adam Pagnucco.

Governor Larry Hogan is now exploiting the rape of a Rockville high school student to get a political edge over General Assembly Democrats.  It’s a clearly deplorable tactic.  But will it work?

Two big stories are colliding at the moment to further inflame the volatile issue of how to deal with illegal immigration.  First, the House of Delegates has passed a version of the Maryland Law Enforcement and Trust Act, a bill to limit state and local cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) so that immigrant communities will not hide from police for fear of arbitrary deportation.  Second, two students at Rockville High School have been arrested for raping a 14-year-old at the school and were subsequently alleged by ICE to be present in the country illegally.

Governor Hogan reacted with the Facebook post below, saying:

The post garnered 700 shares and 500 comments in its first five hours, accomplishing its purpose of throwing gasoline on the fire of the immigration debate.

The implication of the Governor’s post is that Montgomery County does not currently cooperate with federal authorities.  But in fact, it does.  The Washington Post’s Bill Turque summarized the county’s immigration policy a month ago:

Montgomery police operate under a 2009 directive that bars officers from conducting “indiscriminate questioning” of suspects, witnesses or prisoners about immigration status. Once in custody, all prisoners are fingerprinted, and arrest information goes into state databases, where it is available to ICE. If the agency identifies an undocumented prisoner, it can send the county a “detainer” notice, asking that the person remain in custody for at least 48 hours beyond the scheduled release date.

The county complied with detainers until 2014, when the Maryland attorney general’s office issued an opinion advising localities that they could be liable for damages by holding prisoners past their release date.

Since then, Montgomery officials said, the county honors detainers only if they are supported by a federal court order or warrant. It will also provide ICE publicly available release dates of undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies and whom the agency is seeking to deport.

The county has released hundreds of prisoners to ICE since 2012, though the pace of releases has dropped since the county stopped honoring 48-hour detainers.  The amended version of the House-passed Trust Act resembles county policy.  On the Rockville High School rape suspects, County Executive Ike Leggett said, “The county — consistent with our longstanding policy — will cooperate fully with ICE to see that the two are deported to their countries of origin.”

Why would Hogan insinuate that Montgomery County does not cooperate with federal law enforcement to protect its citizens?  Hogan knows that there is little support in the community for protecting violent criminals from deportation.  A new CNN poll finds that 60% of Americans believe the government should be “developing a plan to allow those in the U.S. illegally who have jobs to become legal residents,” but it also finds that 78% of Americans believe that “the government should attempt to deport all people currently living in the country illegally who have been convicted of other crimes while living in the U.S.”  Big majorities of every demographic group measured support the latter statement, including 64% of Democrats.

Depicting Maryland’s largest local jurisdiction as soft on crime is bad enough.  Exploiting a rape for political gain is even worse.  Such tactics expose just how hard the Governor can throw his elbows in partisan combat.  Forget about engaging with General Assembly leaders to develop good public policy; the Governor has never been interested in that.  But the cold political truth is this:

If Hogan can get away with characterizing Democrats as protectors of rapists and other criminals, he wins.

Will You Be Paying Dan Snyder?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington National Football League franchise is perhaps the only organization in America that could make Donald Trump’s White House seem like a smoothly running model of efficiency.  The club’s savage firing of its General Manager, the subsequent exodus of red chip starters like Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker and the failure to sign star quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract have brought the franchise to its worst point in decades.  But here’s the kicker, folks.

One of these days, whether you want to or not, you could be paying for all this.

Daniel M. Snyder, the current majority owner of the Washington franchise, has often been described as the worst owner in pro sports.  Part of this is because of the team’s woeful performance on the field.  Snyder has owned the franchise for 18 years, over which it has compiled a 125-162-1 record, six winning seasons and only two playoff wins after winning three Super Bowls under the prior ownership.  The club just posted its first two consecutive winning seasons since 1991-1992 and the owner reacted by annihilating the team’s architect.  But it’s the franchise’s activities outside of the stadium, characterized by team President Bruce Allen as “winning off the field,” that are truly eye opening.  Consider this.

  • The team sued 125 season tickets holders between 2004 and 2009 to force them to honor their purchase contracts even though many were in financial distress. One of them was a 72-year-old retiree who claimed that the team’s judgment against her would force her into bankruptcy.
  • In 2006, the team tried to profit from 9/11 by selling “Pentagon Flag Hats” which featured “the team’s trademark curly ‘R’ in gold with a patch in the shape of the Pentagon and the colors of the American flag sewn on the side.” The club was the only one in the NFL to try to sell such merchandise.

  • Unhappy with negative coverage, Snyder has been buying up local media for years. It’s hard for journalists to criticize the team when they are on the owner’s payroll.  Snyder reacted to a harsh article by the Washington City Paper’s Dave McKenna by suing the newspaper and the journalist, an action he later dropped.

