Leventhal Blasts the Dumbest Lobbying Campaign of All Time

By Adam Pagnucco.

On the evening of October 20, a representative of Clark Enterprises (Bob Eisenberg) appeared before the Montgomery County Council to testify on the Downtown Bethesda Master Plan.  Clark has been involved in a dispute with its next-door neighbor, fellow developer Brookfield Properties, over Brookfield’s plan to erect a new building on top of the Bethesda Metro Station.  Clark hired PR firm KOFA Public Affairs to wage a campaign to block the new building that accused Council Members of being tools of developers and criticized their salaries.  Accordingly, we labeled it “The Dumbest Lobbying Campaign of All Time” since even dimwitted lobbyists understand that elected officials don’t respond well to attacks on their integrity.

Above is the reaction of Council Member George Leventhal to KOFA’s insult-laden campaign.  Hide the children, folks!


On Term Limits

This year’s term limits vote is the hot local topic of debate in Montgomery County. Or it would be, if either the pro or anti-term limits campaigns had any money to broadcast their message. Voters will largely have to decide for themselves whether they want term limits for the County Executive and County Council.

Political scientists tend to oppose term limits as anti-democratic. The exception is that presidential term limits often seen as preventing an unhealthy concentration of power. In emerging democracies, presidential term limits are increasingly seen as a good means to promote the rotation of power.

So why are so many Montgomery County voters ready to approve term limits that anti-democratically limit their own rights to reelect people to public office?

The Selectorate

A key reason is that many people don’t feel that they have much say over their government. This isn’t just hot air. Unless you vote in the critical Democratic primary that effectively decides elections for all partisan offices, you don’t.

Consider that the Census estimated Montgomery’s voting-age population at 788,043. (Note: this figure includes non-citizens, so it is an  inflated estimate of the potential voters.) Among the eligible population, 630,355 were registered voters including 354,078 registered Democrats at the time of the 2014 primary elections.

Only 88,007 people participated in the hotly contested Democratic primary for County Executive. That’s just 11% of the voting-age population, 14% of registered votes, and 25% of registered Democrats. It’s also just 33% of 2014 general election voters, and 19% of 2012 general election voters.

Moreover, the Democratic primary selectorate is skewed heavily toward the more Democratic areas of the County. It’s no accident that so many councilmembers live very close together in the southeastern corner of the County–and most people never cast a vote in the key election to choose them.

Beyond the overwhelming strength of the Democrats, Republicans offer very weak alternatives. As a result, the general election, held in the lower turnout midterm election, feels more like a kabuki ritual even if the outcome accurately ratifies the preference of the voters for Democratic over Republican nominees.

The Fantasy

The great advantage of term limits compared to the status quo is that every voter can imagine that the new Council will be more responsive to whatever their political bent–even though some of the major dreams advocated are contradictory.

Robin Ficker touts lower taxes as County unions envision a Council  willing to raise their pay higher. Civic associations imagine a Council less in thrall to developers while Chamber dreams of a more business friendly Council.

These claims cannot all be true but that doesn’t prevent voters from comparing their fantasy government to the much less glamorous reality. As the same people will choose new councilmembers by the same process, change may be more elusive than imagined.

Political Scientists Predict the Outcome

PollyVote surveyed 673 political scientists over the past four days and asked them to predict the outcome of the election in their state. These forecasts suggest that Clinton will win with 358 electoral votes with just 180 going to Trump:


Here are the predictions for the swingier states. The second column is the number of political scientists who responded to the survey. The third column is the predicted chance that Clinton will carry the state and the final column is the share of the two-party vote.


Needless to say, Maryland is not a swing state with the 26 respondents gauging the likelihood of Clinton winning at 100% and guessing her share of the two-party vote at 67.0%.

Term Limits Opposition in Shambles

By Adam Pagnucco.

With the challenge to Robin Ficker’s petition signatures having failed in court, the opposition to term limits has hit a new low.  Opponents have less than three weeks left and over 400,000 prospective general election voters to reach.  Tick tock says the clock.

How do you win on term limits?  Here’s a theory: voters will vote in accordance with their perceived self-interest.  Whoever wishes to sway them must address their self-interest and take account of how they see it.  Failure to do so means losing the argument.

So far, the opponents’ arguments against term limits seem to be that they are unfair to elected officials, that Robin Ficker is a baaaaad man (he is), that county Republicans favor them, that nativist extremists were involved in gathering petition signatures (they were), that Nancy Navarro would be denied three full terms under Ficker’s language, that Donald Trump favors term limits and that term limits supporters are like Brexit supporters.