We could go on and on and ON.  But we know what you’re thinking.  I’m not a fan of the team, you might say.  Why should I care?

Because soon you could be paying for all this.

Dissatisfied with his twenty-year-old stadium in Landover, Snyder is now in the hunt for a new facility somewhere in the D.C. area.  The District of Columbia, home to the franchise in its glory years, is an iffy possibility given that the current Mayor has branded the team’s nickname as “offensive.”  Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, an enthusiastic dealmaker, is “in a hurry” to land the team before he leaves office.  And Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has said, “We will do whatever it takes to keep them.”  That could lead to a bidding war, and an expensive one at that.  NFL teams have extracted billions of dollars in public subsidies for their stadiums over the years.  Las Vegas has offered $750 million in tax money to the Raiders to entice them to move from Oakland.  And St. Louis, which just saw the Rams move out, still owes millions in bond payments on its now-empty football stadium.

Hogan loves corporate welfare, having approved millions in disbursements to Marriott and Northrop Grumman.  But those companies at least employ thousands of people in Maryland.  Snyder’s franchise is headquartered in Ashburn, Virginia and his millionaire players are almost all Virginia residents.  NFL teams are dubious candidates for public investment at best since most of them play just ten home games a year, but the Washington team’s Virginia ties make subsidizing it even more questionable.

So what can you do about this?  Snyder is only 52 years old, so he could be the team owner for decades to come.  But Hogan is another matter.  If the Governor insists on throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at this poor excuse for a franchise, you will have the last word in next year’s election.

Just do what Dan Snyder does and fire him!

Trone Running Ads on Twitter

By Adam Pagnucco.

A Seventh State reader sent us a screenshot of a Twitter ad run by Total Wine co-owner and former CD8 Congressional candidate David Trone in the early hours of March 16.  The reader does not follow Trone’s account and the term “promoted” at the bottom of the screenshot clearly indicates its status as an ad.

Trone is known to be considering a future candidacy.  He told Bethesda Magazine’s Lou Peck that he is “focused very heavily right now” on looking at a race for Montgomery County Executive.  He has polled on the race at least once and says openly on his website that he is exploring it.  The Twitter ad joins this evidence to suggest that Trone could very well be on the ballot again.

Hell No!

By Adam Pagnucco.

A state commission charged with examining changes to Maryland’s public school funding formulas is sifting through recommendations for improvement.  And in the early deliberations, one big loser stands out:

Montgomery County.

The State of Maryland is a major player in public schools funding.  In FY17, the state will send $5.5 billion in operating aid to local school districts, about a third of its general fund budget.  MCPS gets 28% of its operating budget from the state.  Prince George’s County Public Schools gets 57% of its budget from the state.  In total, state aid accounts for 48% of Maryland public school budgets.

The state’s generous K-12 spending is driven by formulas dating back to 2002, when a state commission led by Howard University professor Alvin Thornton (commonly known as “the Thornton Commission”) proposed massive new investments in education.  These investments have helped rank Maryland’s public schools among the nation’s best.  Now another state commission chaired by former University of Maryland System Chancellor William E. Kirwan is reexamining the state’s funding formulas to see if they can be improved.  And here is where things are starting to go badly wrong for MoCo.

A consultant paid by the Maryland State Department of Education recently completed a two-year study on the state’s funding formulas.  In the interest of promoting “adequacy” in public school spending for students across the state, the consultant made several recommendations for changing the funding formulas which are now being examined by the Kirwan Commission.  One of them is that Montgomery County should get a 63% cut in state aid (a reduction of $354 million) while local taxpayers should pay 60% more (an increase of $842 million) towards MCPS.  Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, a member of the commission, said “that would be devastating” and termed the suggested local dollar increase for MCPS “impossible.”  Indeed, the County Council just levied a 9% increase in property taxes in part to increase funding for MCPS.  The consultant’s recommendations don’t just apply to MoCo: they would phase out all state aid for schools in Kent, Talbot and Worcester Counties while sending massive increases to St. Mary’s, Harford, Charles, Calvert and Prince George’s.

MoCo is already short-changed on state aid because of wealth formulas that disadvantage the county because of its high property values and high incomes but don’t recognize its high cost of living.  The result is that MoCo taxpayers get back just 24 cents for every dollar in taxes they pay to the state.  The state average for all residents is 42 cents.  Howard County, which has a higher average household income than MoCo, gets 30 cents.  Only Talbot and Worcester Counties get back proportionately less than MoCo.  If anything resembling the consultant’s report winds up being recommended by the Kirwan Commission and passed into state law, this imbalance will get a lot worse.