Well, OK.  But what do any of these arguments have to do with the voters’ self-interest?

And then this happened.

“Oh wait a minute.  Never mind, voters.  Forget about what we told you.  We are going to court so you won’t be able to vote!  What’s that?  You will be voting after all?  Oh.  Well, remember what we were saying…?”

Adding to the above is that most prominent opponents of term limits have a personal self-interest in the issue.  Several incumbent Council Members have spoken publicly against them.  Tom Moore, the opponents’ organizer, is a former Rockville City Council Member who ran for County Council in 2014 and might do so again.  Almost all of the scanty funding for the anti-term limits committee came from Council Members, their staff, their family and a non-profit receiving county money.  Are there any non-politicians (aside from Charter Review Commission Chair Paul Bessel) who are willing to work to defeat term limits?

Ficker, on the other hand, does have a narrative aimed at voters.  His sales pitch is that, according to him, current elected officials are “self-serving” by awarding themselves large salary increases and voting for big tax hikes filled with goodies for interest groups that help them get reelected.  The costs of all this are passed on to taxpayers.  Ficker proposes breaking this cycle by instituting term limits and getting new people elected with “fresh ideas.”  Put aside for a moment that there are numerous problems with his theory, including that there is already substantial competition in county elections and that the 2014 public financing law could promote even more competition.  Ficker is speaking directly to the pocketbook interests of voters while the other side is currently not.

Right now, all the momentum is with term limits supporters as many factors are working in their favor – especially the council’s Giant Tax Hike.  Opponents are going uphill, with a tremendous amount of work to do and very little time.  At this point in the 2000 term limits battle, legendary Duncan operative Jerry “Darth Vader” Pasternak had put together a massive coalition to fight Ficker, and the opponents ultimately won by just eight points.  In contrast, little of this work appears to have been done this time around. The opponents’ Facebook page has just 69 likes (FAR less than the 4,699 likes on Ficker’s page) and there is no money for a mail budget.  The opponents are relying on the Apple Ballot, the Democratic sample ballot and prayer.  Compare this to the 2000 effort, during which Darth Pasternak’s Empire did at least three mailings plus 130,000 robocalls.

Paul Bessel’s scholarly dissertation on term limits is helpful, but is anyone other than a handful of insomniac college professors going to read it?  Opponents need a direct, relevant message.  Something like this:

Come on, voters!  Is it really in your self-interest to disenfranchise yourselves?  Do you want to prevent yourselves from reelecting an official whom you believe is doing a good job?  Do you benefit from a government that is run by bureaucrats and lobbyists?  Do you really think a County Council jam-packed with lame ducks is going to act on your behalf?  What exactly are YOU getting out of all this?

There’s nothing here about Ficker, Help Save Maryland, Trump or Brexit.  It’s about the voters, stupid!  Just like it’s supposed to be.

Term limits opponents need message, resources and scale – and they need those things yesterday.  Because at this moment, Ficker is on pace to win, perhaps by double digits.

Council Members Circle the Wagons on Term Limits

By Adam Pagnucco.

The No on B Committee, the ballot question committee opposing Montgomery County term limits, has filed its first campaign finance report with the State Board of Elections.  There are no surprises here: most of the contributions it has raised have come from incumbent members of the Montgomery County Council.

The committee reported raising $9,125 through October 9.  Of that amount, $6,000 (66%) has come from the campaign accounts of Council Members.  George Leventhal  was the lead contributor, donating $1,500.  Roger Berliner, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer contributed $1,000 each while Marc Elrich contributed $500.  Other contributions of note came from George Leventhal’s father, Carl ($500), Marc Elrich’s Chief of Staff, Dale Tibbitts ($500) and Casa de Maryland ($1,000).  In total, contributions from Council Members and their staff accounted for 72% of money raised by the committee.

After paying attorney Jonathan Shurberg $5,000 for his work on the unsuccessful court case to get term limits thrown off the ballot, and paying other minor expenses, the committee reported a final balance of $4,024.49.

Another committee formed to support term limits, Voters for Montgomery County Term Limits, reported raising $2,890 and finishing with $2,683.27 in the bank.  Developer Charles K. Nulsen III contributed $1,000.  There have been rumors of developer support for term limits, which would be interesting considering that the anti-development Montgomery County Civic Federation also supports term limits.  But Nulsen’s lone contribution signals that so far the real estate community is not fully engaged.