Your author has been told that the report is merely a “conversation starter” and thus is irrelevant.  But we are reminded of the last conversation the state had about public school funding.  For decades, the state covered the cost of teacher pensions as part of its commitment to K-12 education.  The program was particularly valuable to MoCo, which has higher teacher compensation costs than other jurisdictions because of its high cost of living.  A decade ago, state leaders began to have “conversations” about having the counties pay these costs despite the fact that Boards of Education, not county governments, set teacher compensation packages.  A spokesperson for the Speaker of the House said it was “a philosophical argument that we definitely need to have.”  In 2010, almost all MoCo state legislators promised to oppose a shift in their election campaigns.  But just two years later, Governor Martin O’Malley proposed a partial pension funding shift, backed by both the Speaker and the Senate President, and most MoCo lawmakers voted to support it.  The cost of the shift to the Montgomery County Government increased steadily from $27 million in FY 2013 to $59 million this year, with $6 million offset by the state.  This far exceeds the cost to any other local government and is more than a third of the amount collected by the county’s recent 9% property tax hike.  The county government now pays more for teacher pensions than it does for libraries, recreation, courts, IT, housing or environmental protection.  Its teacher pension payments easily swamp any money earned from the liquor monopoly, which will return $21 million to the general fund this year.

So goes these conversations.  Now that this new conversation has started, here is a suggested response from all of our state legislators and county leaders to this consultant’s report.

HELL NO.

Give Kathleen Matthews a Chance

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former WJLA anchor and Congressional District 8 candidate Kathleen Matthews has been picked as the Interim Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.  And as someone who was asked to run by the party’s senior elected leadership – namely, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Representative Steny Hoyer – she seems likely to be named the four-year Chair as well.  That has set off a round of protest among some liberals in the party, with echoes of last year’s primary battles.

Two comments are noteworthy.  First, former Montgomery County Council Member Valerie Ervin said that Matthews’s appointment “missed an opportunity to open up the space for a new and different kind of leadership.”  That was essentially the rationale for the U.S. Senate campaign of Ervin’s good friend, Donna Edwards.  Second, Maryland Matters columnist Josh Kurtz blasted Matthews as “an especially thin reed” and “the wrong candidate at the wrong time” who could not connect with either progressives or Hogan voters.

In evaluating these criticisms, it’s worth contemplating just how much trouble Maryland Democrats are in right now.

  • Governor Larry Hogan has rung up a string of job approval ratings of 60-70% or more, including majority approval in some polls among Democrats. He is on pace to raise tens of millions of dollars for his reelection campaign.  He is absolutely dominant in social media.  And he is only seven GOP votes away from having his vetoes sustained in the House of Delegates.  If Hogan returns to Annapolis with enough Republicans to support his vetoes, Maryland will have a real two-party state government.
  • Outside Annapolis, the Democrats’ hold on county offices has collapsed since the 2002 elections. The Democrats are almost extinct in most of Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Harford County.  The Republicans firmly control Anne Arundel and are competitive in Baltimore County.  The Howard County Executive is a Republican.  The Democrats dominate in Baltimore City, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Charles.  That’s about it.
  • The Maryland Democratic Party apparatus has degraded. It could not help Anthony Brown get elected Governor in 2014.  Some local parties complain about lack of support.  The party’s federal receipts in the 2016 cycle ($2.8 million) were the lowest in any two-year cycle since 2004.  The party’s state-level account raised just $6,650 last year, about one-eighth of what the Republicans raised.  There is little in the way of an aggressive communications program on the Governor’s record in office.  Individual Democratic state legislators complain about issues like Hogan’s Facebook page and his executive order on Labor Day, neither of which will result in electoral harm to the Governor.  The party lacks a battle plan for taking on the Governor other than associating him with Donald Trump.  It needs a plan, and fast.

Enter Kathleen Matthews.  As a candidate in CD8, she did a lot of things right: raising money, getting the Washington Post endorsement and running a competent, professional campaign.  She lost because she did not have David Trone’s money, did not spend ten years building a grassroots base like Jamie Raskin and did not sufficiently address local issues.  Since the campaign, she has played a key role in helping women run for office through Emerge Maryland, unquestionably a hugely important exercise in the Era of Trump.  Let’s recognize that unlike many other losing candidates who disappear after the election, Matthews has remained engaged.

Some of the criticisms of Matthews relate to her positions and conduct as a candidate.  But Matthews is not going to be a candidate for government office if she is Chair of the party.  Other people will run for Governor, state legislature and county office and they will face the judgment of the voters.  As Chair, Matthews’s job will be to raise money and rebuild the party’s communication and field capabilities.  She is as plausible a choice as anyone to accomplish those tasks.