In 2012, 460,885 MoCo residents voted in the general election.  A similar number could be voting this year.  What’s clear is that neither committee has the resources to get its message out to the electorate.  Since many underlying factors favor the passage of term limits, the failure of both sides to raise money is a net benefit for supporters.

Australian MPs Pass Motion: Trump is a “Revolting Slug”

The BBC reports that Parliament of New South Wales, the largest state by far in our close ally Australia, has passed a motion condemning Donald Trump and calling him a “revolting slug:”

The parliament of New South Wales, Australia has passed a motion calling US presidential candidate Donald Trump a “revolting slug” unfit for office.

It condemned “the misogynist, hateful comments” it said had been made by Mr Trump about women and minorities. . . .

It said: “This house… agrees with those who have described Mr Trump as a ‘revolting slug’.”

“It’s clear that all reasonable and decent people find Donald Trump’s behaviour obnoxious and that the world is hoping American voters reject his politics of hate,” Mr Buckingham said in a statement.

This was as mean as they could get without having the words struck down for being inappropriate in Parliament but somehow seems just right–a marvelous and apt description of the Republican nominee.

Needless to say, motions like these are highly irregular. While foreigners often have strong preferences about who we elect, it is unheard of for foreign parliaments to pass motions all but begging the American people not to elect someone.

Trump supporters, who are remarkably quiet about Vladimir Putin and Russia’s interference in our election, may nonetheless resent this resolution by representatives in a free and friendly democracy. But many of his supporters simultaneously also believe that Trump will win and the election is rigged, so maybe they’ll manage.

But, of course, Australians might feel less of a need to weigh in if more Republicans took responsibility for helping make sure that Trump gets nowhere near the White House. Here in Maryland, almost all Republicans remain for the revolting slug.

Josh Kurtz Raising Money for New Media Venture

By Adam Pagnucco.

Legendary Maryland politics writer Josh Kurtz is raising money for a new independent media venture.  He has partners and he has an angel investor, so this could be for real, folks!

Kurtz, whose statehouse and local political reporting led to the Gazette’s Politics and Business edition twenty years ago, is regarded by many as Maryland’s best political columnist.  Over the last few years, his columns have been published weekly by Center Maryland.  But Kurtz is not content with his current gig.  Like many in the state, he has identified a void in state and local news coverage as we described in our Politics After the Gazette series.  And now Kurtz and a team of supporters are actually doing something about that: they are starting a new independent news site called Maryland Matters.

The concept of Maryland Matters is to have a lean, online news operation that would provide objective reporting and, eventually, commentary.  Kurtz would like to have five full-time reporters, a couple of editors and a few business and technology people when the site is fully built out.  Revenue would come from contributions that would be matched by a family foundation (more below).  Other journalists who are connected to the project include former Post reporter Miranda Spivack, Bethesda Magazine reporter Lou Peck, former editor of Charles County’s Maryland Independent Angela Breck and University of Maryland journalism professor Adrianne Flynn.  One or more of these folks might eventually provide content to the site.  Kurtz has a steering committee featuring MANY prominent names from Maryland political circles.

Kurtz is holding a fundraiser in Annapolis on October 24 featuring the Post’s superstar national political analyst Chris Cillizza.  If you follow Maryland news and politics, you should consider supporting this venture.  Josh Kurtz’s credentials are beyond question and if this new site succeeds, it could be a turning point for state news coverage.

Following is the blast email promoting the fundraiser.



Dear [ ]:

Want to hear from one of the nation’s premier political prognosticators just two weeks before Election Day — and support a great cause at the same time?

Then you’ll want to join us at a fundraiser in Annapolis on Monday, October 24 for Maryland Matters, an independent news website intended to be a one-stop shop for government and political coverage in Annapolis and in local jurisdictions around the Free State. Chris Cillizza, author of “The Fix” column at The Washington Post, will be our special guest.

For the past year, several journalists, as well as concerned citizens from business, communications, law and the public sector, have been working to launch Maryland Matters. It’s modeled on other excellent nonprofit online publications — from California and Texas to Connecticut and Vermont — created to ensure the survival of the type of “accountability journalism” that, for more than a century, was largely the province of the nation’s newspapers.

I don’t have to tell you that the resources devoted to state and local coverage by such institutions as the Post and The Baltimore Sun have shrunk dramatically in recent years. Other publications that once did an excellent job covering the State House, like The Gazette and The Examiner, are gone completely.

We aspire to fill this void by establishing the largest news bureau in Annapolis during the three months of the year when the General Assembly is in session, as well as providing year-round coverage of the executive branch and state regulatory agencies, major local jurisdictions, and the Maryland congressional delegation in Washington. Our plan is to launch Maryland Matters in 2017.

We’re happy to say that our idea has met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region has created a fund for Maryland Matters, which enables us to solicit and collect tax-deductible contributions. Needless to say, it will cost a significant amount of money to pull this off.

But as we say in the news business, I’m burying the lede here: Just a couple of weeks ago, we got a financial angel — a family foundation has informed us that if we can raise $250,000, they will match it. This is exciting news and puts a lot of wind at our backs. Every contribution we receive is now essentially doubled.

So we are inviting you to our first Annapolis fundraiser, to be held from 5-7 p.m. onMonday, October 24, in the upstairs room at Stan & Joe’s, at 37 West Street. We’re honored to have Chris Cillizza joining us. We can’t think of a better person to talk about this crazy election year — and we hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to chat with him.

The suggested contribution is $250. We welcome donations both larger and smaller. Checks may be made out to: Maryland Matters Fund/Community Foundation. They can be brought to the event at Stan & Joe’s or mailed to the community foundation at 1201 15th St. NW, Suite 420, Washington, DC 20005.

We hope to see you on the 24th, so you can be more fully informed about our plans and spread the word to others. If you are not able to make it, I hope you can send along a contribution anyway — and tell your friends and colleagues about what we’re trying to do.

As a journalist, I’m not used to asking others for contributions. But all of us involved in this venture believe that nothing less than an informed public — elected officials, political activists, and voters at large — is at stake. So please be as generous as you can.

All the best,

Josh Kurtz


Maryland Matters Steering Committee Includes:

Hon. Michael Barnes

Angela Breck

Hon. Bill Bronrott

Bonnie Casper

Thomas Dennison

Adrianne Flynn

Andrew Friedson

Keith Haller

Ed Holzinger

Curtis Johnson

Hamza Khan

Joel Kirkland

Josh Kurtz

Hon. Terry Lierman

Len Lucchi

Hon. Connie Morella

Tyler Patton

Lou Peck

Hon. Steve Silverman

Hon. Jeffrey Slavin

Miranda Spivack

Hon. Chris Trumbauer

More Banana Republicans

Two more Republican delegates continue to hug Trump tightly. Let’s start with Neil Parrott:


Del. Parrott is best known for his hysterical advocacy of the “bathroom bill” because he really thought that men dressing up as women to enter the women’s bathroom would become a thing once we passed transgender equality legislation.

These concerns do not extend to candidates that Parrott supports. He remains enthusiastically behind Donald Trump–the candidate who the Washington Post reported today has entered rooms with naked underage girls in it during the Miss Teen USA Pageant who were then forced to fawn all over him while nude:

To have the owner come waltzing in, when we’re naked, or half naked, in a very physically vulnerable position and then to have the pressure of the people that worked for him telling us to go fawn all over him, go walk up to him, talk to him, get his attention.

So the same man who wanted to use fear of a small vulnerable minority to criminalize their use of bathrooms over a nonexistent problem has no issue when the presidential candidate of his own party preys on underage girls.

Moving on to Del. Warren Miller. He rationalized his support for Trump by claiming that “her campaign hates Christians” in a tweeted reply to Dylan Goldberg, who formerly worked for Sen. Guy Guzzone:

dylan1Miller clearly lives in the right-wing delusional alternative universe in which American Christians are persecuted and there is a “War on Christmas.” It would seem that the only Christian being persecuted here is Hillary Clinton.

One might add the weirdness of sending this particular tweet to Dylan Goldberg during Yom Kippur. While Miller’s belief about Clinton supporting Christian persecution is a work of fiction, Trump’s invocation of anti-Semitic tropes is on tape and he admitted to similar statements over the past 25 years.

As is well known, Trump retweets material, including the infamous anti-Semitic “sheriff’s star” attack, from right-wing white nationalist websites. His supporters have no problem attacking Trump critics, such as Anne Applebaum, for being Jewish.

In short, no one has done more to reawaken anti-Semitism in the U.S. in decades than Donald Trump. And this hardly compares to his routine demonization of Latinos, Muslims, and Blacks. Apparently, Miller is also fine with Trump’s anti-democratic threat to jail his opponent, undermining of NATO, and cozying up to Putin.