Consider this.  One of the most effective techniques of political communication is story-telling.  Imagine a video interview with a Baltimore City teacher or family affected by Hogan’s cuts to city schools.  Or an interview with a provider of developmental disability services who would earn fast food industry wages under Hogan’s budget.  Or a profile of a family who would lose Affordable Care Act health insurance coverage while Hogan stands idly by.    Or a story about a positive initiative from a local Democratic elected official fixing a problem for constituents.  Imagine a mass email and social media program spreading these pieces to hundreds of thousands of voters.  Who in the entire state party is better suited to this kind of video story-telling than Kathleen Matthews?

Of course, we’re the Democrats.  We often fight harder against each other than against Republicans.  We could criticize Matthews as not liberal enough, not working class enough or not local enough.  We could keep fighting the Bernie vs Hillary battles, the Donna vs Chris battles or the Tom vs Keith battles.  We could keep arguing over who’s perfect and who’s not.  Sure, let’s do that.  Hogan would love it.  That’s exactly what he wants us to do.

Or we could unite all of our various factions, our passions and our abilities and take our case directly to the streets of Maryland.  We could spread far and wide what we know to be true, which is that Maryland can do a lot better than Larry Hogan and Donald Trump.  And we could take advantage of the fundraising and media skillsets that Kathleen Matthews has to help us do it.

Democrats of Maryland, the choice is yours.

MSEA Demands Hogan Withdraw Cooper Nomination

From the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) press release:

Educators Urge Hogan to Withdraw School Board Nomination

Annapolis, Maryland – Last night, Gov. Larry Hogan’s appointee for the State Board of Education, Brandon Cooper, went before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee for his confirmation hearing. During the hearing, senators questioned Cooper on his lack of experience with education policy, his employer’s advocacy for school privatization, and his troubling legal history—including drunk driving, failure to appear in court, driving with a suspended license, and failure to pay state taxes.

In light of Cooper’s highly unusual disqualifications for a member of the state’s highest education policymaking body, the Maryland State Education Association—the statewide educators’ union representing more than 73,000 teachers and education support professionals—is calling on Gov. Hogan to withdraw Cooper’s appointment.

MSEA Director of Legislative Affairs, Sean Johnson, released the following statement:

“While we have concerns with many of Gov. Hogan’s appointments to the State Board of Education—of whom, only one of ten has any experience working in a Maryland public school—we do not usually object to their confirmation. But considering Mr. Cooper’s consistent disregard for state law and his complete lack of experience with Maryland public schools and education policy, Maryland’s educators have no choice but to urge Gov. Hogan to withdraw his misguided selection.

“It is disappointing that Gov. Hogan either did not subject his own appointments to the same level of scrutiny that he has insisted upon for new delegate appointments or was aware of Mr. Cooper’s troubling legal history and simply looked the other way.

“Between drunk driving, failure to pay state taxes, advocating for policies that would dismantle public education, and a complete lack of experience with Maryland public schools, Mr. Cooper should be nowhere near the State Board of Education and its far-reaching authority over our kids’ education. Gov. Hogan should meet the standards he has set for others and withdraw Mr. Cooper’s name from consideration.”

——————

The Senate President’s tough questioning of Cooper at the hearing does not bode well for his nomination:

“How can you make decisions for the state of Maryland when you don’t pay your taxes to the state of Maryland?” Miller asked. The Calvert County Democrat was referring to Cooper’s record of having tax liens filed against him by the Office of the Comptroller on multiple occasions.

Unique Hub for U.S. and Global Senate Elections Results Now Online

One reason I haven’t had as much time to post as I would have liked lately is that I’ve been focused on putting together a new database for my Election Passport website containing results for 184 Senate elections held in 25 countries, including all U.S. Senate elections since 1998.

The online database is arranged by constituency (e.g. the states in the United States) and has results from countries as diverse as Argentina, Belgium, Burma, Poland, and Zimbabwe. The data are free and open to researchers who may be able to study elections by incumbency, gender and ethnicity. It could also help assess vote manipulation in less-free countries.

My book, entitled Minority Rules: Electoral Systems, Decentralization and Ethnoregional Parties Success, and a series of articles written for the Journal of Politics and the British Journal of Political Science spurred the creation of the online database. It took my team more than a year to gather, translate, and consolidate election results for use by anyone fascinated by the world of politics.

Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Chile, and the Dominican Republic, figure prominently in the database because so many of them, like the U.S., have directly elected Senates. I am grateful to the Center for Latin American and Latino/a Studies and the School of Public Affairs at American University for helping to support this project.

In the future, I plan to expand the database, updating it with more countries and additional years of results as they become available. Among the 30 countries that have held Senate elections since 1990, all but five are already included in the database.

Beyond Senate elections, Election Passport contains lower house election results from over 100 countries as well as information as how electoral systems operate in selected countries. Additionally, there are a welter of documents from countries that have never been digitized or publicly available previously, such as redistricting plans in Botswana and Lesotho.

Maryland Politics Watch

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