Folks, this is the norm in today’s Maryland Republican Party.

Does Larry Hogan Really Care About Jobs?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Larry Hogan has worked hard to portray himself as a Jobs Governor.  In nearly every one of his public appearances, speeches and press statements, he talks about jobs, jobs, jobs.  Here’s a quote from his inaugural address that has set the tone for his administration.

“Maryland has an educated workforce, world-class universities and colleges, great community colleges, and public schools. We have our beautiful Chesapeake Bay, the Port of Baltimore, and a great location in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic region. We must leverage these amazing assets to transform Maryland into a place where businesses can flourish and create more jobs and opportunities for our citizens. Starting today let me say loudly and clearly: Maryland is open for business.”  Governor Hogan, Inaugural Address, 1/21/15

The statement above deserves a big asterisk.  In practice, Hogan’s enthusiasm for jobs depends on where they are.  When jobs are located at a Northrop Grumman facility in Anne Arundel County, the Governor proposes tens of millions of dollars in state subsidies for them.  When employment growth lags in the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, Hogan promises a new jobs initiative.  But when the Red Line was projected to add billions of dollars in economic activity and over 15,000 badly needed jobs to the City of Baltimore, Hogan cancelled it.  And last week, he sent another large public works project into limbo: Montgomery County’s Corridor Cities Transitway.  What do Montgomery County and the City of Baltimore have in common?  You guessed it – they voted for Hogan’s opponent in the last election.

The Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) is one of the state’s preeminent transportation projects, and one that has an awful lot of job growth tied to it.  The CCT, a 15-mile Bus Rapid Transit Line from the Shady Grove Metro Station to the southern part of Clarksburg, has been planned since the 1970s.  It would link some of Montgomery County’s fastest-growing places, including Gaithersburg, Germantown, Clarksburg, the Life Sciences Center and the federal government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, in an area that has few transit options.  A 2011 economic impact analysis by Parsons Brinckerhoff estimated that the project would create $2.2 billion of economic activity through 2050 and would create over 6,000 jobs during its construction phase.  Those jobs would go to craft employees like carpenters, laborers, operating engineers, cement masons, iron workers and electricians – blue-collar workers whom the Governor cultivates.

“The government needs to do everything it possibly can to help people provide for themselves and get a job.”  Larry Hogan, candidate for Governor, 10/9/14

But the CCT is far more than just a transportation project.  It is tied to the massive Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan passed by the Montgomery County Council in 2010.  The plan leverages the CCT to allow new development including 10.6 million additional square feet of commercial space, 5,700 more residential units and 31,300 new jobs.  This would be one of the biggest developments in the state, comparable to Baltimore’s Port Covington project.  Many of the Great Seneca plan’s jobs would be professional and high-paying, including scientists, doctors and engineers.  All of this is worth countless billions to the State of Maryland.  But because the area’s existing infrastructure can’t handle the traffic volume created by this level of development, the plan is contingent on the CCT’s construction.  In other words, no CCT – no jobs.  As Council Member George Leventhal has said, “By deferring this project, Governor Hogan is deferring our high-tech economy.”

“The primary focus of our administration is economic development, growing our private sector and creating more jobs.”  Governor Hogan, MACo conference, 8/22/16

Governor Hogan is uniquely qualified to understand the ties between growth, development and jobs.  He is, after all, a real estate developer who has made a fortune building projects not so different from those that would be located near the CCT.  He requires no education on the economic merits of this issue.  But the politics are a totally different matter.  The Governor’s political play is obvious: he gets to kill (or at least indefinitely delay) a transit project in a blue county so that he can spread highway money around to the red counties who will presumably vote for him.  And because he (barely!) allowed a stripped-down version of the Purple Line to proceed, he can ax the CCT and still raise money from his friends in the real estate industry.

“The primary focus of my administration is to get Maryland open for business once again and create jobs for our citizens.”  Governor Hogan, 5/12/15

In economic terms, the CCT and its associated development would be a huge win for everyone around the state.  That’s because the state government is the primary recipient of income tax revenues from new residents, and it’s the only recipient of sales taxes and corporate income taxes from new businesses.  Because of how Maryland’s wealth formulas work, the huge majority of those state revenues would not stay in MoCo – they would go to the poorer counties of the state, many of whom are in rural areas that vote in huge numbers for Hogan.  In his effort to score points with his supporters, the Governor is actually damaging their economic interests.

So what does the Governor really care about?  Is it jobs?

Or politics?

Maryland Politics Watch

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